Sunday, April 24, 2011
The CIA's Man in Libya? Russ Baker on Gen. Khalifa Hifter
The CIA’s Man In Libya?
By Russ Baker on Apr 22, 2011
As the United States and its allies get deeper into the confrontation with Qaddafi in Libya, it’s worth stepping back to consider what is actually taking place—and why.
We’ve been told very little about the rebels seeking to supplant the dictator. But one in particular deserves our attention. General Khalifa Hifter, the latest person to head the rebel forces.
There’s been little effort to look at Hifter’s background. One notable exception was the work of the always-diligent McClatchy Newspapers, which briefly inquired about his background in late March. That report does not seem to have generated much additional digging by other news organizations.
The new leader of Libya’s opposition military spent the past two decades in suburban Virginia but felt compelled — even in his late-60s — to return to the battlefield in his homeland, according to people who know him.
Khalifa Hifter was once a top military officer for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, but after a disastrous military adventure in Chad in the late 1980s, Hifter switched to the anti-Gadhafi opposition. In the early 1990s, he moved to suburban Virginia, where he established a life but maintained ties to anti-Gadhafi groups.
Late last week, Hifter was appointed to lead the rebel army, which has been in chaos for weeks. He is the third such leader in less than a month, and rebels interviewed in Libya openly voiced distrust for the most recent leader, Abdel Fatah Younes, who had been at Gadhafi’s side until just a month ago.
At a news conference Thursday, the rebel’s military spokesman said Younes will stay as Hifter’s chief of staff, and added that the army — such as it is — would need “weeks” of training.
According to Abdel Salam Badr of Richmond, Va., who said he has known Hifter all his life — including back in Libya — Hifter — whose name is sometimes spelled Haftar, Hefter or Huftur — was motivated by his intense anti-Gadhafi feelings.
“Libyans — every single one of them — they hate that guy so much they will do whatever it takes,” Badr said in an interview Saturday. “Khalifa has a personal grudge against Gadhafi… That was his purpose in life.”
According to Badr and another friend in the U.S., a Georgia-based Libyan activist named Salem alHasi, Hifter left for Libya two weeks ago.
alHasi, who said Hifter was once his superior in the opposition’s military wing, said he and Hifter talked in mid-February about the possibility that Gadhafi would use force on protesters.
“He made the decision he had to go inside Libya,” alHasi said Saturday. “With his military experience, and with his strong relationship with officers on many levels of rank, he decided to go and see the possibility of participating in the military effort against Gadhafi.”
He added that Hifter is very popular among members of the Libyan army, “and he is the most experienced person in the whole Libyan army.” He acted out of a sense of “national responsibility,” alHasi said.
“This responsibility no one can take care of but him,” alHasi said. “I know very well that the Libyan army especially in the eastern part is in desperate need of his presence.”
Omar Elkeddi, a Libyan expatriate journalist based in Holland, said in an interview that the opposition forces are getting more organized than they were at the beginning up the uprising. Hifter, he said, is “very professional, very distinguished,” and commands great respect.
Since coming to the United States in the early 1990s, Hifter lived in suburban Virginia outside Washington, D.C. Badr said he was unsure exactly what Hifter did to support himself, and that Hifter primarily focused on helping his large family.
So a former Qaddafi general who switches sides is admitted to the United States, puts down roots in Virginia outside Washington, D.C. and then somehow supports his family in a manner that mystifies a fellow who has known Hifter his whole life. Hmm.
The likelihood that Hifter was brought in to be some kind of asset is pretty high. Just as figures like Ahmed Chalabi were cultivated for a post-Saddam Iraq, Hifter may have played a similar role as American intelligence prepared for a chance in Libya.
We do need to ask to what extent the Libyan uprising is a proxy battle, with the United States far more involved that it would care to admit. Certainly, Qaddafi has been on the “to-remove” list for a very long time. But after something of a rapprochement, he again became a major irritant in recent years.
As the New York Times reported, almost in an aside, In 2009, top aides to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi called together 15 executives from global energy companies operating in Libya’s oil fields and issued an extraordinary demand: Shell out the money for his country’s $1.5 billion bill for its role in the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 and other terrorist attacks.
If the companies did not comply, the Libyan officials warned, there would be “serious consequences” for their oil leases, according to a State Department summary of the meeting.
…The episode and others like it, the officials said, reflect a Libyan culture rife with corruption, kickbacks, strong-arm tactics and political patronage since the United States reopened trade with Colonel Qaddafi’s government in 2004. As American and international oil companies, telecommunications firms and contractors moved into the Libyan market, they discovered that Colonel Qaddafi or his loyalists often sought to extract millions of dollars in “signing bonuses” and “consultancy contracts” — or insisted that the strongman’s sons get a piece of the action through shotgun partnerships.
Unfortunately, items like the McClatchy piece and the above extract from a longerTimes piece are rarely patched together into a larger analysis of what is going on.
