When the news started trickling out this morning that Col. Moammar Gadhafi had been captured, or wounded or killed, I wasn't surprised. The uprising had long since toppled the pedestal upon which he had perched for the past 40 years.
It was clear the dice were cast when I sat down with him in Libya this past February. His people had had enough. The fervor of the Arab Spring was spreading; the revolution coming out of Egypt was engulfing Libya.
Still, the Gadhafi sitting across from me was defiant, even as his regime crumbled around him.
"Will you step down?" I asked him. "No," he said. "They love me. All my people with me, they love me. They will die to protect me."
So would he leave Libya, as the United States and other nations were demanding? Gadhafi burst out laughing. "Why would I leave Libya," he chortled. "I live and die here; it's my country."
"You don't understand Libya," he told me. "You don't understand the people." But I did understand, as I watched people risk their lives calling for him to get out. And I also believed him when he said he would never leave. That's why I was not surprised at the news of his death.
At the end, Gadhafi was a man alone. His wives and most of his children had fled the country. My source today tells me the fallen dictator's son, Saadi, the soccer player, is in shock and holed up in a hotel in Niger.
This morning, I watched the grainy video of Gadhafi captured alive, pummeled and bloody, surrounded by a cheering crowd of revolutionaries. It's always shocking to see naked vengeance like this. I remember being stunned by reports of Saddam Hussein taunted and brutalized at his hanging. But these tyrants ruled their people with an iron fist, and crushed them with an iron boot. The people of Libya and Iraq lived this way their whole lives. Gadhafi had imprisoned thousands, tortured them and had them killed. As one regional expert told me today, Ghadafi was "like a vampire" to his people, they had to see him dead to believe he was truly gone.
Here in the United States, members of the new National Transition Council are calling Gadhafi's death a dream come true, saying they'd "lived and hoped" to see this day. Official Washington feels much the same way. Gadhafi orchestrated acts of terrorism against Americans for most of the last 30 years.
He was behind the 1986 bombing of a Berlin night club where American service members were hanging out. President Reagan bombed Libya in response. The bombing of Pan Am flight 103 came two years later. Gadhafi ordered that attack, as well. I was a young field producer covering the story and remember how horrifying it was to see the crater in the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland, and know that all of those people had been killed. Gadhafi ultimately paid billions of dollars in reparations. For the victims' families, it offered little consolation.
In recent years, some people believed Gadhafi had changed his ways. The West brought him in from the cold after the invasion of Iraq, and there was cautious optimism that perhaps he would bring democracy and reform to his nation. Libya, of course, is a massive oil-producing nation, presenting rich business opportunities. In hindsight, the hope amounted to little more than wishful thinking. When the Arab Spring arrived, Gadhafi chose defiance instead of deference to the democratic aspirations of his people, and that sealed his fate.
In the end, Gadhafi's larger-than-life persona brought him down. He called the Libyan citizens rallying in the streets "cockroaches," vowing to hunt them down and drag them from their homes. It was those threats last March, shortly after I interviewed him, which caused the West to take action. They realized there was no reasoning with Gadhafi.
Now we can only hope the National Transition Council will be able to unite the disparate tribes, factions and clans of this ravaged country; whether they usher in an era of stability and put Libya on a path to inclusive, accountable and representative government. This is the hard part.
Still, despite the long road ahead, it is impossible to overestimate the impact of Gadhafi's death. Today I watched as Sec. of State Hillary Clinton first learned of the news when her aide passed her a blackberry.
Clinton, who is very rarely unscripted, had an instinctive, one-word response.
"Wow," she said.