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Libya, Fathi Eljahmi, and White House credibility


The day before Libyan foreign minister Abd ar-Rahman Shalgam visited Condoleezza Rice in Washington, Mohamed Eljahmi published a great commentary in the Washington Post about the plight of his brother, Libya’s most famous political prisoner. At a press conference the next day, the State Department spokesman parried questions about the case. Now, Libyan Foreign Minister Abd al-Rahman Shalgam, just back from his trip to Washinfgton and his meetings with the State Department, has conducted an al-Jazeera interview (.ram document). His description of how the State Department raised the human rights issue shows either how empty White House and State Department rhetoric on the subject is and/or how dismissive the Libyan government is of the subject. Below is a translation:

Host: A State Department’s spokesperson said a senior official raised with you human rights and some names, specifically…

Shalqam: …In Libya there are no prisoners of conscience. I chair the official Libyan human rights committee. We are entitled to defend our own citizens and are more transparent [than Americans]. There is no Arab state where a television journalist entered prisons and asked, “Why is this and why is that?” Those who overstep their power are put in front of courts. There are over 200 people who are imprisoned because they overstepped their power. No one gives Libya lessons in human rights and specifically America cannot give us lessons in human rights. We resist and work toward finding a formula to end execution by encouraging diya [payment of blood money] instead. [Conversely,] they [Americans] carry execution via injection, impaling and electrocution.

I was the one who raised this subject and they [State Department] were on the defensive. Who can talk about human rights while people are dying daily in Iraq? Are there human rights under occupation? What the official spokesperson said yesterday is untrue – let him respond if my words are different from what has happened.

Host: He didn’t talk to you about Fathi Eljahmi?

Shalqam: In a different manner. I was at luncheon with David Welch, who said, “This [Fathi case] is not worth anything.” I told him, “This human is receiving medical treatment.” It was neither in an official context nor the context of [human rights] talk, absolutely!

Given how the President once spoke of Fathi’s case as a barometer of change in Libya and how, in Prague just last June, the President again promised to help free Fathi, someone should certainly (a) ask Condoleezza Rice why she did not raise Fathi’s case and (b) ask David Welch whether Shalgam’s remarks are accurate. After all, U.S. credibility is on the line.


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