More detailed examinations of the complex history and interests in play are usually relegated to little-known blogs. For example, the Irish author and journalist Ed Moloney writes about President Obama’s decision to authorize the deployment of CIA agents on the ground in Libya, and notes
…The rebels are by themselves incapable of dislodging Gaddafi. The allies’ no-fly zone, cruise missile strikes and bombing missions may be sufficient to deny Gaddafi a victory over his rebel opponents but it cannot assure success for the rebels.
Slowly but surely Obama and his French and British allies are being sucked into direct involvement in yet another project to secure regime change in a Muslim country. The next stage will be to give the rebels sophisticated weapons in the hope this can reverse their decline. The rebels will have to be trained of course, the training must take place in Libya and the trainers will have to be protected, in Libya, by NATO soldiers. Slowly but surely the prohibition against “boots on the ground” will be erased. If, as seems very possible, the acquisition of modern weaponry fails to transform the rebels’ fortunes the only remaining option will be to send NATO troops in against Gaddafi. Failure to remove Gaddafi means a humiliating defeat for Obama and his allies and in the end NATO may have little alternative but to fight on Libyan soil.
…President Obama’s motives in ordering the bombing of Gaddafi’s forces may well have been driven by humanitarian concerns but the appointment of Khalifa Heftir to lead the armed uprising in the oil-rich North African republic, is a reminder that there is a long and tangled history of secret American efforts to oust the Libyan ruler.
Heftir’s elevation also signals that Obama’s intervention in Libya is now not just about saving civilian lives but is aimed at removing Gaddafi from power, a mission begun a quarter of a century before by a President regarded as an American Conservative icon and supposedly the polar opposite, politically, of the White House’s current resident.
The story of Khalifa Heftir’s entanglement with the CIA begins with the election to the White House of Ronald Reagan in 1980 amid gradually worsening relations with Gaddafi’s Libya and a growing obsession on the part of Reagan and his allies with removing the Libyan leader.
Here the story becomes complicated, with lots of names and dates and countries involved. If you don’t have the time or inclination to go further, that’s understandable. The key thing is to appreciate that, as the saying goes, past is prologue. Without understanding what came before, we have no real idea what is happening now, and why. In any case, here’s the back story, which itself is presumably rife with spin and manipulation, and deserves further investigation (the role of Bob Woodward as a principal reporter on these issues, for example, means that the narrative itself may be strategic—see this and this for more on Woodward’s work.)
A year before Reagan’s election a Libyan mob, imitating Iranian revolutionaries, burned down the US embassy in Tripoli and diplomatic relations were suspended. Two years later the Libyan embassy in Washington was closed down while US and Libyan jets skirmished over the Gulf of Sidra, which Gaddafi claimed to be part of Libya’s territorial waters.
Later in 1981 American press reports claimed that Libyan hit squads had been sent to the US to assassinate Reagan, shots were fired at the US ambassador to France while the ambassador to Italy was withdrawn after a plot to kidnap him was uncovered. After explosives were found in musical equipment at a US embassy sponsored dance in Khartoum, Sudan, Reagan ordered a travel ban and ordered all Americans out of Libya.
In 1983 there were more air skirmishes off the Libyan coast; two years later five US citizens were killed by bombs planted at Rome and Vienna airports and US officials blamed Libya. The worst clashes came in 1986, beginning with more air skirmishes over the Gulf of Sidra and the destruction of Libyan SAM sites by American missiles. In April a bomb exploded at the LaBelle nightclub in Berlin, a bar frequented by off-duty American servicemen. Three people were killed, two of whom were US soldiers and of the 200 wounded, sixty were American citizens. President Reagan blamed Libya and on April 15th, some 100 US aircraft, many flying out of bases in the UK, bombed Libyan bases and military complexes. The Libyans said that 70 people were killed in the attacks which also targeted Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, killing his adopted infant daughter, Hana. One account claimed that nine of the jets had been directed to blast Gaddafi’s compound in a clear attempt to kill him.
By the mid-1980’s, the Reagan administration and the CIA believed that Gaddafi was supporting terrorist groups or helping fellow radical states throughout the globe. In a November 3rd, 1985 article for theWashington Post, Bob Woodward listed the countries where Gaddafi was said by the White House to be active. They included Chad, Tunisia, Sudan, Iran, Syria, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon and Iraq. Gaddafi was also supporting the IRA in Northern Ireland and significantly stepped up supplies of arms and cash to the group after a British policewoman was shot dead and diplomats expelled following a confrontation and lengthy siege at the Libyan embassy in London in 1984.
In May 1984, less than a month after the London embassy siege, gunmen launched rocket and gun attacks against the Tripoli army barracks where Gaddafi’s family compound was located. The initial assault was repulsed and most of the insurgents killed when Libyan tanks shelled the building overlooking the barracks where the gunmen had taken refuge. It was though the most serious challenge to Gaddafi’s hold on power in Libya, made all the more threatening by the fact that it had happened on his doorstep.
