Wrong on Libya* * *
By MOHAMED ELJAHMI
May 18, 2006; Page A14
The State Department has announced that the U.S. would establish full
diplomatic relations with Libya and remove it from the terror list. The
impetus for the decision is to create a model to change the behavior of
Iran, North Korea and Syria. The decision is a mistake, because the Libyan
government has suspended but not renounced terrorism to achieve political
gains. Libya is not Iran. Moammar Gadhafi rules supreme and oppresses his
people. Libya has neither a civil society nor political institutions. Col.
Gadhafi dominates every facet of political and economic life and continues
to justify his past use of terrorism. His son Saif, heir-apparent, has
merely said that terrorism is no longer useful, because Libya and America
are at peace: "We used terrorism as tactics, for bargaining." What then
happens if it is no longer convenient for Libya's leadership to ally with
In April, former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor arrived in The Hague to
stand trial for crimes against humanity. Col. Gadhafi was his chief
supporter. Mr. Taylor is being tried for his role in the Sierra Leone civil
war. The Special Court's indictment was instructive: "Taylor received
military training in Libya from representatives of . . . Muammar al-Qadhafi.
While in Libya the accused met and made common cause with [Sierra Leonean
rebel leader] Foday Saybana Sankoh." Col. Gadhafi's facilitation of the
meeting contributed to the loss of 75,000 lives.
Col. Gadhafi's chief victims, though, are Libyans. In February, he
orchestrated a rally to protest the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet
Muhammad. An ensuing riot destroyed the Italian consulate in Benghazi. His
security forces shot and killed 11 people. A subsequent sweep landed a few
hundred people in prison. Children as young as 13 disappeared.
My brother, Fathi, is another victim of the regime. He may face the death
penalty because he met with a U.S. official and called for free speech and
democracy. Fathi is held in a secret facility. He suffers from hypertension,
diabetes and a heart condition. He is not receiving proper medical care and
is mostly cut off from his family. He isn't the only one: Last year, police
kidnapped journalist Daif Al-Ghazal after he wrote articles critical of the
regime. His mutilated body was found in Benghazi the next month.
The State Department's decision undermines U.S. credibility. Realists say
the administration is sending a positive message to the Arab world that it
will reward good behavior in the war on terror. What despots hear, though,
is that lip-service will obviate the need to reform or respect human rights.
Re-establishing relations with Col. Gadhafi is not a victory and it may very
well be a defeat unless Washington begins full-court pressure to force
political change in Libya.
Mr. Eljahmi is a Libyan-American activist whose brother, Fathi Eljahmi, is
imprisoned in Libya for speaking out in favor of political reform.