Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tripoli Military Council Says Okay to Rob Graves

Tomb thefts leave Libya’s Sufis in fear of fundamentalism

Checking with Religious Council to see if it is a sin.


ALL THAT remains of the stone sarcophagus that had sat for more than 100 years on the terrace of Tripoli’s Abu Garara mosque is a bare patch in the marble tiles.

The sarcophagus, and the body it contained, were ripped from the terrace by an armed gang who struck two weeks ago – one of several dozen raids that have Libya’s Sufis literally up in arms. “They came with weapons and everything,” said Ali Salem, a local merchant who lives across the street.

The raid is one of more than 70 that have been carried out in the past six weeks on Sufi mosques across the country by unidentified robbers. Sufis have no doubt who is behind the attacks, blaming followers of Muhammed Ibn Abd al Wahhab, an 18th-century scholar, known locally as Wahhabists.
Wahhabists, some of whom say interring bodies in mosques is a sin, are blamed for another raid this month on the Saif Nassar mosque where Saif al Nassar, a noted Islamic scholar, had lain undisturbed for 155 years.

His body, and that of a recently buried imam, were ripped from a stone sarcophagus in a specially built room, and the walls sprayed with graffiti stating that they had been buried in Islamic cemeteries.

Sufis are now taking matters into their own hands, posting armed militiamen at their remaining mosques. They fear armed confrontation is inevitable.

At Tripoli’s Sha’b Mosque on the downtown waterfront, armed Sufis in combat uniforms guard a tomb holding the remains of Abdullah Sha’b which have been there for 1,200 years.

“The Wahhabis want to deny this building,” said one of the guards, Mohammed Abdulla. “We will not let them in.” Sufis are angry that the Tripoli Military Council, which controls security in the capital, has failed to take action to catch the robbers.

However the council’s deputy leader, Mohammed Goaider, said security units would not take action because no laws were broken.

“It is not a crime,” he insisted. “The problem is caused by a group of men who are Salafists [adherents of Salafiyyah, who preached a pure form of Islam].”

He said he was awaiting a verdict by a religious council, still to be formed, on whether it was wrong to inter bodies in mosques.

If the religious leaders ruled the practice was a sin, he added, security forces would remove the remaining sarcophaguses, by force if necessary.

This policy appears at odds with the oft-repeated promises to respect human rights and the rule of law by Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council, which elected its first post-war cabinet this week.

Tripoli’s civilian authorities have objected to the break-ins. “Disturbing the dead is harming the living. It is a crime that the law punishes,” said Abdulrezaq Abuhjaar, leader of the Tripoli Council, the city’s civilian administration.

He pointed out however that he had no control over the capital’s security forces.

Gadhafi's Daughter Hires Jewish Lawyer

Muammar Gaddafi’s Daughter Hires an Israeli Lawyer to Push for Investigation
Dec 30, 2011 12:00 PM EST

Muammar Gaddafi’s daughter, Aisha, hires an Israeli lawyer to push the International Criminal Court to investigate the killing of her father.

Aisha Gaddafi, the daughter of the late Libyan dictator, is asking the International Criminal Court to investigate the killing of her father and her brother Mutassim by Libyan opposition forces in October, suggesting that the rebels, together with NATO forces, may be guilty of war crimes.

The petition raises legal questions about the nine-month insurgency that toppled Muammar Gaddafi and, indirectly at least, about the role American troops played as part of NATO.

But it has garnered attention for another reason as well: Aisha’s lawyer is from Israel, a country Muammar Gaddafi refused to recognize and often described as illegitimate.
Aisha Gaddafi fled Libya in August as opposition forces closed in on Tripoli. Two months later, rebels discovered her father and brother in the city of Sirte, where the rebels then appeared to torture and kill them following American and French airstrikes on Gaddafi’s convoy.

According to the petition, the widely broadcast images of Gaddafi, badly wounded and dragged through the streets of the city, caused Aisha “severe emotional distress.”
“It’s got nothing to do with the fact that I’m Israeli,” said attorney Nick Kaufman. “When it comes to practicing at the ICC, I’m one of the few lawyers with substantial experience.”

“They were subsequently murdered in the most horrific fashion with their bodies thereafter displayed and grotesquely abused in complete defiance of Islamic law,” says the petition, signed by attorney Nick Kaufman. The Daily Beast obtained a copy of the letter, which is addressed to chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, along with the ICC’s response.

The petition says the court is obliged to take action.

“The situation in Libya requires you to investigate the commission of alleged crimes by all parties to the conflict. To date, neither Ms. Gaddafi nor any member of her family has been informed, by your office, of the initiation of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the brutal murders of her father Muammar Gaddafi and brother Mo'atassim Gaddafi,” it says.

Aisha is Gaddafi’s only daughter and herself a lawyer who at one point served on the defense team of Saddam Hussein. In better times, the Arabic press described her as the Claudia Schiffer of North Africa for her blonde hair and glamorous clothes. She now lives in Algeria.

Kaufman, who has a practice in Jerusalem, told The Daily Beast that Aisha contacted him several weeks after her father’s killing. He was not particularly surprised to hear from her. Kaufman is a former ICC prosecutor who now represents defendants at the world court. Earlier this month, he got the court to dismiss charges against another of his clients, a Rwandan rebel accused of involvement in the murder, rape, and torture of Congolese villagers by Hutu militiamen.

“It’s got nothing to do with the fact that I’m Israeli,” Kaufman said in a phone interview. “When it comes to practicing at the ICC, I’m one of the few lawyers with substantial experience.”

He said Aisha had also asked him for help in establishing contact with another of her brothers, Saif al-Islam, who was caught by a rebel militia last month and is being held outside Tripoli. Kaufman said he tried to contact authorities in Tripoli but the deputy prosecutor refused to take his call.

The ICC is a permanent tribunal in The Hague that investigates war crimes and other grave offenses. But it launches investigations only if the countries involved are unwilling or unable to prosecute their own nationals.

In response to Aisha Gaddafi’s petition, the ICC said it would wait until May to see how Libya’s new governing body handles the case.

“Libyan authorities promised to investigate the circumstances of Muammar Gaddafi’s death. The new government has also informed the Prosecutor that they are preparing a general strategy to deal with all crimes committed in Libya,” wrote the director of the court’s Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, Phakiso Mochochoko, in a letter addressed to Kaufman.

Kaufman said in response that the lag time would reduce the chances of obtaining accurate “ballistic and forensic analysis of the crime scene” and would hamper the investigation.

Asked whether Muammar Gaddafi deserved an ICC investigation given his abysmal human-rights record, Kaufman said: “There’s a principle in international law that no matter how badly one acts to one party, it doesn't justify outrageous behavior in return. What justice Gaddafi dispensed in the past is irrelevant.”

Al Qaeda Failing to Recruit Libyans

Now that they have conducted a successful revolution, with the help of NATO, the young Libyans are being recruited by Al Qaeda, but since tasting real freedom, few are buying into the terrorists organization that uses suicide bombers and is in league with the Taliban, who want to outlaw music.

Al-Qaeda trying to recruit fighters in Libya: officials
(AFP) – 5 hours ago

WASHINGTON — Al-Qaeda has sent militants to Libya in a bid to recruit a fighting force after the fall of Moamer Kadhafi's regime, but the group has yet to gain a strong foothold there, US officials said Friday.

The assessment of Al-Qaeda's efforts in Libya came in response to a report by CNN television that experienced militants from the network -- including a former British terror suspect -- had been dispatched to the country and had managed to mobilize fighters.

US officials confirmed that Al-Qaeda had sent some members to Libya and was pushing its north African branch, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), to promote Islamist extremism, but the practical effect remained unclear.

"Al-Qaeda has sent some operatives, and is encouraging local affiliates -- namely AQIM -- to infiltrate Libya in an attempt to drum up extremist activities," one American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

But the official said Al-Qaeda was badly damaged by a decade-long US campaign and that the extremist network found itself marginalized by a wave of popular uprisings in Libya and across the Arab world.

"When it comes to the overthrow of Kadhafi, and the Arab Spring in general, Al-Qaeda is arriving late to the game," the official said in an email.

"It shouldn't be a surprise that an organization so close to strategic defeat would seek opportunities to rehabilitate its image and be relevant again.

"But this is a threat we are well aware of and are working with Libyan authorities to counter."

According to CNN, Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri personally ordered a seasoned operative -- a former British detainee -- to Libya, the television news channel reported citing a Libyan source briefed by Western officials.

The operative, who arrived in Libya in May, has allegedly recruited some 200 fighters in the country's east and Western intelligence agencies are tracking his efforts, CNN said.
Another operative, with European and Libyan passports, was arrested en route to Libya from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region in "an unnamed country," according to CNN.
US officials, however, could not confirm Zawahiri's role or the estimated number of fighters recruited.

Following the collapse of Kadhafi's regime in the face of an armed rebellion and a NATO-led air campaign, Western governments have voiced concern about extremists trying to exploit instability in the country or getting their hands on surface-to-air missiles.
A second US official said there was no sign Al-Qaeda was making headway in Libya.
"It is way too early for people to suggest that Al-Qaeda is going to establish a firm foothold in Libya," said the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"It is entirely conceivable they would reject out of hand any attempt by Al-Qaeda or other extremist groups to shape their future."

A US diplomatic cable from 2008 published earlier this year by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks portrayed the eastern Libyan town of Derna as a bastion for extremists.
The ranks of Al-Qaeda in Iraq had large numbers of Libyan volunteers from the eastern area, according to documents found in Iraq

Friday, December 30, 2011

Bloody Friday in Syria

As with the revolutions in other Arab countries, a pattern develops where people gather in the public square after Friday afternoon prayers in the local Mosques.