The attack was claimed by a group calling itself the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), composed of anti-Gaddafi exiles, some of them supporters of the Idris monarchy overthrown in the 1969 revolution. Claims that the NFSL was at that time supported by US intelligence derive some support from a leak to American newspapers a few days before the attack in Tripoli that President Reagan had recently signed a new directive authorizing US agencies to “take the offensive” against international terrorism by mounting retaliatory or pre-emptive attacks. But the Americans were, at this stage, not directly involved in supporting the exile group’s activities.
The NFSL was getting aid mostly from Saudi Arabia whose ruling family despised Gaddafi after he had accused them of defiling holy Islamic sites in their country but also from Egypt and Tunisia in whose internal affairs Gaddafi had meddled. Sudan was another sponsor. Gaddafi had tried to foment an uprising against its pro-Western leadership and in response Sudan supplied the NFSL with bases from which the May 1984 attack was planned.
The Sudanese, according to one account, kept the CIA informed of the plot. CIA Director, William Casey, was heartened by the attack even though it had failed and renewed his efforts to persuade Reagan to authorize specific covert action against the Libyan leader. Casey is said to have remarked: “It proves for the first time that Libyans are willing to die to get rid of that bastard” (p. 85). From thereon the NFSL was put on the CIA’s payroll.
It was after the unsuccessful effort to kill Gaddafi in his Tripoli compound that Reagan took the intelligence offensive. Bob Woodward revealed Reagan’s move, first in the Washington Post (November 3rd, 1985) and then in his account of Reagan’s secret wars in his book Veil, published in 1987. A secret presidential directive, which Woodward was able to quote, signaled that the exile groups like NFSL would be an important weapon wielded in this campaign against the Libyan leader: “…the exile groups, if supported to a substantial degree, could soon begin an intermittent campaign of sabotage and violence which could prompt further challenges to Qaddafi’s authority.”
The Reagan directive had listed ten options for action against Gaddafi, which ranged from regime change to economic sanctions, although it was obvious that the operation could only be judged a success if Gaddafi was dislodged: “…no course of action short of stimulating Qaddafi’s fall will bring any significant and enduring change in Libyan policies”, the document read.
The former French colony of Chad on Libya’s southern border had already been a major battleground in the war between Reagan and Gaddafi and after the 1984 bid to kill the Libyan dictator it assumed even greater importance. Chad had gained independence from France in 1960 but its history for many years thereafter has been one of coups and civil wars, often sponsored by foreign powers using Chad as an arena for their rivalry.
Libyan interest and activity in Chad pre-dated Gaddafi’s 1969 revolution and centered on a piece of land in Northern Chad called the Aouzou Strip which is rich in uranium and other rare minerals. Gaddafi formed an alliance with the government of Goukouni Wedeye who allowed the Libyans to occupy the strip but in 1982 Wedeye was overthrown by Hissene Habre who was backed by the CIA and by French troops.
Hebre’s was a brutal regime. During the eight years of his leadership some 40,000 people were estimated to have died in detention or executed. Human Rights Watch observed: “Under President Reagan, the United States gave covert CIA paramilitary support to help install Habre in order, according to secretary of state, Alexander Haig, to ‘bloody Gadafi’s nose’”. Bob Woodward wrote in Veil that the Chadian coup was William Casey’s first covert operation as head of the CIA.
During the years following Habre’s coup, Gaddafi’s army and the forces of the Chad government, the CIA and French intelligence clashed repeatedly. In March 1987 a force of some 600-700 Libyan soldiers under the command of General Khalifa Haftir was captured and imprisoned. Gaddafi disowned Heftir, presumably in anger at his capture, and the former Libyan General then defected to the major Libyan opposition group, the NFSL.
A Congressional Research Service report of December 1996 namedHeftir as the head of the NFSL’s military wing, the Libyan National Army. After he joined the exile group, the CRS report added, Heftir began “preparing an army to march on Libya”.The NFSL, the CSR said, is in exile “with many of its members in the United States.”
In 1990 French troops helped to oust Habre and installed Idriss Debry to replace him. According to one account the French had grown weary of Habre’s genocidal policies while the new resident in the White House, George H W Bush did not have the same interest as Reagan had in using Chad as a proxy to damage Gaddafi even though the Libyan leader formed an alliance with Debry.
A New York Times report of May 1991 shed more light on the CIA’s sponsorship of Heftir’s men. “They were trained” it said, “by American intelligence officials in sabotage and other guerilla skills, officials said, at a base near Ndjamena, the Chadian capital. The plan to use the exiles fit neatly into the Reagan administration’s eagerness to topple Colonel Qaddafi”.
Following the fall of Habre, Gaddafi demanded that the new government hand over Heftir’s men but instead Debry allowed the Americans to fly them to Zaire. There Libyan officials were given access to the men and about half agreed to return to Libya. The remainder refused, saying they feared for their lives if they went back home. When US financial aid offered to Zaire for giving the rebels refuge failed to materialise they were expelled and sent to Kenya.
Eventually the Kenyans said the men were no longer welcome and the United States agreed to bring them to America where they were admitted to the US refugee programme. A State Department spokesman said the men would have “access to normal resettlement assistance, including English-language and vocational training and, if necessary, financial and medical assistance.” According to one report the remnants of Heftir’s army were dispersed to all fifty states.
That was not, however, the end of the Libyan National Army. In March 1996, Heftir returned to Libya and took part in an uprising against Gaddafi. Details of what happened are scant but theWashington Post reported from Egypt on March 26th that travelers from Libya had spoken of “unrest today in Jabal Akhdar mountains of eastern Libya and said armed rebels may have joined escaped prisoners in an uprising against the government….and that its leader is Col. Khalifa Haftar, of a contra-style group based in the United States called the Libyan National Army, the travelers said.”
The report continued: “The travelers, whose accounts could not be confirmed independently, said they heard that the death toll had risen to 23 in five days of fighting between security forces and rebels, including men who escaped from Benghazi prison thursday and then fled into the eastern mountains.”
What part the CIA played in the failed uprising and whether the then US president, Bill Clinton had given the operation his approval are not known. By coincidence or not, three months later, Gaddafi’s forces killed some 1200 political prisoners being held in Benghazi’s Abu Simal jail. It was the arrest of the lawyer representing many of the prisoners’ families that sparked the February 17th uprising against Gaddafi and with it, the return of Khalifa Heftir.
As usual, the back story is complex. Valuable strategic resources abound. There are no good guys. And, as usual, the reporting that commands most of our attention just isn’t very good at helping us understand what is really going on.
The consequences of an uninformed public….well, we know what those are.
Quick, Quick: Why Are We In Libya? A New Candor Prevails…Sort Of
By Russ Baker on May 17, 2011
You’re probably already consuming everything that appears in the New York Times. But perhaps you’re quite busy, and just can’t get to many of the tasty offerings on that paper’s bulging menu. Or, maybe you’re one of those people who do read as many of the articles as possible—and then wonder what they actually mean.
I’m one of the latter, which is why I ponder each article as if it is in the crossword section. And why I feel compelled to offer you a markup of the following, which appeared under the headline “British Commander Says Libya Fight Must Expand:
Two months into the NATO bombing campaign against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces, Britain’s top military commander has said that the Libyan leader could remain “clinging to power” unless NATO broadened its bombing targets to include the country’s infrastructure.
Hm. So this British guy, whoever he is, wants to bomb Libya to smithereens as a way of forcing Qaddafi out. And I could swear they were originally in there for some otherreason—and very reticent about the extent of any military involvement.
The comments, by Gen. Sir David Richards, came at the end of a week that saw NATO step up its airstrikes, with an accelerated tempo of attacks on the capital, Tripoli. In the predawn hours of Thursday, a volley of heavy bunker-busting bombs that struck Colonel Qaddafi’s underground command headquarters in the city appeared to have narrowly missed killing him.
Colonel Qaddafi’s defiant audio message after that attack, telling NATO he was “in a place where you can’t get me,” appears to have played a part in galvanizing opinion among NATO commanders, particularly in Britain and France, the nations carrying out the bulk of the bombing.
Don’t piss these guys off, or they’ll come for you just on a dare.
Britain, in particular, with heavy combat commitments in Afghanistan and mounting costs for the Libyan air campaign straining its military budget, has been concerned that the conflict could be settling into a long-running stalemate.
What was Britain’s particular reason for focusing on Qaddafi, as opposed to any other run-of-the-mill murderous thug in these general parts? I couldn’t remember, so I poked around, and came up with this piece we ran previously. It points out (courtesy of a little-noticed New York Times mention) how Qaddafi had angered big oil companies by demanding a bigger piece of the action from those extracting oil from his premises. Big petrol, of course, includes BP—the outfit that has British government officials by their privates:
In 2009, top aides to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi called together 15 executives from global energy companies operating in Libya’s oil fields and issued an extraordinary demand: Shell out the money for his country’s $1.5 billion bill for its role in the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 and other terrorist attacks.
If the companies did not comply, the Libyan officials warned, there would be “serious consequences” for their oil leases,according to a State Department summary of the meeting.
Ok, back to the new Times piece…
Under the United Nations Security Council resolution approving the Libyan air campaign, NATO was empowered to use “all necessary means” to protect the country’s civilian population from attack by pro-Qaddafi forces, which hold Tripoli and much of western Libya, while rebel forces control much of the country’s eastern region. That mandate has been stretchedbeyondattacks on tanks, artillery and other units engaged in front-line combatto a wide range of targets in Tripoli and elsewhere that have been identified by NATO as “command-and-control” centers, including Colonel Qaddafi’s Tripoli bunker.
Whoops! For a second I thought the Times was going to come out and just say it: “That mandate has been stretched beyond recognition to something entirely different—a war to take Qaddafi out altogether. In other words, an invasion, kind of like what Iraq turned out to be.
But the Times doesn’t quite say it, so you’re not quite getting this small but somehow consequential point: what was first presented as “protecting” the civilian population from attack has now segued to attacking—and forcing the leader to flee, or better, killing him.
Of course, all this puts Qaddafi in a truly untenable position, in which he is forced to try even more harsh measures against his uncooperative population, which in turn gives NATO more reasons to express outrage and up the ante.
