You've got your Mexican standoff, your Russian roulette, your Chinese water torture. And now, your Libyan cross fire. That's when a pistol is applied to the head and a bullet crosses from one temple to the other.
That's apparently what happened to Moammar Gadhafi after he was captured by Libyan rebels -- died in a "cross fire," explains Libya's new government. This has greatly agitated ACLU types, morally unemployed ever since a Democratic administration declared Guantanamo humane. The indignation has spread to human rights groups and Western governments, deeply concerned about the manner of Gadhafi's demise.
Let's begin at the beginning. Early in the revolution, Gadhafi could have had due process. Indeed, he could have had something better: asylum (in Nicaragua, for example) with a free pass for his crimes. If he stepped down, thereby avoiding the subsequent civil war that killed thousands of his countrymen, he could have enjoyed a nice fat retirement, like that of Idi Amin in Saudi Arabia.
Like Amin, Gadhafi would not have deserved a single day of untroubled repose. Such an outcome would itself have been a gross violation of justice, as he'd have gone unpunished for his uncountable crimes. But it would have spared his country much bloodshed and suffering.
Gadhafi could have had such a peace-over-justice compromise. He chose instead to fight to the death. He got what he chose.
That fateful decision to fight -- and kill -- is the prism through which to judge the cruel treatment Gadhafi received in his last hours. It is his refusal to forgo those final crimes, those final shellings of civilians, those final executions of prisoners that justifies his rotten death.
He could have taken a de facto amnesty for all his previous crimes, from Pan Am Flight 103 to the 1996 massacre of 1,200 inmates at Tripoli's Abu Salim prison. To reject that option and proceed to create an entirely new catalog of crimes -- for that there is no forgiveness. For that you are sentenced to die by "cross fire."
So he was killed by his captors. Big deal. So was Mussolini. So were the Ceausescus. They deserved far worse. As did Gadhafi. In a world of perfect justice, this Caligula should have suffered far more, far longer. He inflicted unimaginable suffering upon thousands. What did he suffer? Perhaps an hour of torment and a shot through the head. By any standard of cosmic justice, that's mercy.
Moreover, Gadhafi's sorry end has one major virtue: deterrence. You are a murderous dictator with a rebellion on your hands. You have a choice. Relinquish power and spare your country further agony, and you can then live out your days like Amin -- or like a more contemporary Saudi guest, Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Otherwise, you die like Gadhafi, dragged from a stinking sewer pipe, abused, taunted and shot.
It's not pretty. But it's a precedent. And a salutary one. One that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for example, might contemplate. Continue to fight and kill, and expect thereafter no belated offers of asylum -- not even the due process of a long talky judicial proceeding in The Hague with a nice comfy cell, three meals a day and the consoling certainty that your captors practice none of your specialties: torture and summary execution.
Call it the Gadhafi Rule: Give it up and go, or one day find death by "Libyan cross fire." Followed by a Libyan state funeral. That's when you lie on public view for four days, half-naked in a meat locker.