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Libyan Writer Ashur al-Shamis

Ashur al-Shamis

Thursday, 11 November, 2004

How Much 'Reformed' Is Libya's Dictator?*

Ashur Shamis**

Love him or loathe him, America's one-time 'godfather' of state-sponsored terrorism, is now in America's warm embrace. After decades of acrimony and mistrust, unprecedented praise was heaped on Col Gaddafi in December last year by President George W Bush, and British premier Tony Blair, as a model of 'reformed dictator'. With such indecent haste, hordes of American and European political and business leaders followed suit and the floodgates into Tripoli opened. Over several months, a stream of notable western pilgrims were clambering to worship in Gaddafi's tent.

Gaddafi was one of a few heads of state to publicly call for the killing of Americans. His record of supporting, condoning and perpetrating terrorism is impeccable, if that is the right word. Since the early 1980s, agents of his regime have been convicted in various courts, holding him implicitly responsible, for a string of acts of terrorism in which hundreds of people, mostly American and Libyan citizens, were killed in cold blood.

Yet, Gaddafi has survived at least six American presidents whose Administrations branded him America's 'Enemy No. 1'. He also survived as many directors of the CIA which is said to have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on schemes to get rid of him. In April 1986, President Reagan even ordered the bombing of his Tripoli headquarters.

With a combination of bedouin intuition and a wily disposition, Gaddafi seems to accurately judge the direction the wind blows and bend to the storm. During the Cold War era, supporting US enemies and making life difficult for America everywhere in the world, was the right thing to do. However, after 9/11, Mr Bush's 'war on terrorism', the invasion of Iraq and the fall and humiliation of Saddam Hussein, and two decades of economic sanctions, all that has changed.

Gaddafi seems to have played his cards right and achieved a great feat: taking the sting out of US tail while keeping his regime intact and his power in Libya absolute. Implicit in the Lockerbie deal of 1998/9, was the understanding that neither the colonel nor his regime would be 'on trial'. Despite court convictions and agreement to pay huge financial compensation, Gaddafi and other Libyan officials insisted that they did not accept 'criminal liability', and had only agreed to pay compensation in order to 'buy the peace'.

By relinquishing his totally insignificant WMD programs last December, Gaddafi succeeded in wheedling the US and Britain out into a hollow victory, wresting huge concessions in return.

What this episode highlights is the credibility of American foreign policy towards Arab and Muslim societies, which many people there have grown to mistrust. The impression among the majority of educated Arabs is that the US has, for over fifty years, bolstered and supported totalitarian, repressive and corrupt regimes. It has sided with the oppressors rather than the oppressed. Any intended, or perceived, American goodwill has eroded and the notion that American foreign policy is now undergoing review or change, though welcome, is viewed with justified scepticism. The Bush Doctrine of 'reforming dictators' is seen simply as a new ploy in America's grand plan to manage and contain dictatorial regimes to serve short-term strategic interests.

Even at such a late hour, reforming dictators would be welcome so long as it leads to tipping the balance of freedom, democracy and the rule of law on the side of the people, rather than their repressive and corrupt regimes.

Nowhere is this clearer today than in Iraq. It is now widely accepted that this protracted, hugely costly (in human as well as material terms) and potentially destabilising conflict has hardly anything to do with 'war on terrorism', and very little to do with establishing democracy, freedom and human rights.

It remains to be seen how serious and committed the US government is in supporting and promoting democracy, transparency and freedom in Libya and elsewhere, or whether its platitudes are simply for window-dressing and to lull the people, yet again, into a false dawn.

In view of all this, it seems incredible that Moammar Gaddafi, puny Libya's seemingly indestructible strongman, has outwitted George W. Bush and the most powerful nation on earth. That unlikely achievement was signalled in a Federal District Court in Alexandria, VA on October 15, 2004 when the judge, the prosecutor and the Attorney General John Ashcroft himself attested to testimony by Abdurahman Alamoudi, a prominent American Muslim activist, who swore that Mr. Gaddafi had personally ordered him to organize the assassination of Crown Prince Abdullah, the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia. That sworn evidence, and fully corroborating testimony from several Libyan intelligence agents captured while delivering Mr. Gaddafi's money to pro-Al Qaeda jihadists in Mecca on November 27, 2003, was available to the White House three weeks later when the Bush campaign's highly touted WMD (weapons of mass destruction) deal was negotiated with Libya. Needless to say, the underlying facts were also known to Mr. Gaddafi who was fully aware that the US claims jurisdiction to prosecute foreign nationals who are involved in a terrorist plot with American citizens, which Mr. Alamoudi was.