But with the war now at the end of its third month and the two sides skirmishing in battle zones spread across hundreds of miles, there has been growing concern in NATO capitals that the strategy needs a game-changing adjustment that might bring a rebel victory closer.
Again…pretty pretty close to stating the actual truth about what is—and has long been the game plan (for more on this see “The CIA’s Man in Libya”)
But…darn…just…can’t….quite say it. Too…disconcerting…gonna…really…depress…our readers. Might lose faith in what we keep telling everybody is a pretty righteous American foreign policy.
NATO officials have made no secret of their belief that this would most likely come with attacks that weaken Colonel Qaddafi’s hold on Tripoli, ideally attacks that spread a sense of despondency among Qaddafi forces and lend an impetus to a rebel underground that has roots in some quarters of the city.
General Richards, chief of the defense staff in Britain, spoke in an interview at NATO’s southern headquarters in Naples, Italy, which has served as a command center for the attacks. “The vise is closing on Qaddafi, but we need to increase the pressure further through more intense military action,” he said in the interview, published in The Sunday Telegraph. “We now have to tighten the vise to demonstrate to Qaddafi that the game is up.”
Why haven’t we heard more about this Richards chap? Another Field Marshal Montgomery.
He added that the bombing campaign, which has involved more than 2,500 sorties since it began March 19, had been “a significant success.” But he added: “We need to do more. If we do not up the ante now there is a risk that the conflict could result in Qaddafi clinging to power.”
Oh, ok. So that is what it was all about. And 2,500 “sorties”—nice term, that—unless you’re a civilian being sortied about. Two thousand five hundred bombing runs is a lot. (For more on genteel terms, see how “granular” works well in Afghanistan, here.)
The general suggested NATO should be freed from restraints that have precluded attacking infrastructure targets; other NATO officials have suggested in recent weeks that these could include elements of the electrical power grid in government-held areas, and fuel dumps. And he defended attacks seemingly aimed at Colonel Qaddafi himself, saying that “if he was in a command-and-control center that was hit by NATO and he was killed, that would be within the rules.”
Amazing. A really direct guy. Admits that he wants to kill Qaddafi, that he really isn’t allowed to under the original marching orders, but that there’s a way to achieve this “within the rules.”
A tally of NATO attacks given by alliance spokesmen in Brussels gave a measure of how the bombing had already been intensified, with a strong focus on Tripoli. NATO said that alliance aircraft struck 39 “key targets” in and around the capital in the first four days of last week, including the strike Thursday on Qaddafi headquarters in south-central Tripoli. The Tripoli targets, NATO said, included seven “command-and-control” centers, compared with only three similar strikes in the 10 days before then.
But the increased tempo of the attacks has shown little sign, so far, of seriously destabilizing Colonel Qaddafi’s rule. For weeks, there has been a heavily dispirited atmosphere in Tripoli, with many ordinary Libyans eager to pull Western reporters aside to say they yearned for Colonel Qaddafi to be ousted. NATO bombing attacks have often been followed by outbreaks of automatic fire in neighborhoods in central Tripoli, apparently started by hit-and-run attacks by elements of the anti-Qaddafi underground.
General Richards’s call for a widening of the bombing targets prompted a dismissive reaction from the Qaddafi government. Khalid Kaim, a deputy foreign minister, said the airstrikes had been aimed at infrastructure from the start, and he cited a string of attacks on what he described as civilian targets in several cities. As for attempts to kill Colonel Qaddafi, he said that NATO had conducted four airstrikes aimed at Libya’s leader, the latest on Thursday. Further attempts to kill him, he said, would be “a waste of time.”
Again, Mr. Kaim, this kind of taunt is just not helpful. You are definitely the runts on this playground.
This could all have been so, so much easier. All you had to do was play ball. And never mind those civilians.
Article summary: THE FAKE ARAB SPRING
Libya: Connect The Dots-You Get A Giant Dollar Sign
By Russ Baker on Jun 6, 2011
It’s true that Arab Spring is a good thing. It’s true Qaddafi is a bad guy. But connect the dots, and you will see that he is being set up. The evidence points to a plan to create an “Arab Spring” for the Good Old Boys—CIA, banks, oil companies. Read and see if you don’t agree.
In an earlier article, we posed the question, “Why are we in Libya?” We offered some thoughts.
Now, more pieces are falling into place. Those pieces have names of your favorite players: oil companies, banks like Goldman Sachs, and they paint a picture of endless corporate intrigue. The sort that never seems to come out in the corporate media.
Let’s go for a ride.
This February, several days after Hosni Mubarak resigned in Egypt, civil protest began in neighboring Libya. Quickly, Muammar Qaddafi’s Justice Minister turned against him and became a rebel leader. And, he made the dramatic claim that his ex-boss was the culprit behind the bombing of Pan Am 103:
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi ordered the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, a former Libyan cabinet minister was quoted as saying by a Swedish newspaper on Wednesday.
Former Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil, reported to have resigned this week over the violence used by the government against protesters, told the tabloid Expressen he had evidence Gaddafi ordered the bombing that killed 270 people.
