Libya: Saif Qaddafi's trial starts today

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When Mummr Qaddafi was killed and his son captured, many anti-interventionists and Qaddafi supporters said his life was in danger too because he would not be safe in the hands of the Zintan Brigade.

The thuwar responded that they didn't think Saif Qaddafi would be safe in the hands of the International Criminal Court, because with his father dead, Saif was the most important remaining source about relations the Qaddafi regime had with certain international actors and they would want to see him silenced before he could testify in open court.

Saif Qaddafi has never left Libya in spite of the best efforts by the ICC to pry him loose, after 16 months he remains a prisoner in Libya and by all accounts, remains in good health.

Qaddafi supporters and their friends also said Saif Qaddafi couldn't get a fair trial in Libya. In fact they said that Libya didn't even have a functioning government, let alone a functioning judicial system, and yet, the Libyans have been trying people all along and today they begin the trial of one of the worst war criminals in North African history.

I don't think there is any serious doubt that Saif Qaddafi is guilty of ordering the mass murder of civilians and many other war crimes.

Are they sure they've got the right guy?

Other than that, I don't think there are too many facts in dispute, and a fair trial will certainly find Saif Qaddafi guilty.

Later, they can outlaw the death penalty.

The Libya Youth Movement has this report:

Libya tries Kadhafi son Seif on security charges

TRIPOLI — Slain leader Moamer Kadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam, wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity, appeared for the first time in a Libyan court on Thursday on charges of “undermining state security,” a judicial official said.

He was charged after a controversial June visit to Libya of an International Criminal Court team to help him prepare his defence against the charges of crimes against humanity in the conflict that overthrew his father.

Thursday’s trial was held behind closed doors in Zintan, a hilltop town southwest of Tripoli, where Seif has been in custody since his arrest in November 2011 in the wake of the uprising that ended Kadhafi’s 40-year rule.

“The first hearing in the trial of Seif al-Islam Kadhafi on charges of undermining state security was held on Thursday,” said deputy prosecutor general Taha Baraa in Tripoli.

The accusation was levelled against Seif after four ICC envoys travelled to Zintan in June and were detained for nearly a month, triggering a diplomatic row with The Hague-based court. They were finally allowed to return home in July.

The four included Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor who was accused of carrying a pen camera and attempting to give Seif a coded letter from his former right-hand man, Mohammed Ismail, who is wanted by Libyan authorities.

The other ICC staffers were Taylor’s interpreter from Lebanon, Helen Assaf, and two colleagues, Russian Alexander Khodakov and Spaniard Esteban Peralta Losilla.

All four have also been accused by Libya of undermining its national security.

Baraa said the trial was adjourned to May 2 as time was needed to inform the ICC staffers of the charges against them, and to “designate a lawyer for Seif.” More...

Reuters has this report:

Gaddafi's son appears in Libyan court for first time

By Ali Shuaib
TRIPOLI | Thu Jan 17, 2013 10:49am EST

Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam appeared in a court on Thursday for the first time since his capture more than a year ago, Libya's public prosecutor's office said.

The son of the former Libyan leader was in court in the western town of Zintan, where he is being held by former rebels, to face charges related to a visit by an International Criminal Court (ICC) lawyer last year.

"He is charged with involvement with the ICC delegation which is accused of carrying papers and other things related to the security of the Libyan state," Taha Baara, spokesman for the prosecutor, told Reuters.

The ICC lawyer, Australian Melinda Taylor, was herself arrested and held for three weeks after the meeting and has since said her detention proved that Saif al-Islam could not receive a fair trial for war crimes and instead should be tried in The Hague. More...

Coincidently, Juan Garrigues, research fellow at CIDOB, today published this assessment og Libyas militias and the Zintan Brigade in particular:

"In militias we trust: Libya’s conundrum (*)"

17 January 2013 / Opinión CIDOB, n.º 174

Uthman Mleghta, commander of the powerful al Qaaqa brigade from the Nafusa Mountains town of Zintan, rejects being described as a qatiba (militia). On a recent foreign NGO’s visit to his heavily guarded headquarters in Tripoli, Mleghta presented his “group’s” activities, including a newly launched print newspaper and an education programme for Libyan youth.

But his visitors were more interested in al Qaaqa’s security role. Al Qaaqa is responsible for, among others, controlling the border pass with Tunisia, guarding certain oil fields and the protection of some high profile Libyan politicians. When asked about al Qaaqa’s well-armed fighters, Mleghta matter-of-factly answered “we are the army”.