Today will probably be a bloody Friday in Syria, as the revolution continues.

The BBC's Allan Little: How impartial can these monitors be when some of their own governments are also cracking down on similar uprisings?

Syrian activists have called for massive street demonstrations on Friday against President Bashar al-Assad, as Arab observers continue their mission.

Correspondents say the presence of the monitors has emboldened the protesters, despite further killings.

Up to 40 died on Thursday, activists said, mostly after security forces shot at crowds gathered in areas expecting a visit from the Arab team.

At least 5,000 are believed to have died since the revolt began in March.

The Arab League peace plan calls for a complete halt to the violence, the withdrawal of all armed forces and the release of all detainees.

The Arab mission has faced criticism for being led by Sudan's Gen Mustafa al-Dabi, who Amnesty International has accused of carrying out human rights violations in his own country.

But the League says Gen Dabi has full support, and the US has urged detractors to allow the team to finish its work.

'Olive branches'
Activists have called for massive protests on Friday - the traditional day of demonstration.

"On Friday we will march to the squares of freedom, bare-chested," the Syria Revolution 2011 Facebook group said, according to the Associated Press.

"We will march as we did in Homs and Hama where we carried olive branches only to be confronted by [President Bashar al-Assad's] gangs who struck us with artillery and machinegun fire."

Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Arab League's initiative is "the only ray of light" there is for Syrians.

"The presence of the observers in Homs broke the barrier of fear," he told AFP.

One activist in Hama told Reuters: "We know that just because they are here, it doesn't mean the bloodshed will stop. But at least they will see it".

Correspondents say that despite the presence of the Arab monitors - who are being escorted by state security officials - there has been little let-up in the ferocity of the response to protests.

At least 120 people have died since observers arrived in the country on Monday, according to activists.

The monitors have travelled to the central province of Homs, Idlib in the north, Deraa in the south, Hama and then the capital, Damascus.

On Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least four people were killed when security forces opened fire outside a mosque in Douma, a suburb of Damascus.

Monitors were arriving at the city hall there when security forces fired on "tens of thousands" of protesters outside the Grand Mosque, the UK-based group said.

It reported further deaths in other suburbs of the capital - Aarbin and Kiswah - as well as in Idlib and Hama.

The US State Department said it was concerned by the continuing violence.

More than 5,000 civilians have been killed, says the UN
UN denied access to Syria

Information gathered from NGOs, sources in Syria and Syrian nationals who have fled
The death toll is compiled as a list of names which the UN cross-references
Vast majority of casualties were unarmed, but the figure may include armed defectors
Tally does not include serving members of the security forces
Source: UN's OHCHR

Controversy over Sudan's role
"We are concerned that even though we have monitors on the ground, and they are playing a role in some places, we also have the continuation of the violence," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Casualty figures and other information are hard to verify as most foreign media are barred from Syria.

The Arab mission is headed by Gen Dabi, whose appointment has roused controversy due to his role as military intelligence chief in Sudan in the 1990s.

Gen Dabi worked for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his actions over Darfur.

One Arab League official in Cairo told AP that Gen Dabi had the support of all its members, saying: "The mission and its final report will decide the future of Syria and this is not a small matter."

Head of monitors in Syria says "good so far"

By Mariam Karouny
BEIRUT | Mon Dec 26, 2011 10:36am EST

(Reuters) - The head of the Arab League's monitoring mission seeking an end to violent repression in Syria said on Monday he met several government officials who have been cooperative and said access had been unfettered "so far."

Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi, who arrived in Damascus on Saturday, is leading a team of observers that will check whether Syria is implementing part of an Arab peace plan requiring it to pull out of civilian areas and put an end to bloodshed.

The nine-month protest movement against President Bashar al-Assad's rule has been increasingly mired in violence as security forces crush revolt and armed insurgent are now fighting back.

"We are in Damascus now and have started our mission and will head to other cities faster than you think," Dabi told Reuters by telephone. "Our Syrian brothers are cooperating very well and without any restrictions so far."

Fifty monitors will arrive on Monday and will be divided into teams of ten for observation missions. Some members of the delegation said they planned to visit the flashpoint city of Homs on Tuesday. Residents and activists say Homs has been under heavy machinegun and mortar fire for days, killing dozens.

Dabi said the Syrians would be providing transportation for the monitoring mission, a move which may rile the anti-Assad opposition and spark accusations of censorship.

Arab League delegates have said they will try to maintain an element of surprise by only announcing the specific areas they would visit on the same day of their departure.

The general said he had already met the foreign minister and his deputy, as well as several officials from the armed forces.

He warned those watching the mission not to jump to conclusions about the results of the monitoring mission.

"Give us some time, we just got here."

Outrage over comments

Beirut: The head of an Arab League observer mission came under fire for describing conditions in the strife-torn Syrian city of Homs as "nothing frightening" despite the release of amateur footage that seemed to show monitors witnessing gunfire and meeting with victims of a violent crackdown against dissent.

International human rights groups had questioned the selection of General Mohammad Ahmad Al Dabi, a former Sudanese military intelligence chief, to lead the mission, saying Sudan's defiance of an international war crimes tribunal made him unlikely to take a tough stance against abuses committed by a fellow Arab state.

Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands for alleged crimes against humanity committed in Sudan's Western Darfur region. Opposition activists said Al Dabi's comments confirmed their fears that the mission would be a waste of time and only provide cover for more bloodshed.

"These guys are all from the same system," said Rami Nakhle, a member of the country's most prominent opposition bloc, the Syrian National Council. "Do we really need observers to confirm that crimes against humanity are being committed in Syria?"

League officials have said Al Dabi has the military and diplomatic background required for the mission and have asked for more time to show what can be accomplished.

But, the Syrian National Council and other opposition groups say the mission is too small to monitor trouble spots across a country of about 22 million people. The League had wanted to send 500 observers to Syria to monitor the regional initiative calling for the withdrawal of security forces from cities and other residential areas, the release of political prisoners, and dialogue with the opposition.

But, so far only 60 observers have travelled to the country, with a promise of about 90 more to come. As the observers began their mission on Tuesday in Homs, a city at the epicentre of the uprising against President Bashar Assad's government, residents charged that the armed forces were hiding tanks in school and government compounds. Security forces later fired tear gas and live rounds at tens of thousands of demonstrators who tried to rally in the city's main square, activists said.

‘Reassuring situation'

"Some places looked a bit of a mess, but there was nothing frightening," Al Dabi was quoted as saying by Reuters on Wednesday morning. "The situation seemed reassuring so far," he said. "Yesterday was quiet and there were no clashes. We did not see tanks but we did see some armoured vehicles. But remember, this was only the first day and it will need investigation. We have 20 people who will be there for a long time."

The comments provoked outrage among opposition supporters in Homs — where residents had reportedly endured days of shelling before the monitors arrived — and on social media sites. "They clearly have no idea what is happening on the ground," said an activist who goes by the name of Abu Rami. "Their presence did not help us in any way. We thought it would provide us some form of protection. That's why we went out yesterday to demonstrate, and we were fired at. This alone shows that they did not play their role."

The same day, activists posted amateur footage on YouTube that appeared to show some of the monitors taking cover amid a burst of gunfire in Baba Amro. Another video purportedly showed residents laying the shrouded body of a 5-year-old boy on the hood of one of their cars. Activists said the child had been shot in the back at a checkpoint.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces have killed more than 500 people since the government signed a protocol for the observer mission on December 19. As many as 14 were killed on Wednesday alone, including five in the Homs region, according to the Local Coordination Committees, another opposition group. The figures could not be independently verified.

Hamas pulls out of revolutionary Syria

Hamas Starts Pulling out of Syria

ALARMED by the fighting in Syria, the Hamas group has withdrawn many of its lower-level officials from its Damascus headquarters and made contingency plans to move its leaders to sites across the Middle East, senior Hamas members have told the Associated Press.

The Hamas members say the group remains supportive of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and there is no immediate intention to abandon their base in Damascus. But they confirmed that dozens of low and mid-level members had left Syria as the security situation deteriorated.

"Most of Hamas has left Damascus. We have a plan B for leaving if things deteriorate," a senior Hamas official said, on condition of anonymity.

The Iranian-backed Palestinian group has had offices in Syria for more than a decade. Mr Assad has allowed Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel and the West, to use Syrian territory for military training and provided a valuable base in the heart of the Arab world.

But the armed uprising in Syria has put Hamas in a bind. The UN estimates more than 5000 people have been killed since March, and Hamas is wary of being linked to the government crackdown.

If Hamas does pull out completely, the move could force the group to change the way it operates since the leaders would become dispersed across the region and their new hosts might not give them as much freedom.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas leader in the group's Gaza stronghold, says Hamas "hopes Syria will get out of its difficult internal crisis through a political solution ending further bloodshed in the country". He said there had been no decision to leave Damascus.

The Arab uprisings have been a mixed blessing for Hamas. On the one hand, allies such as Syria are in trouble. On the other hand, Islamic groups have made strong gains through peaceful elections in other countries.

Hamas leaders say they have not abandoned their aim of destroying Israel, but they seem to be realising they can advance through non-violent means.

In recent days, Hamas supreme leader Khaled Mashaal said Hamas would turn its focus to non-violent protests against Israel, although he refused to renounce violence.

He signalled that Hamas might accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war. In the past Hamas has said the 1967 lines were only the first stage towards eliminating Israel.