“I have proof that Gaddafi gave the order for (the) Lockerbie (bombing),” Expressen quoted Al Jeleil as saying in an interview at an undisclosed large town in Libya.
The newspaper did not say what the evidence of Gaddafi’s involvement in the bombing was.
A Libyan, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, was tried and jailed in Scotland for the bombing, and Gaddafi, in power since 1969, was branded an international pariah for years.
In 2009, the Scottish government freed al-Megrahi on humanitarian grounds after doctors said he had terminal prostate cancer, a decision strongly criticized by the United States. He returned to Libya and is still alive.
“In order to conceal it (his role in ordering the bombing), he did everything in his power to get Megrahi back from Scotland,” al Jeleil was quoted as saying.
“He (Gaddafi) ordered Megrahi to do it.”
This story made it into major news media throughout the world, without anyone stopping to raise questions about the propaganda benefit of the statement, or of the timing. For example, the UK paper, The Telegraph, interviewed Jeleil/Jalil:
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of the provisional rebel government in Benghazi and Libya’s former justice minister, said he had evidence of Gaddafi’s involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie.
“The orders were given by Gaddafi himself,” he told Rob Crilly.
Mr Abel Jalil claimed he had evidence that convicted bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi worked for Gaddafi.
“This evidence is in our hands and we have documents that prove what I have said and we are ready to hand them over to the international criminal court,” he added.
Since then, I haven’t seen any sign that Jalil’s evidence has been shown to anyone. So we don’t know that it actually exists, or that he was telling the truth. But the original headlines did the trick—anyone watching television or reading stories then would have been led to believe that Qaddafi was behind this dastardly deed.
A couple of days later, for the first time, President Obama called for Qaddafi to step down. And not long thereafter, the US, UK and their allies were getting ready to pitch military action against Qaddafi, originally characterized as solely humanitarian, “to protect civilians.” (Eventually, the top British military figure would indiscreetly admitthat the relentless bombing was intended to remove the Libyan leader.)
We’ll get back to the propaganda machine and its effectiveness later, but let’s now examine the relationship between the Western governments and Qaddafi. Was it, as presented in the media, merely a case of doing the right thing against a brutal tyrant? One also accused of being behind the murder of those airline passengers?
This is not the place to recount the entire back history between Qaddafi and the alliance. Suffice to say that Qaddafi is one of a long string of foreign leaders who insisted on an independent course, including requisite regional bigfooting, and got in trouble. Specifically, we could look at some skirmishes with the US Navy during the Reagan-Bush administration, but there’s a long list of grievances. This, as in the case of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, is compounded by the fact that he sits on massive oil reserves. Add in his brutality, avarice and bizarre manner, and you’ve got an attractive target, and an easy one for his enemies’ publicity departments.
As animosity grew, Libya started being labeled a terrorist force, possibly with some truth, and then connected to a series of major outrages with which it may or may not have had anything to do.
One was the death of several US soldiers in a Berlin nightclub in 1986, and another the alleged sponsorship of a hijacking that same year. But the thing that turned much of the world against Qaddafi was the alleged role of Libya in blowing Pan Am 103 apart.
Most of us probably remember, vaguely, that Libya’s role in that is an established fact. If so, we’re off base. Let’s start with this 2001 BBC report, following the conviction of Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer:
Robert Black, the Scottish law professor who devised the format of the Netherlands-based trial, was quoted on Sunday as saying he was “absolutely astounded” that Al Megrahi had been found guilty.
Mr Black said he believed the prosecution had “a very, very weak circumstantial case” and he was reluctant to believe that Scottish judges would “convict anyone, even a Libyan” on such evidence.
The view, published in British newspapers, echoes that of some of the families of UK victims of the Lockerbie bombing, who are calling for a public inquiry to find “the truth of who was responsible and what the motive was”.
Wednesday’s verdict sparked angry protests in Libya on Saturday, as Washington and London demanded the Libyan Government accept responsibility for the atrocity and pay compensation to the victims’ families.
The protesters condemned what they called a “CIA-dictated” verdict and demanded compensation for the victims of the 1986 US air raids on Tripoli and Benghazi.
For more on doubts about Libya’s role in the bombing, see the excellent summary of powerful evidence that the Libyans may have been framed, evidence not presented at trial, on Wikipedia. (While Wikipedia should not be considered a definitive source, it is often a good roundup of what may be found elsewhere and thus a starting point for further inquiry.) The troubling elements, which constitute a very long list, include an alleged offer from the FBI of $4 million for certain incriminating testimony, the subsequent admission by a key witness that he had lied, details of strange goings-on in the FBI’s crime lab, and indications that the bomb may have been introduced at an airport where the defendant was not present.
Nevertheless, Megrahi’s conviction, and the media’s dutiful reporting of it as justice done, meant that Libya, and Qaddafi, would continue under sanctions that had already isolated the country for a decade from the international community.