The rapid disintegration of Muammar al Gaddafi’s armed forces and police meant that the militias born out of the revolution were the only ones equipped to fill the security vacuum left behind. This scenario led to a number of the cities or towns seeing their militias play key roles in the revolution, gaining significant influence.

Zintan, the small town in the Nafusa mountains where al Qaaqa hails from and where Saif al Islam Gaddafi is being held, went from being politically insignificant to being awarded the Defence ministry portfolio of the last transitional government, assigned to Zintani commander Osama al-Juwali.

Today, many foreign commentators portray Libya as a country in chaos overrun by uncontrolled militias. The death of US Ambassador Chris Stevens after the attack on the US consulate in Bengasi in September served to consolidate this image.

Indeed insecurity is on the rise in the east, where a spell of attacks has targeted high-ranking security officials and international objectives in Bengasi. And this year has seen serious conflict in Beni Walid over tribal tensions and in desert towns such as Kufra and Sebha over the control of lucrative narco-trafficking routes through Libya’s porous southern borders. With growing tensions and shifting alliances in the Sahel after the military intervention in Mali, these conflicts could flare up again.

But much of the country is safe and reasonably well functioning especially in view of the power vacuum left behind after the collapse of Gaddafi’s 42-year regime. In Tripoli and other cities and towns, many militias have assumed roles like patrolling neighborhoods and directing traffic with responsibility. Tripoli is today a bustling Arab city where the streets are full of small businesses and young Libyan men and women mingle freely in packed coffee shops.

This said, most militias, in fact, resist any kind of government control and many have justly gained bad reputations for looting and torturing or even killing civilians. In June, Human Rights Watch estimated that there were still some 4.000 illegal detainees in the hands of militias in both formal and secret detentions centers. Most concerning are these groups’ increasing ties to Libya’s economy and politics, through their control of strategic points such as airports, oil fields, national borders and even international hotels in Tripoli.

Throughout the last year, Libya’s transitional authorities –weakened by their lack of democratic legitimacy- have struggled dealing directly with these militias. But since November, Libya has a government born out of July’s democratic elections.

One of the first important decisions the new government has made has been to dissolve the Supreme Security Committee, a body set up by the Interior Ministry to bring militias under some kind of centralized control, or at least, coordination. By all accounts, the Committee failed and was used by Islamist elements to infiltrate the security forces.

Abdulrazag Elaradi, a former National Transitional Council from the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, argues that despite the risks that militias present, Libya will persevere “because soft power has won out”. The collective sacrifices from the revolution have instilled a sense of responsibility whereby dialogue has served to prevent serious conflict, or at least quell it. One experienced international aid worker spoke of an incident in which two opposed militias exchanged blows while holding weapons in their other hands.

But many Libyans seem concerned. On the 28th of December, some 2.000 people protested in the streets of Bengazi demanding militias to disband or join the army. The protest came after the drive by shooting of Faraj al-Dreisi, the city’s police chief. More...

While on the subject, National Geographic has an interesting on Libya in their February issue:

New Old Libya

For decades Libyans lived under a dictator who twisted their past. Now they must imagine their future.
By Robert Draper
Photograph by George Steinmetz
The bronze likeness of Muammar Qaddafi’s nemesis was lying on his back in a wooden crate shrouded in the darkness of a museum warehouse. His name was Septimius Severus. Like Qaddafi, he was from what is now Libya, and for 18 years bridging the second and third centuries A.D. he ruled the Roman Empire. His birthplace, Leptis Magna—a commercial city 80 miles east of what the Phoenicians once called Oea, or present-day Tripoli—became, in every meaningful way, a second Rome. More than 1,700 years after the emperor’s death, Libya’s Italian colonizers honored him by erecting a statue of the imposing, bearded leader with a torch aloft in his right hand. They installed the statue in Tripoli’s main square (now Martyrs’ Square) in 1933—where it remained for a half century, until another Libyan ruler took umbrage.

“The statue became the mouthpiece of the opposition, because he was the only thing Qaddafi couldn’t punish,” says Hafed Walda, a native Libyan and professor of archaeology at King’s College London. “Every day people would ask, ‘What did Septimius Severus say today?’ He became a figure of annoyance to the regime. So Qaddafi banished him to a rubbish heap. The people of Leptis Magna rescued him and brought him back home.” And that is where I found him, reposing in a wooden box amid gardening tools and discarded window frames, awaiting whatever destination the new Libya might have in store for him. More...

Click here for a list of my other Daily Kos dairies on Libya