Last week Hamas began the process of joining the Palestine Liberation Organisation as it reconciles with the rival Fatah movement. The Fatah-dominated PLO has long sought a political settlement with Israel. Joining the PLO could give Hamas a voice in peace efforts.

But Israeli officials dismiss any suggestion that Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israeli civilians, has changed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

US Trains Activists $50 M for 5,000

US trains activists to evade security forces
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 8, 2011

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States is training thousands of cell phone and Internet pro-democracy campaigners worldwide to evade security forces in what it calls a “cat-and-mouse game” with authoritarian governments.

The US government is sponsoring efforts to help activists in Arab and other countries gain access to technology that circumvents government firewalls, secures telephone text and voice messages, and prevents attacks on websites.

“This is sort of a cat-and-mouse game and governments are constantly developing new techniques to go after critics, to go after dissenters,” said Michael Posner, the assistant US secretary of state for human rights and labor.

“We are trying to stay ahead of the curve and trying to basically provide both technology, training, and diplomatic support to allow people to freely express their views.”

Posner told a small group of reporters that the theme of Internet freedom will be “peppered” throughout the State Department’s annual report on human rights for 194 countries that is scheduled for release on Friday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is campaigning hard for freedoms of expression, assembly and association online — what she calls the world’s town square or coffee house of the 21st century.

The chief US diplomat has said the protests in Egypt and Iran fueled by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube reflected “the power of connection technologies as an accelerant of political, social and economic change.”

The US government, Posner said, has budgeted $50 million in the last two years to develop new technologies to help activists protect themselves from arrest and prosecution by authoritarian governments.

And it has organized training sessions for 5,000 activists in different parts of the world.
A session held in the Middle East about six weeks ago gathered activists from Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon who returned to their countries with the aim of training their colleagues there.

“They went back and there’s a ripple effect,” Posner said.

State Department officials said one of the new technologies under development is the “panic button,” which allows activists to erase contact lists on their cell phones if they are arrested.

“If you can get the panic button that wipes that (list) clean before they get locked up, you’re saving lives,” said Posner.

The new technology has not yet been made available to pro-democracy campaigners but it will prove useful in places like Syria, where the authorities simply go out and arrest activists who use their mobile phones.

The State Department said it has already funded efforts by private firms, mainly from the United States, to develop a dozen different technologies to circumvent government censorship firewalls.

“One of them has been very successful in Iran. It’s being used extensively. and we have the download numbers,” a State Department official said on condition of anonymity.
“It’s going viral and now that technology is spreading all over the Middle East,” said the official, who declined to name the technology in order not to endanger the people who are using it.

The State Department is also funding efforts to prevent governments from launching attacks — known as denial of service — aimed at shutting down websites that might publish an investigative report or other critical material.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Libyan Oil Sector Corruption

Special Report: The Gaddafi oil papers

And Where's Huda the Executioner?

By Jessica Donati and Marie-Louise Gumuchian
TRIPOLI | Fri Dec 23, 2011 8:11am EST

Reuters - Over an espresso in Tripoli's five-star Corinthia Hotel, lawyer Samir Al Sharef is discussing a document he helped produce - one that he says offers insight into the underhand oil dealings of the fallen regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

He holds up a hand and draws forefinger and thumb together, leaving a few millimeters of space in between. "What was written in the report was only a tiny, tiny fraction of the reality - a window into corruption," he says.

That there was graft in Libya under Gaddafi would be no surprise. The North African country languishes in 168th position out of out of 182 in Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index.

What is surprising is that Libya was monitoring it.

Every year a report would be presented to the unelected legislature, the People's Congress, but not to the public. The revolution has brought one of these out in the open. It gives a rare insight into the oil trade in a highly secretive region.

Two copies of the Arabic report, titled "The Annual Report by the Control Board for 2010," were made available to Reuters by separate sources. Produced by Gaddafi's government - the Ministry for Inspection and Popular Control - the 40-page document is remarkable in many ways.

First, the fact it was written at all. Many Libyans viewed Gaddafi's government as a thoroughgoing kleptocracy. The report appears to have been an effort by the regime to show it was serious about improving transparency, although it is unclear if any past disclosures had an impact.

Then are its contents. The document, along with private letters, contracts signed with foreign partners and the results of other investigations carried out by the ministry over the years, catalogues allegations of shoddy dealings, particularly in oil. These include tardy financial reporting, false dates on contracts, multiple bank accounts, undervalued assets and oil or money gone missing.

Some of the claims in the papers stem from an oil industry executive who says she tried for years to expose shortcomings, only to be threatened by the very government she sought to alert.

Many of the papers' claims could not be verified; some have been denied by those involved. But their very existence shows what a huge challenge Libya's new government faces. Oil is the lifeblood of Libya's economy. That gives the industry deep political power and may make it all the more difficult to purge lingering practices from the old regime, says Al Sharef, who was hired as a consultant to help compile the reports.

The head of Libya's oil industry has changed since the revolution, he said. "But he won't succeed if he doesn't change his staff, because they still operate under the same system based on contracts between friends."


Najwa Al Beshti, a former head of crude oil contracts at Libya's state-owned National Oil Company (NOC), was one of the report's main contributors. But she didn't know that, and she didn't even know of the report's existence, for years. Then she had an accident.

It was November 2010 and she was heading home from work when she says a car hit her vehicle. She had the green light at an intersection, but the other car did not stop. It slammed into the side of hers. Beshti was taken to hospital with an injured arm.

Soon afterwards, she says, state security officials visited her house with a chilling message: the next time could be fatal. Beshti has kept copies of what she says are anonymous threats she received at her workplace and home. One states: "Your fate is black...if you leave the country you will see who we are. This is the last warning." Her account could not be independently corroborated.

She believes such messages were in retaliation for frequent complaints she had made about the NOC's crude oil department.

A woman with 15 years' experience in the oil industry and an MBA from the London Business School, Beshti first wrote to her managers on the subject in 2008. She complained that NOC executives were breaking the law by not specifying dates on which oil should be delivered, by selling oil direct to Asia-based trading houses instead of to refineries, and by signing deals without authorization.
The trading houses included Unipec, the trading arm of Chinese refining giant Sinopec. Unipec declined to comment.

When Beshti's managers did not react, she wrote to the government. Eventually, in April 2009, she sent the first of three letters to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, at the time the most prominent and reform-minded of Gaddafi's sons.

Initially her complaints triggered official probes by the ministry, but then she believed they were ignored.


In fact, all the while they were being collated in the ministry's report, which Al Sharef had agreed to edit on condition he would be allowed to write freely. He worked with Rafik Derbi, a government official who had spent nearly two decades at the national audit bureau in Benghazi, the heart of Libya's richest oil-producing region.

But even though the men's work was not censored, they never expected it to make any difference.
"All our comments and notes were sent to the heads of the various organizations involved, who buried the reports because they were part of a filtering system," said Sharef, who is now a director at a new state-run organization to promote financial transparency. "Corruption started from the top."

Over the years, Sharef says, he would make presentations to the People's Congress. "It was like going to the theatre. I knew how it was really managed. I'd go there and laugh."

Derbi, who met a reporter for Reuters in Benghazi in November, said he also expected Gaddafi's men would simply sit on the reports. "Our philosophy at the time was that we are writing for history," he said. "One day we knew something would happen."


Before Gaddafi fell, the official in charge of the Ministry for Inspection and Popular Control was Huda Ben Amer. A hardline Gaddafi loyalist, her brief was to promote transparency through investigations into alleged wrong-doing. However, according to several people who worked for her, the ministry's reports also served to collect incriminating information on people the Gaddafi clan feared may be a threat.

Ben Amer certainly had the reputation of an enforcer. In her early days in 1984, she became known to Libyans as "Huda the executioner" because she pulled on the dangling legs of a Gaddafi opponent as he was hanged at a crowded stadium. Beshti says Ben Amer personally warned her that her life may be in danger, and advised her to leave the NOC.

The Gaddafi loyalist could not be reached for comment. There were reports she was arrested in September, but there has since been no word in Libya of her whereabouts. Some believe she has fled the country, others that she is in prison awaiting trial.

Beshti and others say Ben Amer's political loyalties point to an agenda behind her ministry's reports: they could be used to control wayward executives who got ideas above their station. Even if the reports were politically motivated, these people believe the documents raise questions some former NOC managers should address.

Much of the material concerns mismanagement. For instance, the 2010 report says the NOC fell short of its mandate to promote investment in Libya by international oil companies including PetroCanada, RWE, Wintershall, Shell and Eni. It says many of these firms stopped or reduced exploration and surveying activities in the country in the first half of 2010.

Contacted by Reuters, officials at these firms either said they had not stopped drilling, declined to comment or denied they had any complaints. One person at one of the companies said no firm with long-term interests in Libya could be expected to make a statement that might risk upsetting Libya's new government.

Officials at another company, one of Libya's largest oilfield services firms, did describe frustrations faced by international firms. These included being asked to carry out unnecessary maintenance, or to deliberately neglect infrastructure to ensure certain parts would need replacement.

"Libya was a very punitive environment where speaking publicly against the regime could result in a company being punished, marginalized or sidelined," said Geoff Porter, a U.S. independent expert on Libya.


The 2010 report also says the NOC may have broken the law. For example, in its concluding statements, it says the company's accounts were not completed in accordance with "the state's fiscal law, the budget's bylaw and the accounts and warehouses bylaws."

Some contracts with foreign oil firms weren't signed until months after a trade had taken place, and were then post-dated by as much as six months.

These included agreements with companies including PetroChina and Unipec. In both cases, contracts were signed in June 2009 - six months after a half-year period during which hundreds of thousands of tons of crude oil had been delivered.

The holdup could, in principle, enable a customer to postpone payment for the oil, earning interest the seller would otherwise collect. Also, oil deals are normally agreed for delivery on a specific date. If none is set, the buyer may wait until the market dips before collecting the shipment.

By not insisting that dates be specified, editor Derbi said the NOC could have lost millions on each shipment. In the report, the editors concluded that oil sales "did not include terms and conditions aimed at guaranteeing the best price for NOC." This "led to loss of interest for the public treasury and gain of the same for the clients."

A spokesman for PetroChina said he had no knowledge of backdated contracts. Unipec declined to comment.

Shokri Ghanem - Libya's Prime Minister from 2003-6 and oil minister and chairman of the NOC from 2006-11 - defected several months after the revolution began. He said he did not know of any contracts being backdated, and such a practice is not corrupt.

"I think it could happen, agreements are made by fax or telex. It could be normal, there is nothing wrong as long as a shipment was taken and payment took place," he told Reuters during a spirited telephone call from Vienna.

Oil traders who deal directly with the NOC say bureaucratic delays often mean contracts with Libya are backdated by weeks. A six-month delay is exceptional.

Mohamed Al-Kilani, who was at the NOC for 27 years and head of its legal department until 2002, said that in his time at the company, there were regulations against backdating contracts: it could only happen in exceptional circumstances approved by the board. "It is a violation of the practice of the organization," he said.

Mahmood Mukhtar, a partner at Tripoli law firm Mukhtar, Kelbash, & El Gharabli, said backdating contracts is against Libyan law. "It is completely illegal," he said. "On what basis then would the NOC deliver the quantities without a contract in hand?"


In a separate report published in 2010, Ben Amer's ministry said almost five million barrels of oil worth around half a billion dollars had disappeared from a particular field in 2008.

That report said its investigation was triggered by information from Beshti. Ghanem, the oil minister and head of the NOC at the time, said he did not know about the missing oil; he depended on departmental heads for information and the NOC could not control the activities of its subsidiaries. He believes Beshti was motivated by a personal grudge.

"When you are in charge of 45,000 people you are going to make enemies," Ghanem said, adding that in Libya's current climate, witch hunts are inevitable as individuals struggle for power. "People will come up with rubbish stories just to tarnish others for personal revenge."

The 2010 report also found millions of dollars in payments for oil had been erratic and difficult to trace. This was partly because multiple bank accounts had been opened in the NOC's name. On top of that, deals had been cut by individuals without authorization.

"The Director of the Crude Oil Department used to sell instant shipments on his own and without referring to ... even his own superior officer," the report says. The crude oil manager at the time, Khaled Nashnoush, is also the signatory of at least one of the allegedly backdated contracts. He could not be reached for comment, and no one at the NOC could say where he is now.
Ghanem said it would be unreasonable to expect him to monitor the activities of all individuals. "Otherwise what is the point of having a head of department?"


The report also examines a deal struck in March 2009 between Ghanem and a powerful United Arab Emirates businessman, Essa Al Ghurair, for the sale of Libya's biggest oil refinery. Ghurair's empire is one of the largest in the Middle East.

Ras Lanuf can process 220,000 barrels of oil per day, almost two-thirds of Libya's online refining capacity. It was shut after fighting started earlier this year but is expected to restart early next year.

According to Libya's 2010 report, the refinery's assets and operations were assigned in the 2009 deal to a new company, the Libya Emirates Refining Company (Lerco). Lerco is a joint venture between the NOC and Trasta Energy, part of the Al Ghurair empire. The agreement included an upgrade of the 1984 refinery which would be a $2 billion investment.

However, according to the report, the sale was based on an undervaluation of Libya's main oil asset. "The assessment ... was based on its book values, which were very low," concluded the editors.

Asked to comment, Ghanem said any deal would have attracted contrasting views, and London-based law firm Ashurst had been hired to complete the evaluation. Ashurst declined to comment.

The report makes further criticisms of the deal. It says 25-year agreements were put in place to supply Ras Lanuf with 200,000 barrels of oil daily, but no official price was specified. The price that was later set gave the refinery access to "unjustified discounts" on the crude. A separate investigation by the ministry in 2010 said the formula for pricing had been inappropriate, and the NOC lost money as a result.

Ghanem said the price had been set by a committee and at the time it had seemed like a good deal for the NOC. "Whether the committee is competent or not, I inherited them," he said. "If the committee doesn't understand, what can I do?"

Muhssn Abdulhafid Almaswry, who joined the NOC in September as new marketing manager for crude oil, confirmed the deal had gone ahead without a price being agreed for all the oil. But he said he did not think the refinery was supplied too cheaply, and it wasn't up to him to judge whether its assets had been undervalued. Almaswry was recruited to the NOC from the Ras Lanuf joint venture.

Payment for the oil was also a problem, according to the report. Investigators found the joint venture had not met its 30-day payment terms, which may enable the refinery's owners to pocket the interest on over $2 billion in unpaid bills.

Essa Al Ghurair, the United Arab Emirates businessman, declined to comment. Speaking on his behalf, an official for Trasta, the refinery's other parent company, denied the refinery had missed payment dates. Lerco "always paid the invoices for crude received from NOC within the contractual requirement", the official said in an email.

Assertions that it received its crude oil too cheaply were "way incorrect", the official added. "Lerco has never used any discount on crude."


One of the new leaders of the Libyan oil industry is Ahmed Shawki, who has spent 35 years in the business either in the ministry or at the NOC, and was made NOC's head of international marketing in July. Asked about the reports of backdated oil contracts, he said only that this was the "first time I hear of such practice in NOC!"

If any problems were to emerge with the Ras Lanuf deal, "we will investigate it, and if we find any evidence of bad practice we will try to revise the agreement," he added.

The NOC also has a new chairman, Nuri Berruien, a petroleum engineer who spent part of his career in London working at an NOC subsidiary. He deferred retirement to take on the task of hauling Libya's oil industry back to its feet.

Berruien said 10-15 NOC managers had been moved since the revolution. He declined to say if any had been removed for corruption, but said those who were suspected had been shifted out of positions of power.

Berruien says he doesn't know how long he will stay at the NOC. Diplomats in Libya say he faces an extremely tall order trying to change working practices which have become ingrained over decades.

Earlier this month, the country's interim government set up a committee to look into allegations by Libyans that millions of dollars were misappropriated from the oil sector by Gaddafi-era officials. Berruien says corruption is the biggest challenge for Libya's new government.

"Past corruption needs to be investigated by a specialized committee," he said this week. Beshti, the NOC whistleblower, would like to help.

(Additional reporting by Emma Farge in London, Humeyra Pamuk in Dubai, Ali Shuaib in Tripoli, Chen Aizhu in Beijing; Edited by William Maclean and Sara Ledwith)

UN War Crimes Prosecutors Dismiss Gadhafi Death

War crimes court leaves Gadhafi probe to Libya
From Nic Robertson, CNN
updated 2:43 PM EST, Tue December 20, 2011

(CNN) -- U.N. war-crimes prosecutors are leaving an investigation into the death of ousted Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi to Libyan authorities for now, they said Tuesday.

Gadhafi's daughter Aisha pressed the International Criminal Court's prosecution office last week to look into the October death of her father and brother Mutassim. In a written response to her attorney, the prosecution office said it would decide whether it needed to mount its own probe next year.

"The Office of the Prosecutor will review such activities and make its findings public in May 2012 during the prosecutor's second report to the United Nations Security Council," the response read. "During this report, the OTP will present its strategy with regards to future investigations of alleged war crimes committed in Libya, including the killing of Moammar Gadhafi."

Any International Criminal Court investigation "will depend on the activities of the Libyan national authorities and whether they are genuinely carrying out such investigations," the letter states.

But Aisha Gadhafi's attorney, Nick Kaufman, said his client believes the ICC needs to be involved now to make sure a "professional investigation" takes place.

"Aisha Gaddafi questions to what extent an objective and effective investigation which meets international standards -- including ballistic and forensic analysis of the crime scene and preservation of other exhibits -- can take place if the prosecutor delays his involvement until the next report to the UNSC," he said in a statement to CNN.

Gadhafi ruled Libya with an iron fist for nearly 42 years before being overthrown in August. Libya's transitional government said he was killed in the crossfire between its fighters and Gadhafi loyalists after he was captured in his hometown of Sirte on October 20.

In a December 13 letter to prosecutors, Kaufman said Moammar and Mutassim Gadhafi "were captured alive at a time when they posed no threat to anyone," only to be "murdered in the most horrific fashion" after their capture.

An autopsy determined the 69-year-old fugitive died from a gunshot wound to the head, but the pathologist who performed the procedure would not reveal whether the wound was inflicted at close range or from a distance. The bodies of the ousted ruler, his son and his longtime defense minister were put on display in a meat-market refrigerator for several days before being buried.
Aisha Gadhafi fled to Algeria along with several other family members as the regime crumbled in August. She is a lawyer who assisted in the defense of ex-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was hanged in 2006, and a onetime U.N. goodwill ambassador.

Gadhafi's son and top aide, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, was captured in November, Libyan authorities said. Senior Libyan military officials said they believed he was trying to make his way to neighboring Niger, where a brother, Saadi, was granted asylum.

Gadhafi's youngest son, Saif al-Arab, was reported killed in a NATO airstrike in April. And son Khamis Gadhafi, who led an army brigade blamed for the massacre of prisoners in a warehouse outside Tripoli, was killed in a late-August battle in northwestern Libya, rebel commanders said.

Libyans Protest NTC

Libyans protest against NTC stealing the revolution
Written by In Defence of MarxismWednesday, 14 December 2011

Tens of thousands of Libyans are protesting in Benghazi and Tripoli accusing the National Transitional Council of "stealing the revolution." The protestors demand transparency, accountability and payment of wages in a movement that connects democratic and economic demands.

Benghazi December 12, pic by @ahmadalgamaty The current wave of protests against the NTC and its head Mustafa Abdel Jalil started on Monday when a few thousand gathered in Benghazi. The demonstration was called by youth groups, military organisations and others.

“We sacrificed a lot in this war,” said Salwa Bugaighis, a Benghazi lawyer who resigned from the NTC in August. She summed up the demands of the protestors: “We want democracy.”

Amongst the demands of the protestors are that the composition of the NTC should be made public as the names of its members have not yet been revealed. They also want the voting records and the decisions taken by this body to be publicised. The protestors fear that the promised elections in June 2012 will never take place as there seems to be no progress at all and no clear timetable. There is also a strong feeling that current NTC members are just appointing friends and relatives to different positions.

In an attempt to calm the angry crowds, Abdel Jalil made a statement appealing for patience and declared that Benghazi would be the "economic capital". This did not fool the masses. Bassem Fakhri, a political science lecturer at the Benghazi University responded: "Benghazi is not expecting only to be the economic capital. We want transparency, representation for women, decentralisation, representation for youths and the full list of NTC members."

According to a BusinessWeek report, 20,000 then marched on Tuesday, December 13, while a group of a few hundred have set up a tent camp and said they will not leave until their demands are met. "The NTC (National Transitional Council) must quit. Jalil must go out! The people want another revolution!" chanted the crowds as they waved Libya's new flag.

The demands of the protestors in Benghazi have been summed up in the following points:
the resignation and reelection of all local councils and the NTC;

NTC and local councils to present their accountsno prominent officials from the old regime to be considered for any position the full CVs of current NTC members and other officials to be published;

the NTC and the Transitional Executive Office to publishd details of the funds received from businesses and the names of these businesses and how the money was spent.

making the building the national army one of the priorities of the Transitional Council and the interim government.

to help the rebels to return to normal life;

all those guilty of crimes against the Libyans should be held accountable before there can be any national reconciliation.

One of the groups organising the protests is Shabab Thwara (Revolutionary Youth). Yahia al-Kawafi, one of its activists says: "They say there will be this conference and that conference and another conference – this is the way the NTC delays things." There is deep resentment that it is mainly returned exiles and former Gaddafi officers that are in control, as opposed to the people who actually fought against the old regime. "We did not liberate Libya to give it to old Gaddafi officials," adds al-Kawafi.

Another member of Shabab Thwara Osama Khofi told Al Ahrar TV: “The demands we have are not high, they are just basic demands of the revolution. We have liberated Libya for all Libyans, not for some Libyans to have a nice position.”

Opposition to the NTC is not limited to Benghazi and there were also smaller demonstrations in Tripoli outside the Rixos Hotel which serves as the office of the government. NTC member Fathi Baja had to admit that the demands of the protestors "reflect the beat on the streets of Benghazi and other eastern cities."

An AFP report carried quotes from some of the protestors which reveal how for the masses democracy means bread and jobs:

"We are fed up of promises. Gaddafi did the same thing for 42 years. We want action," said protester Majdi al-Tajuri.

Another demonstrator, Mohammed Shibani, said all that Libyans wanted was a "decent living".

"People want salaries and a decent living. You go to banks and there is no money. What is this government doing?" asked Shibani, a 43-year-old Benghazi resident.

"There is no control. Look at the prices. They are only rising."

Protester Suleiman Masba also lashed out at the NTC.

"We want to know what NTC is doing. We think nobody is doing anything," he said."
Since the overthrow of Gaddafi in August, economic and class issues have started to come to the fore. There have been a series of strikes by workers in state institutions and state owned companies demanding the removal of managers linked to the old regime (like the oil workers as we reported in October). The latest one is the strike of air traffic controllers who oppose the new management. In Benghazi there have also been protests by municipal employes about the lack of payment of wages.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Egypt's Richest Library Burns

Egypt’s richest Library set on Fire

CAIRO- The 213-year-old Egyptian maps and historical manuscripts -- described as "irreplaceable" -- were destroyed after a library in Cairo was set ablaze during the clashes, Egyptian officials said Sunday.

A fire that engulfed the building of the historic Egyptian Scientific Institute on Saturday morning has been extinguished. The extent of the damage has not yet been determined.

The fire started on the lower floors of the building, which is on Qasr al-Aini Street in central Cairo, but later reached the higher floors. The firemen, who arrived very late at the site, could not initially control the fire.

State news agency MENA said that firemen eventually managed to control it, but state TV reported that the fire damaged the whole building and all of its collections.

The building is adjacent to the Shura Council building, and both MENA and state TV accused protesters of throwing a Molotov cocktail at the institute.

Eyewitnesses were reported to have seen protesters throwing a Molotov cocktail at stone-throwing soldiers at the Shura Council building, but the projectile missed the intended target and instead landed in the Egyptian Scientific Institute.

The website of Youm7 newspaper alleged that a protester was set on fire after trying to set the building on fire. No other source confirmed this news.

The institute is considered the oldest scientific institute in Egypt. It was established as L'Institute d’Egypte in August 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte during the French invasion of Egypt. Its mission is to advance high quality research in various fields, ranging from biology and mathematics to fine arts and archaeology. Its library contains more than 200,000 books, including the original volumes of the "Description de l'Égypte" (Description of Egypt), begun in 1798 by French scientists in Egypt.

Professor Mahmoud al-Shernoby, the president of the institute, told state TV in a phone interview that the damage is a “great loss” to Egypt and that those “who caused this disaster should be punished.”

Egypt's Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, appointed by the military earlier this month, condemned the library attack, which he called an "arson committed by the protesters who portrayed no patriotism in protecting the symbols of the historical civilization of this nation." The 200,000-book library is called the Scientific Center.

Destroyed in the fire were the original manuscript of the "description of Egypt" and "irreplaceable maps and historical manuscripts preserved by many generations since the building of the Scientific Center in August 1798 during the French Campaign," Ganzouri said in a statement.

Egypt lost a piece of "its national treasure" and "its rare history," the prime minister said.

The library was a scene of intense confrontation Saturday.

Tunsians Celebrate Arab Spring Anniversary

Tunisians celebrate Arab Spring Anniversary
(Dp-news - Sana)

TUNISIA- It started with a death in Tunisia, spreading to Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria. But one year on, the youth revolt has gone truly global. It could have easily been overlooked. It was not the first time a young, frustrated Arab had taken desperate action to draw attention to the plight of the marginalised millions. But on this occasion, the news of a suicide went viral.

A year to the day since Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation in a Tunisian town kicked off a year of revolt, the convulsions have spread further than could ever have been imagined: in the depths of a Russian winter, activists are planning their next howl of protest at the Kremlin; in a north American city, a nylon tent stands against a bitter wind; in a Syrian nightmare, a soldier contemplates defection.

Sidi Bouzid is celebrating the first anniversary of the Tunisian uprisings, starting on December 16th, 2011 and continuing until December 19th, 2011. Sidi Bouzid is a southwestern Tunisian town that served as the birthplace of the uprisings that shook the country last winter. The uprisings acted as the first spark in the Arab world to rise up against dictatorship and corruption, ushering in a new chapter in the history of the region.

The committee organizing the first “International Festival of the Revolution of December 17th” held a press conference at the Ibn Rachik Culture Center in Tunis to shed light on the festival’s program. The festival’s aim is to commemorate the outbreak of the Tunisian Revolution in Sidi Bouzid.

Mohamed Jellali, a member of the committe, stressed that the success of the January 14th, 2011 revolution was an outcome of what happened on December 17th, 2010 – when Mohamed Bouazizi, in an act of desperation, set himself ablaze.

The organization of the festival is part of a rehabilitation program of the governorate of Sidi Bouzid – honoring the crucial the role it played in the outbreak of the uprising.

The festival will kick off on December 16th, 2011 with a photographic exhibition of portraits of martyrs and those wounded. The official opening of the festival will take place on December 17th, 2011, and will be marked with the unveiling of a portrait of Mohamed Bouazizi, a memorial of the uprisings.

The festival’s program includes entertainment shows to be performed on Sidi Bouzid’s main street, conferences, poem recitations from famous Arab poets, and large screen projections of films depicting the revolts.

Tunisian director Mohamed Zran’s movie, “The People Want: Dégage (Get out),” will be among the movies screened. Other highlights include a soccer game for 12-13 year olds, a marathon, an operetta performance, and a performance by the Spanish artist Manu Chao. Famous personalities that will attend the festival include 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkul Karaman from Yemen and Palestinian poet Tamim Barghouthi.

An international conference entitled “The Tunisian Revolution: Building for the Right to Democracy and Revolution” will take place as part of the festival as well. The festival will close with a big gala.

Interim President Moncef Marzouki, Head of Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar, and Interim Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali are attending the event while promoting a conference on regional development being held the same day.

The 26-year-old high school dropout, who had worked as a fruit vendor since he was 10 to support his mother, uncle and five brothers and sisters, Mohamed Bouazizi has become a national hero and the father of a regional revolution.

Every day, he would push his cart through the hot, dusty streets, struggling to earn just five dinars ($3) a day.

But on Dec. 17 last year, Mohamed Bouazizi had a run-in with the police when Feyda Hamdi, a municipal inspector, confiscated his unlicensed cart, vegetables and a prized electronic scale.

After allegedly accepting a 10-dinar ($7) “fine” from Mr. Bouazizi, she slapped him, spat in his face and insulted his dead father.

Humiliated, angry and dejected, Mr. Bouazizi went to provincial headquarters in Sidi Bouzid, hoping to get his vegetables and scale back and to complain to local officials. But they refused to see him and had police send him away.

Within an hour, the distraught vegetable vendor returned to the elegant white-washed building, shouted out against the injustices and poured two bottles of paint thinner over his body. Then he set himself on fire.

The flames ignited a year of chaos and change in the Middle East as they unleashed waves of anger against the Arab world’s poverty, unemployment and repression.

Overnight, Mr. Bouazizi’s gruesome suicide bid became a symbol of the humiliations to which the Arab world’s authoritarian states subjected their citizens.

A day after his self-immolation, hundreds of youths smashed shop windows and damaged cars in Sidi Bouzid. Film footage of the rampage was posted on Facebook and went viral as millions of Tunisians and other Arabs witnessed the rare rebellion.

When the government rushed extra security forces to Sidi Bouzid to try and crush the unrest, the rioting grew more intense and spread to nearby towns.

Within three days of Mohamed Bouazizi’s attempted suicide, as he lay dying in a Tunis hospital, the street protests had reached the capital and 1,000 workers clashed with police outside the offices of the General Union of Tunisian Workers.

Quietly, a lifetime of old power structures -- political, social, and ideological -- have been dissolved and the certainties of one generation have been replaced by the messy unpredictability of another. Today the furniture of the new sits deliberately beside the supposed certainties of the old. Handmade barricades are bolted to public squares, plastic tents pitched beside stone cathedrals and the solid steel of a New York bank is harassed by pop-up armies of retweeters.

It began as a Mediterranean revolt spreading on both sides of the sea -- from Tunisia through Egypt and Libya and beyond, and from Greece and Spain upwards into Europe. In a million different and fragmented ways, scenes of protest were the narrative backbone to 2011 played out again and again in cities as far afield as Santiago, Stockholm and Seoul.

Islamist-led Tunisia installs Secularist Dissident as President
(DP-News - agencies)

TUNISIA- Tunisia has installed as its new president a former dissident who was imprisoned and then exiled for opposing former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, a new landmark in the country’s post-revolutionary transition to democracy.

Rights activist and former opposition leader Moncef Marzouki became Tunisia's first elected president since the revolution.

Members of the constitutional assembly, Tunisia’s interim parliament, voted on to elect Moncef Marzouki as president, the second most powerful role after the prime minister.
The national anthem played in the assembly as supporters shouted "Loyalty to the Martyrs of the Revolution" after the vote was held.

"I am proud to carry the most precious of responsibilities, that of being the guarantor of the people, the state and the revolution," said the 66-year-old Marzouki on Monday, wearing his trademark oversize glasses and his usual grey suit with white shirt and no tie.

“I promise the Tunisian people that I will work for the country with all my strength,” Marzouki said after the vote. “I represent a country, a people, a revolution. Long live Tunisia.”

“I say to those members who gave me their votes, thank you for your trust, and for those who did not vote for me, your message has been received ... I know that you are going to hold me to account,” Marzouki said.

Addressing the opposition, Marzouki said: "I have received your message that you will be keeping an eye on me."

Marzouki was elected with 153 votes in the 217-member constituent assembly, with three of the 202 deputies present voting against, two abstaining and 44 opposition members casting blank ballots.

Marzouki will serve for a year until the constitution is re-written and new elections are held. Marzouki's first order of business will be to name the prime minister, with Hamadi Jebali, the number two of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, expected to get the nod.

About 40 opposition members of the assembly cast blank ballots in protest at a vote they said was a charade to mask the fact that real power was now held by the Islamists.
“This was a piece of theatre,” said Najib Chebbi, head of the PDP party. “We are disappointed in Mr Marzouki that he has accepted a presidency which is just democratic window-dressing without any real functions.”

Secularist politicians say the Islamists will undermine Tunisia’s liberal values and impose a strict moral code. Ennahda denies it has any such intentions, saying instead it will follow the moderate example of the Islamists who rule Turkey.

Among those who voted against Marzouki was Samir Betaieb of the left-wing Democratic Modernist Coalition.

"This election took place on the basis of an unbalanced text that gives a lot of power to a designated head of government at the expense of an elected president," he said.

Markouzi to sworn in on Tuesday at the presidential palace in Carthage, 11 months after the ouster of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali sparked the Arab Spring that also saw long-time dictators toppled in Egypt and Libya.

"I have the great honour of becoming the first president of the first free republic of the Arab world," the French-trained doctor said.

The North African country's new president was Ben Ali's bete noire throughout his political career and was forced to live in exile in France for a decade.

Marzouki, 66, is respected by many Tunisians for his implacable opposition to the autocratic Ben Ali. As president, he will be a secularist counterweight to the moderate Islamist party which is now Tunisia’s dominant political force.

Marzouki, who headed the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LTDH) from 1989 until Ben Ali supporters forced him out in 1994, has a deep-seated passion for human rights.

An admirer of India's independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, he travelled to that country as well as South Africa after its transition from apartheid to democracy.

Marzouki, a father of three, is divorced from his French wife. A prolific writer, he has penned several books in French and Arabic including one titled "Dictators on Watch: A Democratic Path for the Arab World."

Tunisia became the birth-place of the “Arab Spring” uprisings in January when protests forced Ben Ali, in power for more than 23 years, to flee to Saudi Arabia.

That inspired revolutions in Egypt and Libya, as well as unrest in other Middle Eastern states.

The Role of Media at the Arab Spring, From Facebook to Sky News
(DP-News - huffingtonpost )

The role of social media networks including Twitter and Facebook has been debated endlessly online and in the press ever since the Arab Spring uprisings began.

Some have passionately argued that the new and more open communication afforded by these networks has been a vital organising tool.

Right at the start of the Tunisian uprising in December 2010, for instance, the self-immolation of Sidi Bouzid was not reported by the restrictive national media - but on Facebook the news quickly got out.

More than 100 pages on the incident were created - and blocked. Arrests and further shut-downs followed. The libertarian hacking collective Anonymous attached government websites in an operation known as Operation Tunisia in response and once Ben Ali fled the blogger Slim Amamou was appointed secretary of state for youth and sport.

Others have said that at best social media has been an additional weapon for protesters whose concerns are entirely separate to developments in the media.

For journalists, at least, social media tools have proved an important way of speaking to protesters with relative assurance that the security of protesters will not be compromised.

The Huffington Post UK has conducted several interviews with people inside Syria via Skype, for instance. These interviews, usually facilitated by activist networks, have provided important insights to a region that otherwise would be largely inaccessible to foreign media.

Global and local activist networks including Avaaz have also made use of social media in more targeted ways, for instance developing networks of so-called 'citizen journalists' whose work in getting out YouTube videos and accounts of torture and violence have been vital.

Mainstream media networks have also produced some exceptional journalism across the region. We spoke to the team behind a Channel 4 Unreported World documentary recorded secretly inside Syria, for instance, which made an important impact in the UK.

Arab Spring Timeline
(DP-News - huffingtonpost )
The Arab Spring Timeline from 17 December 2010 to 17 December 2011

(17) Tunisia - jobless graduate Mohamed Bouazizi starts selling vegetables without a permit. When police seize his cart he sets fire to himself and later dies. The act, following Wikileaks publication of US criticism of the regime, provokes young Tunisians to protest.
(29) Tunisia - after 10 days of protests, President Ben Ali appears on television promising action on job creation. He declares the law will be very firm on protesters.
(09) Tunisia - 11 people die in clashes with security forces. Protesters set fire to cars in several Tunisian cities; security forces respond violently.
(14) Tunisia - Ben Ali finally bows to the protests and flees to Saudi Arabia by way of Malta.
(14) Libya - Gaddafi condemns the Tunisian uprising in a televised address. First reports of unrest in Libya.
(17) Egypt - A man sets fire to himself next to the parliament building in Cairo in protest of economic conditions.
(18) Egypt - Diplomat Mohamed El Baradei warns of a Tunisia-style explosion in Egypt.
(19) Tunisia - Switzerland freezes Ben Ali’s assets.
(24) Yemen - The arrest of 19 opposition activists including Tawakil Karman, the female activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who had called for the ousting of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
(24) Tunisia - President Sarkozy promises emergency financial aid to the interim government.
(25) Egypt - The first coordinated demonstrations turn Cairo into a war zone as protesters demand the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak. In response, mobile and network connections are stopped.
(26) Egypt - As security forces use tear gas and beatings, hundreds are arrested, including foreign journalists. EU leaders condemn the tactics.
(28) Egypt - After four days of protests and 25 deaths, Mubarak makes his first TV appearance, pledging his commitment to democracy. He sacks his government but refuses to step down.
(29) Egypt - The death toll reaches 100.
(30) Egypt - Al Jazeera TV is ordered to stop its reporting of the protests.
(31) Egypt - The army declares itself allied to the protesters.

(01) Egypt - Mubarak declares he won’t run in the next election, but will oversee the transition.
(02) Egypt - Mubarak supporters stage brutal bid to crush Cairo uprising. Using clubs, bats and knives, they start a bloody battle in Tahrir Square.
(10) Egypt - President Obama demands Mubarak presents his path to democracy.
(11) Egypt- Mubarak resigns and hands power to military.
(13) Egypt - Military reject protesters’ demands for a swift transfer of power to a civilian administration.
(15) Egypt - Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency begins tracing the bank account of Mubarak’s cabinet.
(16) Libya- Protests erupt in Benghazi after the arrests of human rights activists.
(17) Bahrain - Four people are killed in an early morning raid by security forces on Pearl Square, the focal point of anti-government protests.
(20) Libya - The death toll passes 230 as Gaddafi’s son addresses Libyan TV defending his father.
(25) Libya - As uprising reaches the heart of Tripoli, protests erupt across Middle East.
(27) Libya - Revolutionaries take control of Zawiyah, 30 miles from Tripoli.
(27) Tunisia - Renewed turmoil as Mohamed Ghannouchi resigns as the prime minister of the post-revolutionary government.

(03) Libya - The International Criminal Court says it will investigate Gaddafi for possible crimes against humanity.
(06) Libya - British diplomatic efforts to reach out to Libyan rebels ends in humiliation after a team of Special Forces are briefly detained by farm workers.
(06) Saudi Arabia- Authorities ban public protests after demonstrations by minority Shia groups.
(07) Libya - The UN secretary general calls for an end to attacks on civilians.
(08) Yemen - More than 2,000 inmates stage a revolt at a prison in the capital and join calls by anti-government protesters for Saleh to step down.
(09) Libya - Gaddafi warns the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace will be met with armed resistance.
(09) Tunisia - Tunisian court rules that the party of former President Ben Ali will be dissolved. The news is followed by street celebrations.
(09) Yemen- Soldiers fired rubber bullets and tear gas at students camped at a university in Sanaa. More than 90 are wounded.
(10) Yemen - Saleh’s pledge to create a parliamentary system of government is rejected by the opposition.
(11) Libya - Sarkozy calls for targeted air strikes against the Libyan regime if Gaddafi's forces use chemical weapons and air strikes against rebel forces.
(14) Libya - The rebel leadership urges Western powers to assassinate Gaddafi and launch military strikes.
(15) Bahrain - Martial law is declared.
(18) Libya - The UN backs a no-fly zone.
(18) Yemen - Government forces fire on protesters in Sanaa - 45 people are killed.
(19) Libya - Operation Odyssey Dawn begins, marking the biggest assault on an Arab regime since the 2003 Iraq invasion.
(23) Libya - Britain, France and the US agree that Nato will take military command of Libya’s no-fly zone.
(26) Syria - The UN urges the government to show restraint.
(26) Libya - The strategic town of Ajdabiya falls to rebels.
(28) Libya - Rebels advance on Sirte, Gaddafi’s home city, recapturing several towns without resistance on the way.
(29) Syria - President Bashar al-Assad sacks his cabinet amid the worst unrest in decades.
(30) Libya - Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa flees to the UK in a fight arranged by British intelligence.
(01) Libya - The Gaddafi regime starts talks with west. Turkey proposes a peace plan.
(09) Syria - Anti-government demonstrations spread across Syria with highest turnout yet. At least 22 are killed in Daraa.
(11) Libya - The revolutionary council rejects a peace initiative because didn’t require Gaddafi to immediately relinquish power.
(15) Libya - Obama signals America’s return to the forefront of the international effort in Libya. In a joint article with Cameron and Sarkozy, he commits to military action until Gaddafi has been removed.
(25) Libya - The government accuses Nato of trying to assassinate Gaddafi after two air strikes in three days hit his premises in Tripoli.
(25) Syria - Tanks are deployed for first time.
(27) Yemen - Security forces fire on an anti-government demonstrations, killing 12.
(28) Syria - Hundreds of ruling Baath party MPs resign in protest as an increasingly bloody crackdown kills 500.

(01) Libya - The British embassy in Tripoli is burnt and other western missions ransacked in retaliation for NATO’s air strike.
(02) Syria - Prominent intellectuals and activists go into hiding.
(08) Libya - Dozens of migrants who boarded a boat in Tripoli were left to die in the Mediterranean after EU military units ignored their cries for help.
(09) Syria - The EU imposes an arms embargo and other sanctions on Syria but does not penalise Assad personally.
(16) Libya - Gaddafi, his son Saif-al-Islam, and intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi are named as war crimes suspects by the chief prosecutor for the international criminal court.
(19) Syria - Obama urges President al-Assad to lead the democratic transition, or to resign
(23) Syria - EU sanctions target Assad.
(24) Libya - NATO hits Tripoli in the heaviest bombing raid yet.

(03) Yemen - President Saleh survives an apparent assassination attempt.
(04) Syria - Forces kill at least 100 protesters in two days of bloodshed.
(04) Libya- British army Apache helicopters attack Gaddafi’s troops for the first time.
(05) Syria - Israeli troops clash with protesters on the Syrian border for the second time in three weeks.
(05) Yemen - The US and Britain urge Saudi Arabia to persuade Saleh to formally stand down.

(11) Syria - French embassy guards in Damascus fire live ammunition to disperse President al-Assad loyalists who tried to break in the compound in protest at the envoy’s visit to the opposition stronghold of Hama.
(15) Libya - Rebels win political recognition as the legitimate authority.
(18) Libya - Rebels backed by Nato air strikes fight their way into parts of the government held town of Brega.
(19) Libya - US and Libya hold first direct talks since the beginning of the conflict but don’t reach any agreement.
(21) Libya - Rebels capture chief of operations, General Abdul Nabih Zayid.
(24) Syria - President al-Assad tries to quash dissents before beginning of Ramadan. Troops enter the village of Sarjeh, cutting electricity and water.
(24) Egypt - Strained relations between activists and military rulers worsen after dozens of protesters are attacked during a rally in Cairo.
(25) Syria - The cabinet backs a draft law to allow rival political parties to the ruling Baath party for first time in decades.
(25) Libya - Britain is prepared to agree to a political settlement that would see Gaddafi remain in Libya after relinquishing his hold on power.
(27) Libya - Britain confers diplomatic recognition to the Libyan rebels.
(28) Libya - The rebels’ chief of staff, Abdel Fatah Younis, is killed.

(01) Egypt - The army violently retakes Tahrir square with tanks.
(08) Syria - Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah demands an end to the bloodshed in Syria and recalls his country’s ambassadors.
(09) Syria - Envoys from Turkey, India, Brazil and South Africa head to Damascus to press President al-Assad to end the crackdown.
(11) Syria - Opposition forces say 257 have died in 11 days.
(18) Syria - Human rights investigators list Assad officials who could be prosecuted by the international criminal court.
(22) Libya - The capital appears poised to fall as rebels enter Green Square.
(26) Libya - In its first Tripoli press conference, the National Transitional Council says its cabinet will be moving from Benghazi to the capital.
(29) Libya - Gaddafi’s wife and their three children cross the border unhindered raising questions about NTC’s control over central Libya.

(02) Syria - EU governments ban imports of Syrian oil and extend sanctions to intensify pressure on Assad.
(08) Libya - Gaddafi issues a defiant message from hiding in which he vows never to leave "the land of his ancestors".
(09) Syria - Eight soldiers are executed in Damascus for refusal to fire on protesters.
(16) Libya - Rebel fighters are involved in heavy fighting in a final battle to capture Sirte.
(21) Syria - Obama condemns torture, detention and murder by the Syrian government and urges the UN Security Council to further sanction Assad’s regime.
(23) Yemen - President Saleh returns unexpectedly after three months recovering in Saudi Arabia from an assassination attempt. He calls for a truce after five days of brutal violence in Sanaa in which 100 protesters die.
(25) Libya - A mass grave containing 1,270 bodies is discovered in Tripoli.
(25) Saudi Arabia- King Abdullah announces cautious reforms, including the right for women to vote and stand for election from 2015.
(25) Yemen - Saleh calls for early elections in his first speech since returning to Yemen.
(27) Egypt - The military regime announces the first parliamentary elections since Mubarak was ousted by opposition groups. Protesters fear remnants of the old regime will stay in power.
(30) Egypt - Thousands rally under the slogan "Reclaiming the Revolution" in cities across the country as frustration grows with the slow pace of reform.
(30) Syria - Hillary Clinton speaks out after US ambassador Robert Ford’s convoy was attacked as he travelled to meet a leading opponent to the regime.

(06) Egypt - Supreme Council of the Armed Forces unveil plans that could see them retain power until 2013.
(07) Syria - Russian president breaks ranks with President al-Assad for the first time since protests started.
(16) Libya - The knocking down of Gaddafi’s Tripoli stronghold seen as erasing a symbol of repression.
(17) Libya - NTC troops raise flags of Libya’s new government after a six-week siege.
(20) Libya - Cornered by government forces and pinned down by NATO airstrikes, Gaddafi is found and killed.
(33) Libya - Libyans queue outside refrigerated meat store to confirm that the dictator is really dead.
(23) Libya- The NTC announces the liberation to elated crowds.
(23) Tunisia - Polls open nine months after Tunisians first took the streets.
(25) Libya - Gaddafi's burial alongside his son brings to a close the controversy over the public displaying of his body.
(27) Libya - The NTC questions its earlier assertion that Gaddafi died in crossfire and pledges justice for anyone proven to have fired the lethal shot.
(29) Syria - Arab ministers send their strongest message yet calling for an end to civilian killings after latest shooting at post-Friday prayer protests.
(30) Syria - President al-Assad warns that intervention could lead to another Afghanistan as NATO officials says Libya-like action lacks support.
(31) Libya - UN secretary general rules out intervention in Syria.

(02) Egypt - The generals announce a pardon for 334 prison inmates.
(03) Egypt - Activists claim their revolution is under attack and appeal for solidarity from the worldwide Occupy Movement.
(12) Syria - The Arab League agrees to exclude Syria and impose sanctions over its failure to end the violent crackdown.
(13) Syria - Saudi, Qatari, French and Turkish embassies are stormed by pro-Assad supporters as the regime demands an emergency Arab League meeting.
(13) Egypt - Violence escalates as protests against the ruling military junta spreads beyond Cairo and Alexandria.
(14) Syria - Pressure mounts on an increasingly isolated Syrian President as King Abdullah says he "should go".
(15) Syria - Human rights groups say that up to 140 people have been killed since The Arab League voted to suspend Syrian membership.
(19) Libya- Celebrations erupt as Gaddafi’s fugitive son Saif is detained while attempting to flee to Niger.
(19) Egypt - Security forces open fire on thousands of anti-junta protesters in Tahrir Square leaving two dead and more than 600 injured.
(20) Libya - All leading figures from Gaddafi regime have been killed, captured or driven into exile with Abdullah al-Senussi’s detention.
(21) Egypt - The interim government bows to growing pressure as violence leaves 33 dead and more than 2,000 injured.
(22) Tunisia - The constituent assembly, the first newly elected body to emerge from the Arab Spring, meets for the first time.
(22) Libya - The international criminal court’s chief prosecutor says Saif al-Islam could be tried in Libya rather than at the Hague.
(23) Yemen - Agreement for an immediate transfer of power pledges immunity for Saleh and his family.
(25) Egypt - The US calls for civilian rule to immediately follow parliamentary elections.
(27) Syria- President al-Assad’s decision to refuse access to observers leaves Syria facing stiff sanctions from The Arab League.
(29) Egypt - Egyptians vote in record numbers in the country’s first free ballot for more than 80 years.
(30) Egypt - The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party looks on course to be the biggest winner after the first round of voting.
Around 80 are injured in Tahrir Square after clashes broke out after polls closed.
(30) Syria - Turkey freezes assets of those involved in the government crackdown.

(01) Egypt - The announcement of Egypt’s election results is delayed.
(01) Syria - The UN high commissioner for human rights says the death toll has reached more than 4,000.
(01) Yemen - The political opposition and the party of the outgoing President Saleh agree to makeup of an interim government.
(02) Syria - A series of large protests call for the international community to establish buffer zones to protect civilians.
(05) Syria - President al-Assad`s regime says it is willing to sign an Arab League protocol to send international observers into Syria but only on certain conditions.
(05) Egypt - Egyptians go to the poll once more in the run-off contests for parliamentary seats. No party attracted more than 50% in the previous week’s vote.
(06) Syria - The US ambassador, who was withdrawn from Damascus for his own safety, is returning to Syria. Hillary Clinton meets Syrian opposition leaders.
(06) Libya - The government vows to disarm Tripoli.
(07) Syria - President al-Assad attempts to distance himself from the army in an interview from ABC news.
(07) Egypt - A new government is sworn in by Kamal Ganzouri, who was appointed prime minister by the military rulers.
(08) Libya - The government gives the green light for British police to visit the country to conduct an investigation into the Lockerbie bombing and the assassination of PC Yvonne Fletcher.
(09) Syria - More than 5,000 dead since uprising began.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Secretary of Defense visits Tripoli Graves

US Secretary of Defense lays wreath and leaves coin at the graves of American sailors in Tripoli

Leon Panetta, defense secretary, offers support to new Libya in historic visit

By Craig Whitlock, Published: December 17

TRIPOLI, Libya — Nine months after American and NATO air power was deployed to rescue a faltering rebellion against Moammar Gaddafi, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta made a historic visit here Saturday to offer symbolic support for Libya’s post-revolutionary government as it tries to stabilize the North African country.

Panetta, who took office in July as the civil war was raging, is the first Pentagon chief to visit Libya after decades of hostile relations between Washington and Gaddafi. His trip was the latest effort by the Obama administration to encourage Libya’s fledgling government to move quickly to transition to democracy even as the United States seeks to avoid the appearance of interfering in the country’s volatile internal affairs.

“Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people,” Panetta said at a news conference at the Libyan Defense Ministry. “This will be a long and difficult transition, but I have every confidence that you will succeed in realizing the dream of a government of, by and for all people and achieve a more secure and prosperous future.”

Panetta’s message to Libyan leaders echoed comments he had made two days before in Baghdad, where he led a ceremony to markthe end of the war in Iraq. Although their circumstances differ, both countries are struggling to adopt democratic practices after the U.S. military ousted, or helped oust, a long-serving autocrat.

Panetta met with Libya’s new prime minister, Abdurrahim el-Keib, as well as its defense minister, Osama al-Jwayli. He was accompanied by Army Gen. Carter Ham, the chief of the U.S. military’s Africa Commandand a leading player in NATO’s Libya campaign. The defense secretary said Washington was “prepared to provide whatever assistance that Libya believes it needs” but added that he did not discuss specific aid proposals with Libyan leaders. “They have to determine what their needs are,” he said.

Panetta also laid a wreath at a small cemetery in Tripoli that for two centuries has been the resting place for five American sailors. The sailors were part of a 13-member crew who died during a mission by the USS Intrepid against a Barbary pirate fleet in Tripoli’s harbor in 1804.

Some of the sailors’ descendants have sought for years to have their remains returned to the United States. The Navy favors leaving the cemetery undisturbed, calling it the “final resting place” of the sailors. Congress, however, passed a measure last week calling on the Defense Department to study the possibility of bringing the sailors’ remains home.

Panetta did not comment publicly during his visit to the cemetery, which sits on a bluff overlooking Tripoli’s harbor. In a statement issued afterward, he praised the Libyan government’s efforts to preserve the grave sites. The cemetery had been in a dilapidated condition for many years until a restoration project was completed in January, when Gaddafi was still in power.

Panetta made his brief stopover in Libya despite continuing unrest, including outbreaks of gunfire at the Tripoli airport earlier in the week. Rival militias that had banded together to oust Gaddafi are vying for control and influence in the new government.
Keib said he reassured Panetta that the government was doing its best to unify the militias under a single banner. “We know how serious this issue is,” he said. “We know it’s not just a matter of saying, ‘Okay, put down your arms and go back to work.’ ”

Panetta is the second member of Obama’s Cabinet to visit Libya in two months, following an appearance in Tripoli by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Oct. 19, two days before Gaddafi was killed by rebel forces.

Although U.S. and NATO bombing helped drive Gaddafi from power, the Obama administration avoided deploying U.S. ground forces to Libya. Only a handful of U.S. military personnel are in the country, assigned to security duties at the U.S. Embassy.
One priority for Libya’s new leaders has been to gain access to billions of dollars in assets that Gaddafi had stored in overseas accounts. On Friday, the White House announced that it has lifted remaining sanctions against Gaddafi’s government and that it will unfreeze an estimated $37 billion in Libyan government assets under U.S. jurisdiction.

But has the whitewash of the first USS Intrepid begun?

The following statement may be attributed to Michael Caputo, spokesman for the Intrepid families:

"The families of the crew of the first USS Intrepid are deeply moved by the 'emotional visit' of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to the squalid graves of their forebears. They have worked for more than two centuries to bring their boys home and his visit proves to us that our efforts are finally on the minds of the highest-ranking leaders of our nation. We are all very thankful.

We respect the need for hyperbolic oratory when our nation is building a new diplomatic relationship. However, it is important to correct Secretary Panetta's remarks today: the graves of the Intrepid crew were never properly cared for - by Americans or Libyans - and the cemetery was only recently renovated, some of it in preparation for his visit. Our sources in Tripoli tell us Americans were feverishly working inside the locked cemetery sprucing up the place before he arrived. Reporters who requested access before the cleanup were denied.

The Pentagon and the State Department might be able to shore up the collapsed walls of the cemetery, fix grave markers shattered for centuries, and even build new bridges between our nations, but they can never whitewash history. After being dragged through the streets of Tripoli, fed to wild dogs and then dumped in mass graves, the sons of the Intrepid families were never properly honored for their sacrifice. They are not today.

The Department of Defense has long ignored the facts surrounding the disposition of the crew of the first Intrepid. In fact, the Pentagon's own news service got it wrong again today: our heroes remains were not "transferred to the current graveyard in 1949." The cemetery was built up around the existing graves of the Intrepid officers in 1830; the enlisted men were recovered from a mass grave by an Italian road crew and transferred to the grounds in the 1930s. The Pentagon does not have their facts straight and they haven't for two hundred years.

The Intrepid families have never stopped begging for the return of their sons and our contemporary efforts resulted in a Congressional directive wrapped into the National Defense Authorization Act requiring the Pentagon to present its first factual report on repatriation in 270 days. We hope the families' deep research and abiding concerns will be included in this report. We fear the Secretary's remarks today and the continued errors in DoD reporting do not indicate they will end 207 years of blocking repatriation.

We hope Secretary Panetta's visit to the graves left neglected for centuries moves him to join our effort to repatriate our nation's first Navy heroes, honored as they deserve. In many ways, it is now left up to him and boils down to a simple question: will he honor the historical wishes of the Intrepid families to bring them home where they belong?"

DECEMBER 17, 2011