Qaddafi had sought to undo the cordon, including handing Megrahi over for trial in 1999. But that had not done the trick, and the January 31, 2001 conviction, coming 11 days after the inauguration of George W. Bush, threatened to make things worse—much worse. Qaddafi particularly had to worry about how it might impact his own survival.
By May 2002, with US troops in Afghanistan having ousted the Taliban and four months after Bush listed Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Syria as part of an “axis of evil” seeking “weapons of mass destruction”, Libya was feeling the heat. That month, it offered staggered payments to the Lockerbie victims’ families, as part of a trade for the cancellation of UN and US trade sanctions, and removal of Libya from the State Department’s list of states sponsoring terrorism. By August, 2003, several months after the invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi cut a deal, as reported in the New York Times:
Libya and lawyers for families of the victims of the 1988 midair bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, signed an agreement today to create an account for $2.7 billion in expected compensation, a lawyer said.
”Libya and the lawyers representing families of the victims have signed an agreement to create the escrow account at the Bank for International Settlements,” said the lawyer, Saad Djebbar, an Algerian living in London who has followed the case since 1992.
As a result, he said United Nations sanctions might be lifted.
With the agreement, Libya is expected to deposit the money in the account and to send the United Nations Security Council a letter accepting responsibility for the bombing, in which 270 people died.
In Washington, family members said today that the State Department had invited the victims’ families to a briefing on Friday.
It was a package deal, with many tentative aspects. Libya told the UN it “accepted responsibility” in the bombing—though, notably, it did not admit guilt. Indeed, as late as 2008, Qaddafi’s son Saif told a BBC documentary crew that the only reason Libya “admitted responsibility” was to get the sanctions removed. The documentary noted that several victims’ families had declined compensation because they felt Libya had not actually been behind the bombing.
The 2003 deal was enough, however, to begin welcoming Libya back into the family of nations. The Bush administration moved quickly to begin trade with Libya. By December, 2003, Libya had agreed to give up whatever WMD programs it purportedly had in return for the US lifting sanctions.
This heartened not only Libya, but also major Western companies, which had been champing at the bit for years to get a piece of Libya’s assets, including its vast oil reserves and the income they generated.
The inexorable trade machine kept grinding along. Within a few weeks, Bush signed an executive order restoring Libyan immunity from terror lawsuits and ended pending US compensation cases.
In 2007, strongly encouraged by the UK oil company BP, Britain began pushing for a transfer of Megrahi back to prison in Libya, resulting in a series of events that concluded with his 2009 release from incarceration—on purported medical grounds. (New information on BP’s role has come out recently, with Hillary Clinton and key US senators expressing outrage and declaring their intent to investigate–see here. No mention by the Dems of the doubts about his guilt, just indignation that a “murderer” had been freed.)
In 2009, the same year Megrahi was released, Qaddafi, faced with stiff ongoing Lockerbie payments, began pressing oil companies to pay more to help cover his debt.
We learned of the pressure on the oil companies during the recent propaganda effort to build support for military action against Qaddafi. In a New York Times articleheadlined “Shady Dealings Helped Qaddafi Build Fortune and Regime”—the crux of which was Qaddafi’s shadiness (though not necessarily that of the oil companies)—was this gem of an item. It was easily missed and as easily misconstrued:
In 2009, top aides to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi called together 15 executives from global energy companies operating in Libya’s oil fields and issued an extraordinary demand: Shell out the money for his country’s $1.5 billion bill for its role in the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 and other terrorist attacks.
If the companies did not comply, the Libyan officials warned, there would be “serious consequences” for their oil leases,according to a State Department summary of the meeting.
Now why would Qaddafi be desperate for cash? The article didn’t say. But if I’m connecting dots correctly, I’d say that you have to read another paper, then link the two.
Here’s the Wall Street Journal with an exclusive from May 31 that is hugely important but has thus far been seen in isolation, unconnected to the oil demand above. I recommend reading the lengthy excerpt that follows:
In early 2008, Libya’s sovereign-wealth fund controlled by Col. Moammar Gadhafi gave $1.3 billion to Goldman Sachs Group to sink into a currency bet and other complicated trades. The investments lost 98% of their value, internal Goldman documents show.
…In 2004, the U.S. government had lifted an earlier set of sanctions…That opened the door for dozens of U.S. and European banks, hedge funds and other investment firms to pile into the North African nation.
The Libyan Investment Authority set up shop on the 22nd floor of what was then Tripoli’s tallest building and launched in June 2007 with about $40 billion in assets. Libya approached 25 financial institutions, offering each of them a chance to manage at least $150 million, recalls a person familiar with the fund’s plans.
Soon it was spreading chunks of the money to firms around the world. In addition to Goldman, those institutions included Société Générale SA, HSBC Holdings PLC, Carlyle Group, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Och-Ziff Capital Management Group and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., according to internal fund records reviewed by the Journal.
… “The country made a conscious decision to join the major leagues,” says Edwin Truman, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and former assistant Treasury secretary. Until then, the investment fund’s money was held in Libya’s central bank, earning ho-hum returns on high-quality bonds.
