By what authority can international powers indict Qaddafi?

For hundreds of years, we operated on the basis of the clearly understood principle that crimes were the responsibility of the states on whose territories they were alleged to have taken place. International law applied only to those issues which were, by their nature, international. William Blackstone saw it as covering just three areas: safe conduct passes; the treatment of ambassadors; and piracy on the high seas.

Under this traditional definition, Muammar Gaddafi might have been arraigned at virtually any point in the 1980s or 1990s. He practised the modern equivalent of piracy, sponsoring international terrorism. He disregarded the rules of international diplomacy, protecting the official who had murdered a British policewoman by firing at her from the Libyan embassy. He abused the notion of a safe conduct pass to remove that official from Britain…

The objection to Gaddafi is precisely that he is a tyrant, that he rules arbitrarily, that Libyan courts are instruments of his regime. When we engage in political prosecutions of this kind, we drag ourselves down to his level. For this is, by any definition, a political prosecution. What has changed in the past couple of months is not that Gaddafi became nastier, but that the international community, frustrated by its ability to remove him, decided to “send a message”. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard.