Gadhafi Must Go
This terrorist will never change his spots
BY CLAUDIA ROSETT
Wednesday, November 5, 2003 12:01 a.m. EST
In the war on terror, one of the strangest developments--and that's saying a lot--has been the step-by-step return to polite society of Libya's terrorist-sponsoring tyrant, Moammar Gadhafi.
Over the past year, the United Nations has dignified Gadhafi, first by appointing one of his ambassadors as head of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, then, on Sept. 12, by lifting U.N. sanctions on Libya--after Gadhafi took "responsibility" for the 1988 Lockerbie airplane bombing and arrived at the first phase of a cash settlement with families of the victims.
Gadhafi has now been allowed to reopen his embassy in London. He's been dickering with Germany over compensation for his 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub, with France over compensation for his 1989 bombing of a French airplane over Niger. And, as the Libyan dictator waves around his billions in blood money, he has been demanding that the U.S. take a cue from the U.N., and lift the sanctions that for 17 years have barred U.S. companies from doing business in Libya.
Other high points in what some have called Gadhafi's charm offensive include recent announcements that his regime plans to privatize 361 companies, and that Libya is prepared to spend $9 billion in a bid to host soccer's 2010 World Cup--with facilities already under construction.
For several years high-profile Western journalists have periodically been invited to visit Libya, sit with Gadhafi for an exclusive interview, and ponder such intriguing questions as whether terrorist despots can truly change their ways. A classic of this genre was Gadhafi's chipper exchange with Newsweek's special diplomatic correspondent, Lally Weymouth, published last January under the headline "The Former Face of Evil."
For a better sense of the real face of Gadhafi, take a closer look inside Libya itself, a country Gadhafi has run for 34 years as his own totalitarian wonderland--and still does. Libya, by every reasonable ranking and report, from Amnesty International to Freedom House to the U.S. State Department, remains one of the most repressed societies on earth. There are no private newspapers; there is no independent rule of law. Multilayered, pervasive surveillance is routine; so is arbitrary arrest; so is torture in the prisons; so is collective punishment of entire families for the actions of one individual. There are no private banks; there is no private enterprise of any substantial size. Libya's oil industry, with reserves ranked among the top 10 on the planet, accounts for 95% of Libya's exports, and belongs entirely to the state, which in effect belongs entirely to Moammar Gadhafi.
And, the only law being Gadhafi's word, one of the basic ways in which he keeps control is by constantly shifting his rules, so all Libyans must constantly be following his lead (a trait that ought to engage the attention of the U.S. administration now reviewing U.S. sanctions on Libya). A Libyan-born scholar, Mansour El-Kikhia, now a naturalized American teaching at the University of Texas at San Antonio, explains that Gadhafi has changed even the Libyan calendar so it is out of synchronization with both the Islamic world and the West. In an illuminating book published in 1997, "Libya's Qaddafi," Mr. El-Kikhia noted that "every year a new set of rules telling Libyans what to wear, eat, say and read is enacted by the regime. The country has become one of the most restricted in the world."
Has that changed? Ask 44-year-old Libyan-American, Mohamed Eljahmi. Mr. Eljahmi's older brother back in Libya, 62-year-old Fathi Eljahmi, was arrested 13 months ago for speaking out against Gadhafi and calling for democracy. Fathi was sentenced to five years in prison, at a trial he himself was not allowed to attend. He is now doing time in Tripoli's Abu-Salim prison, notorious both for wretched conditions and for a 1996 massacre in which the authorities shot hundreds of inmates.
On the international front, littered along Gadhafi's trail along with the outright terrorist acts for which he is now buying indulgences, there are odd incidents that should also leave us deeply wary. Three years ago, he provided some $10 million to ransom 10 European hostages held by the Islamic terrorist group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. For this, he reaped the gratitude of the freed hostages, some of whom went to Libya to thank him effusively for his kindness. The net effect, however, was also the transfer, in broad daylight, of a big lump of cash from Gadhafi to terrorists in the Philippines. Ransom? Or funding?
Nor are Gadhafi's quarrels with the Arab League any cause for Western comfort. Gadhafi's switch from ardent Nasserite pan-Arabist to a pacesetter in African politics began in 1992, when the U.N. imposed sanctions on Libya for the Lockerbie bombing, and Arab states declined to rally round Gadhafi. So he refocused his favors on Africa. There, his efforts to buy friends and influence fellow dictators eventually got Libya that chairmanship this year, as Africa's choice, at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. In Africa, Gadhafi has had a hand in a long series of bloody catastrophes, including in recent times the brutal presidency in Liberia of Libyan-trained Charles Taylor, and Gadhafi's support in the form of fuel and friendship for Zimbabwe's aging dictator, Robert Mugabe--who has held onto power by orchestrating his own cultural revolution, complete with mob attacks and famine for those who oppose him.
Libya has also surfaced in recent weeks in regard to the arrest of an American Muslim activist, Abdur Rahman Alamoudi, charged with an interesting medley of activities, including not only helping the terrorist group Hamas but also accepting $340,000 in sequentially numbered $100 bills from the Libyan government, apparently to lobby for the lifting of U.S. sanctions.
And Gadhafi, on Oct. 4, gave a speech to a group of women in the Libyan city of Sabha, in which he held up as models the suicide bombers of Baghdad and Gaza. As translated by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, Gadhafi urged these Libyan women to learn how to "booby trap the car and blow it up among the enemy" and how to "booby-trap the children's toys, so they blow up on the enemy soldiers."
In the free world, so used to dealing in good faith, there abides this strange belief that even terrorist sponsoring tyrants can be redeemed--that a Kim Jong Il can be coddled out of his cruelties, that a Gadhafi can change his spots. Perhaps that's because in our own daily lives, we experience almost nothing of what these regimes are really like. We show far more insight into the tame, familiar realms of, say, our own corporate affairs, where we readily agree that gross mismanagement--an Enron, a WorldCom--can be remedied only by firing the executives responsible. We have yet to grasp fully that in raw, ruthless dictatorships--in the case of a Gadhafi, who has inflicted on his own people, for 34 years, gross misrule by force and terror--the same principle applies.
The true redemption of Libya cannot be achieved by accepting from Gadhafi--he of the booby traps--promises and blood money. That money, sucked from the oil wells of Libya, belongs by rights not to Gadhafi, but to 5.4 million people of Libya. Real reform can only begin when he is gone.
As for the $9 billion with which Libya proposes to put itself in the running to host the 2010 World Cup , El-Saadi Gadhafi, the second son of Gadhafi's second wife, has been telling the London press it's a good investment. He should know. He's head of the Libyan soccer federation.
Ms. Rosett is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Her column appears here and in The Wall Street Journal Europe on alternate Wednesdays.