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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ruins of Gaddafi's Compound

Current events occasionally connect to our topic of research. Right now, Muammar Gaddafi is #2 in google trends, due to the unrest in Libya that may (hopefully) lead to a revolution. Gaddafi seems unwilling to go, and just recently the AP has been reporting that he stated "I will die a martyr" rather than leaving peacefully. In this latest video address, the Washington Post reports that:
Wearing a brown turban and cloak, Gaddafi spoke from a bombed-out building that was struck in a 1986 airstrike by U.S. and British warplanes in retaliation for the bombing of a Berlin discotheque by Libyan agents.
In a similar article, the Jerusalem Post elaborates, saying that the building was left in disrepair as a sign of defiance. You can see a video of his address, with the building in the background, here.

Some background: In 1986, President Reagan authorized Operation El Dorado Canyon in response to the bombing of a Berlin discotheque. One of the targets was Gaddafi's residence in the Bab al Aziziya compound, but Gaddafi was tipped off by the Maltese Prime Minister and fled the building with his family before the attack, escaping. The site was chosen as a target for symbolic reasons. Joseph Stanik writes in "El Dorado Canyon: Reagan's Undeclared War with Qaddafi" that
"Bab al-Aziziyah (the splendid gate) was the nexus of Qaddafi's political power structure. The two hundred-acre compound was enclosed by a fifteen-foot wall, it was guarded by Soviet-made tanks, and the area was honeycombed with underground bunkers. In addition to barracks for his personal security services, the compound contained communications facilities, military staff headquarters, the house where his wife and seven children lived, and the Bedouin-style tent where he received visitors."
He also described that in the aftermath, New York Times reporter Edward Schumacher visited the compound and found eight large bomb craters . Bombs came close to the ceremonial tent and to the residential area, blowing out doors and windows, collapsing ceilings, and generally wreaking havoc. The attack was recorded on tape, and apparently was far more dramatic than the actual damage caused, "turning a mediocre damage assessment into a dramatic strike against terrorism." in the words of David Martin and John Walcott.

On the first anniversary, tours of the bombed residence were held as part of the Libyan commemoration. U.S. News and World Report wrote at that time that the ruins "have become a shrine to the colone's political endurance."

The idea of leaving a building in ruins as a commemoration is not new. This has been done both by the attackers, to show their domination, and by the victims, to show defiance and as memorials. It's surprising that the head of state would choose to live in a ruin to prove this point, but I guess that's the kind of guy Gaddafi is, the same type of guy who would insist on living in a tent when visiting New York.

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