On January 18, 2007, the European parliament issued a resolution urging EU member states to review their relations with Libya unless it frees five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor held on spurious charges. The Libyan regime accuses the medics – sentenced to death on December 19 — of intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan youth with HIV.
The resolution suggests that diplomacy is failing. Since Qadhafi forfeited Libya’s weapons-of-mass-destruction program in 2003, the West, led by the U.S., has sought to rehabilitate the Libyan leader. In return for his WMD, diplomats eased sanctions and turned a blind eye toward Qadhafi’s abuses both at home and abroad.
But rapprochement did not end there. On April 27, 2004, the European parliament feted Qaddafi in Brussels. There, he addressed EU leaders and declared that “Libya is determined and committed to play a lead role in achieving world peace.” Convinced of Qadhafi’s rhetoric, the U.S. offered more concessions. On May 15, 2006, the Bush administration removed Libya from its list of state sponsors of terror and resumed full diplomatic relations with the country.
But Western engagement will not rehabilitate Qadhafi. He is a megalomaniac who has ruled supreme since seizing power in 1969. Throughout his rule, he has employed a mix of Islamism and Communism to monopolize power and turn Libya into a totalitarian state. Under Qadhafi, loyalty to the regime is of paramount importance. Membership in trade unions or political parties is a crime punishable by death.
Nor has the Western embrace weaned Qadhafi off terror. Despite his newfound legitimacy, he remains committed to violence and mob rule. In an August 31, 2006, speech, he said, “You have to be ready to annihilate your enemies, because your enemy has no mercy for you.” Saif al-Islam, Qadhafi’s son and heir apparent, shares a similar outlook.
To be sure, Libya remains a terrorist state. The medics are bargaining chits. By holding them captive, Qadhafi seeks to pressure the West into releasing Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan terrorist responsible for the Pan Am flight 103 bombing. In addition, he wants to recoup the $2.7 billion in blood money he paid to the victims of the Lockerbie bombing.
Today, Qadhafi practices hostage diplomacy under the guise of “Libyan justice.” In response to the European Parliament’s decision, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Rahman Shalqam said, “The independence of the Libyan judicial system is a red line, being part of our independence and sovereignty.” But this is absurd, as there simply is no independent judiciary in Libya.
The case of my brother Fathi Eljahmi speaks volumes about Libya’s legal system. Fathi is in prison because he called for democracy, labeled Qadhafi a war criminal, and warned the world that his regime could not be trusted.
Fathi is held incommunicado, without access to family or proper medical care. At over 65 years old, he suffers from advanced diabetes, hypertension, and a deteriorating heart condition.
During his second inaugural address in 2004, President Bush reached out to Arab reformers like Fathi. He stated, “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”
On January 23, 2007, Bush reiterated his promise. In his State of the Union address, he said, “We advance our own security interests by helping moderates, reformers, and brave voices for democracy.”
Yet, as Fathi faces a possible death sentence for meeting with an American official, the Bush administration has abandoned him. The case of Fathi makes one wonder: Is the U.S. sincere in its calls for freedom?
The current state of U.S.-Libyan relations belies Washington’s rhetoric. State Department diplomats may claim victory, but engagement with Qadhafi has failed. The Libyan model has done nothing to rein in rogue states like Iran and Syria. Today, Iran grows defiant with its nuclear program, and Syria continues to support terrorism. The Libya model has been a boon for Qadhafi, but it has been a curse for the U.S. By laundering Qadhafi’s image, the U.S. has undercut its credibility. Dictators are emboldened. For the right price, they believe Washington will excuse their transgressions and ratchet down pressure.
Qadhafi must be made to stand trial for terrorism and war crimes. The Lockerbie files must be re-opened. If the U.S. is looking for a model to win the hearts and minds of the Arabs, it should actively work to bring Qadhafi to justice.
– Mohamed Eljahmi is a Libyan-American democracy activist based in Boston.