The evidence provided by Mr. Alamoudi and the captured Libyan agents was detailed in a 20-page "Statement of Facts," with the Libyan plotters, including Mr. Gaddafi, barely disguised by designations "Libyan Government Officials" 1 through 6, and the testimony of the captured agents in a "Sealed Annex." It was characterized in a "Criminal Information" as a "conspiracy within the jurisdiction of the United States to murder a person outside the US... and that such conspiracy to murder... constitutes a federal crime of terrorism..."

Using this legal finding as a "terrorism enhancement," Mr. Alamoudi was sentenced to 23 years for violating regulations issued by the Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, regulations which, ironically, have since been repealed by the Bush Administration in its rush to rehabilitate Mr. Gaddafi.

But if the evidence was so clear, why was Mr. Alamoudi not charged with the crime of terrorism by an administration which incessantly insists that only it is capable of fighting the awful threat of terrorism? It is hardly because Saudi stability is not critically important to the price of world oil or because Saudi cooperation is not vitally important to curbing Middle East terrorists and their financiers. No, the answer lies in White House reluctance to indict Mr. Alamoudi's co-conspirators, most notably Mr. Gaddafi, at a time when the Bush campaign is gaining great political mileage out of his professed renunciation of terrorism and WMD. The Bush Administration has long acknowledged that it struck a bargain with Mr. Gaddafi whereby he publicly renounced terrorism and WMD in exchange for a lifting of unilateral American sanctions imposed by the Reagan Administration. What the White House has never admitted is that it was so anxious to burnish the Bush Doctrine with those hollow declarations that it also assured Mr. Gaddafi, albeit through circumlocution, that he would not be prosecuted for plotting to assassinate the Saudi leader.

Evidence for this aspect of the deal comes from statements made by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, the Libyan strongman's son and intended successor, who told several interviewers following the December 2003 deal that his father had received "assurances that the United States and Britain would not interfere with his continuation in office." This formulation was very similar to that made by the son and others when the two low-level Libyan bombers of Pan AM 103 were turned over to the International Tribunal in 1999. As promised, Mr. Gaddafi was never prosecuted for the Pan AM outrage even after an agent of his official intelligence service was convicted. The handling of the Alamoudi case demonstrates that he has been granted similar immunity for the plot against Prince Abdullah.

A reckoning of winners and losers in this case is painful for Americans to contemplate. The Bush Administration's rehabilitation of Mr. Gaddafi has strengthened his political position at home and in the region. Conversely it has weakened his opponents and neighbourhood observers in their quest for human rights, the rule of law and representative government. During the last six months it has opened the gates for visits by European heads of state (Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroeder, Silvio Berlisconi, and others) accompanied by countless corporate titans. It has permitted American oil companies to resume contributing capital, technology and markets without having to operate through foreign subsidiaries as Halliburton did for 18 years.

Mr. Gaddafi's so-called "concessions" have, unfortunately, been meaningless. The Alamoudi testimony proves that the professed renunciation of terror ranks as one of the most patently insincere gestures in the annals of perfidy. He was first detained by the British for attempting to smuggle money into Saudi Arabia to implement the plot on Aug. 16, 2003, just one day after the White House accepted the letter renouncing terrorism and accepting half-hearted responsibility for bombing of Pan AM 103.

Mr. Gaddafi's professed renunciation of WMD is equally suspect. Although President Bush personally visited Oak Ridge Tennessee to tout the WMD paraphernalia relinquished by Libya, inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency have been unimpressed. The centrifuges had never been unpacked, and the rudimentary nuclear bomb design was found in a Karachi dry cleaner's bag. As for the international WMD smuggling network put together by Pakistani Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, Libya appears to have provided little information that American and British intelligence had not already obtained through covert operations months before the December 2003 agreement: the seizure of British engineer Peter Griffin's computer in June and the interdiction of the freighter China in September.

The Libyans have, moreover, professed ignorance of the source of a small quantity of highly enriched uranium and the disposition of another shipment of centrifuges which was diverted after the China was interrupted. Their protestations of ignorance ring hollow to those investigators who know that it was Mr. Gaddafi who provided hundreds of millions of dollars and tons of Nigerine yellow cake in the 1970's for Dr. Khan's "Islamic Bomb." In sum, the man who has just been let off the hook is in large part responsible for the weapons now possessed by Pakistan, North Korea and Iran.

In conclusion, it is fair to say that in the great "game of nations," Mr. Gaddafi won "bragging rights in the rogue community" and Mr. Bush won a chance "to spin a Libyan silk purse out of an Iraqi sow's ear." That's a very dangerous set of mixed messages from Mr. Bush who correctly told the American people during the first debate: "You cannot lead if you send mixed messages. Mixed messages send the wrong signals..." Does anyone doubt that there are scores of would-be Gaddafis listening to those mixed messages?

* Written for the Libya Human and Political Development Forum website at:
** Editor: electronic newspaper

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