After over 40 years in power, Moammar Kaddafi, a brute dictator, is gone. He took the lives of many innocents in many terrorist attacks, including the tragedy of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. His death came 30 years to the month of the assassination of Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, whose violent death Kaddafi had advocated because of Sadat’s alleged crime of making peace with Israel.
Kaddafi’s death also comes 30 years to the year that the Reagan administration was offered a chance to remove Kaddafi, likewise by assassination.
That offer arrived at the Reagan White House in 1981, when Alexandre de Marenches, the director of France’s external intelligence agency, came with a highly sensitive plan to kill the Libyan dictator during a parade, by use of an explosive device placed near the reviewing stand.
That offer was kept silent until it was shared with me by Bill Clark, Ronald Reagan’s closest aide, who is a devout Catholic and alive today. The Reagan team’s answer, Clark told me, was a firm “No, we don’t do assassinations.”
The two previous presidents, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, had signed an executive order banning assassinations. The new Reagan team had no intention of violating that order as one of the first acts of the new administration.
But what about the general principle of such a suggestion? Where do you stand as a Catholic? Better question: Where does your Church stand?
As John Paul II wrote in his profound 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life, each and every life has inherent dignity. So did Moammar Kaddafi’s, even when his external actions in no way reflected that dignity.
Yet our Church also teaches that there are just wars. And some people are so evil, that they wantonly violate the very dignity and very lives of many innocents. Kaddafi did just that.
In retrospect, did Kaddafi’s decades of violent actions merit his physical removal in 1981? How many lives might have been spared? Does a nation-state like America have that right?
As Catholics, we prefer to leave those answers to one far wiser than ourselves. But Moammar Kaddafi’s death is a good time to consider what the Church teaches about these controversial questions.
For Catholic Exchange.com and Ave Maria Radio, I’m Paul Kengor.