Goldman seized the opportunity. In May 2007, several Goldman partners met with the Libyans at Goldman’s London office. Mustafa Zarti, then the fund’s deputy chairman, and Hatem el-Gheriani, its chief investment officer, invited the Goldman partners to see the fund’s Libyan headquarters for themselves. Mr. Zarti was a close associate of one of Col. Gadhafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, and reported to a longtime friend of the Libyan ruler.
…Goldman soon carved out a new business with the Libyans, in options—investments that give buyers the right to purchase stocks, currencies or other assets on a future date at stipulated prices. Between January and June 2008, the Libyan fund paid $1.3 billion for options on a basket of currencies and on six stocks: Citigroup Inc., Italian bank UniCredit SpA, Spanish bank Banco Santander, German insurance giant Allianz, French energy company Électricité de France and Italian energy company Eni SpA. The fund stood to reap gains if prices of the underlying stocks or currencies rose above the stipulated levels.
But that fall, the credit crisis hit with a vengeance as Lehman Brothers failed and banks all over the world faced financial crises. The $1.3 billion of option investments were hit especially hard. The underlying securities plunged in value and all of the trades lost money, according to an internal Goldman memo reviewed by the Journal. The memo said the investments were worth just $25.1 million as of February 2010—a decline of 98%.
Officials at the sovereign-wealth fund accused Goldman of misrepresenting the investment deals and making trades without proper authorization, according to people familiar with the situation. In July 2008, Mr. Zarti, the fund’s deputy chairman, summoned Mr. Kabbaj, Goldman’s North Africa chief, to a meeting with the fund’s legal and compliance staff, according to Libyan Investment Authority emails reviewed by the Journal.
One person who attended the meeting says Mr. Zarti was “like a raging bull,” cursing and threatening Mr. Kabbaj and another Goldman employee. Goldman arranged for security to protect the employees until they left Libya the next day, according to people familiar with the matter.
…Following the showdown in Tripoli, the fund demanded restitution and issued vague threats of legal action.
The Journal goes on to describe Goldman’s response—which “audacious” doesn’t begin to describe. Goldman offered to make it all up to Libya by selling it a huge stake…in Goldman itself. That Journal piece is well worth reading, as is this essay from Rolling Stone, but a bit off our topic beyond the notion that Western companies loved rubbing this rube’s nose in it.
The point, at least to me, is that Libya had taken the advice of an American firm and invested, and lost, a huge amount of the funds that are supposed to generate profits used in governing Libya. Including providing the kinds of services that kept Libyans loyal to Qaddafi in the first place.
Is it any surprise that just as this banking disaster unfolded, Qaddafi in 2009 turned desperately to the Western oil companies, which were doing well by Libya, and wanted them to pay more royalties to fund the Lockerbie settlements? Settlements he perhaps should not have had to pay in the first place?
By December 2010, when a Tunisian man set himself on fire, the Arab Spring revolt was under way—in Egypt, Bahrain, and elsewhere. Pretty quickly, it was clear to everyone that the Western powers were in danger of losing crucial oil suppliers—and vital military bases.
It certainly was convenient that, right about that time, Libya showed signs of moving in the opposite direction—into the US camp. Read our piece here about the CIA ties to the Libyan uprising.
Then consider the timing of February’s ramped-up claim by the defecting Libyan official, that Qaddafi himself had ordered the Lockerbie bombing.
If that wasn’t enough in the propaganda department to get the global public worked up, next came the Libya rape story. The average person doesn’t have the time or appetite to follow the kinds of complex corporate maneuverings that fascinate us here, but they do understandably get upset about bombs on civilian aircraft and rape.
We wrote about that rape story back here. Our point, which still stands, is that it is highly unusual for rape victims and their families to come forward publicly. It is almost unheard of in Arab countries, where the consequences can be severe. (Update: the woman and her family are being relocated in the West¸ and she’s said she’d like to come to America.)
We noted the timing of the story, the alacrity with which the Western press grabbed it and spread it, and the simple fact that there’s no evidence tying Qaddafi in any way to any such act. Even the woman herself doesn’t claim that. Yet it infuriated untold millions and postings all over the Web show that it moved a lot of public opinion into the column supporting military action to remove the Libyan leader.
That the corporate media cannot see what is going on here, or refuses to see, tells us how far we have not come since the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
Still, we can hear the other shoe dropping if we listen carefully enough. For example, the website Politico ran a little item the other day on a powwow between Hillary Clinton and corporate executives over business opportunities in Iraq.
FIRST LOOK: WALL STREET IN IRAQ? – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Deputy Secretary Tom Nides (formerly chief administrative officer at Morgan Stanley) will host a group of corporate executives at State this morning as part of the Iraq Business Roundtable. Corporate executives from approximately 30 major U.S. companies – including financial firms Citigroup, JPMorganChase and Goldman Sachs – will join U.S. and Iraqi officials to discuss economic opportunities in the new Iraq.
Full list of corporate participants: http://politi.co/kOpyKA
Give it a couple of years, and they’ll be having the same party celebrating a more sympathetic regime in Libya.