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Qaddafi's brutal family

What is it about dictators and their children?

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Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam, educated at the London School of Economics and once touted by friends like academic Benjamin Barber as a democracy-friendly reformer, is coming off a little better so far. He spent much of the months leading up to Tripoli's fall barking that Libya's rebels were "rats" and drug addicts who would all be put to the sword. Abigail Hauslohner of Time visited Saif's vast farm on the outskirts of Tripoli. She found the lion and tiger cages form his personal menagerie empty, but the warren of bunkers and underground tunnels full with Israeli-made mortars, Russian rockets, and enough ammunition and gear to stock a brigade.

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The excesses of the Qaddafi children fits a pattern of the children of certain types of dictators. Their fathers may be brutal, but as crazy as they sometimes seem, the fathers largely focus their violence on gaining and holding power and they're practical enough to recognize that antagonizing the public without good reason does them more harm than good. Children, on the other hand, who grow up amid vast wealth in a world where their word is law from practically the moment they can speak, are something else again.

For instance, Saddam Hussein's son Uday reveled in the nickname "Abu Sarhan" ("Father of the Wolf"), in one famous instance beating to death a man at a party whom he blamed for introducing a mistress to his father, worried that his own mother would be displaced. He enjoyed humiliating members of Iraq's national soccer team by forcing them to come play with – and lose to – him and his friends at all hours at his home. In some cases, he had members of the team tortured in the basement of the Iraqi Olympic committee after poor performances on the pitch. Before the US invasion, he was known to cruise the fashionable streets of Baghdad in his sports car, demanding women who struck his fancy to get in. Refusal was not an option.

How will the behavior of the Qaddafi clan be dealt with in the future? The International Criminal Court says it's considering more indictments for family members, though the revolution's leaders insist they'll hold trials in Libya. The whereabouts of the father and Saif are currently unknown. There have been persistent claims from rebels that Khamis has been killed, though there's no evidence to support that. Algeria has given sanctuary to Qaddafi's wife Safiya, his daughter Aisha, and his sons Hannibal and Mohammed and their families this week.

The National Transitional Council is pressing Algeria to return the family members to Libya, but if Algeria refuses, Aisha in particular is likely to have a busy few months ahead. Trained as a lawyer, she helped prepare the defense for Iraq's Saddam Hussein against war crime charges. Mr. Hussein was later executed.

Follow Dan Murphy on Twitter.

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