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Libyan Government Prosecutes Lockerbie-Compensation Negotiators



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The Libyan government has responded to yesterday’s attacks on the U.S. consulate with much more sympathy and alacrity than the Egyptian government has, but the relationship between them and the West doesn’t exactly seem to be thriving. Reuters reports:

Two senior officials under late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi went on trial on Monday accused of wasting public money by facilitating a compensation payment of more than $2 billion to families of those killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. . . .

Libya’s new rulers, who aim to draw up a democratic constitution, are keen to try Gaddafi’s family members and loyalists to show the country’s citizens that those who helped Gaddafi stay in power for 42 years are being punished. But human rights activists fret a weak central government and a relative lack of rule of law mean legal proceedings will not meet international standards.

The two men’s appearance in the dock – 14 months after they were arrested – was brief. . . .

Most but not all of the compensation was paid out by Libya on condition that U.N. sanctions against it were cancelled and U.S. trade sanctions against it lifted.

The judge said the two men’s action was a crime because “the compensation was a waste of public money especially when there was no guarantee the charges in the Lockerbie case would be dropped if the compensation was made”. . . .

Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son, is awaiting trial on war crimes charges and Abdullah al-Senussi, Libya’s former spy chief known as “Gaddafi’s black box”, is also expected to be put on trial. He was arrested last week.

On Sunday, prosecutors said the trial of Saif al-Islam – which was due to begin this month – will be delayed by five months to include any relevant testimony obtained from the interrogation of Senussi.

It is obviously nothing unusual for the new Libyan government to try to distance itself from the horrors of the Qaddafi regime, perpetrated by men such as al-Senussi, and even to take it a bit too far when trying to consolidate political support. But repudiating the Lockerbie compensation agreement, however, is much worse than that, and augurs poorly for Libya and its neighbors.

The compensation paid out by Qaddafi in 2003 to victims of the Lockerbie bombing, in addition to his admission of guilt, rescued Libya from its long-time international-pariah status and allowed it to begin reestablishing relationships with the West; this process was followed by the surrender of his WMD program and the beginning of fruitful cooperation with the U.S. in the War on Terror. Qaddafi’s government was not least eager to cooperate in the latter endeavor because Islamist militants, many of them with connections to al-Qaeda, represented a serious indigenous threat to his regime.

The decision to prosecute members of the previous Libyan government who worked to open to the West is such a dramatic reversal that it might call into question the new government’s commitment to confronting the Islamist militancy that Qaddafi had in his last years (to be fair, one such reformer, Mahmoud Jibril, nearly won the prime ministership today, but let’s see how long those attitudes last against the reality of politics in a fractious failed state). It’s not clear how able and willing Libya, barely a nation-state in any sense, will now be to confront the security issues that present a serious threat to the wider region. Pro-Qaddafi militias and particular tribes and ethnic groups with loyalty to the colonel have contributed to that insecurity, but Salafists and other Islamist groups play a major role. And after this rejection of Libya’s one-time reconciliation with the West, today’s accusation by the Libyan ambassador in Washington blaming Qaddafi loyalists for the attack, when al-Qaeda in the Maghreb is a much more likely culprit, is not promising.



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