Moussa Koussa provides moral test for West’s Libya policy

Scottish prosecutors have requested an interview with defected Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, a move hailed by relatives of those killed in the air disaster. (Middle East Online, March 31) Koussa, former head of Libyan intelligence and until recently a member of Moammar Qaddafi’s inner circle, arrived in the UK March 30 and said he was defecting. Popularly known as the “Envoy of Death,” he was secretary of the Libyan People’s Bureau in London—equivalent to Tripoli’s ambassador—in the ’80s. He was declared persona non grata by Britain after two Libyan opposition figures were murdered in London and he told the media that the policy of eliminating “stray dogs” would continue. Campaigners also hold him responsible in the 1984 slaying of Yvonne Fletcher, a London police officer who was apparently shot from inside the Libyan embassy while trying to control a crowd of anti-Qaddafi protesters (mostly Libyan ex-pats) who had gathered there. (The Guardian, March 31) Libyan rebels have arrested a man suspected in the Fletcher murder, one Omar Ahmed Sodani, who worked under Koussa at the embassy, and campaigners want him to face trial in UK. (The Guardian, March 25)

But while the Fletcher and Lockerbie cases win headlines in Britain and the West, there is comparatively little concern with the hundreds and perhaps thousands of Libyans who “disappeared” into Koussa’s torture chambers when he headed the Mukhabarat intelligence service in the ’90s. (“Disappearance” is a fave tactic of the Qaddafi regime, and one which has of course been taken up with a vengeance since the recent unrest, Amnesty International warned March 29.)

We can rest assured that Koussa didn’t defect because of any pangs of conscience. His transfer from leadership of the all-powerful Mukhabarat to that of the Foreign Ministry was actually a demotion, and apparently came about because he got into an ego conflict with Qaddafi’s sons. (BBC World Service, March 30)

Koussa clearly chose the UK because he has friends there. Nearly a decade ago, he was embraced by Britain as the technocratic face of the Libyan regime after the West opted for a strategy of domesticating Qaddafi. In talks that took place in one of London’s elite Pall Mall “gentleman’s clubs” in 2003, he brokered the deals in which the Qaddafi regime agreed to abandon its quest for weapons of mass destruction, and to restitute the Lockerbie families. In exchange, British diplomatic relations were restored, European sanctions against Libya were lifted, and the Qaddafi was regime was welcomed back into the “international community.” (The Independent, Dec. 22, 2003)

Needless to say, this didn’t result in the heavy hand of the dictatorship being lifted one iota. There is evidence that Downing Street is now divided on what to do with Moussa. Prime Minister David Cameron says he approved the decision to allow Moussa to defect, but also said “Moussa Koussa is not being granted immunity, there is no deal of that kind.” (The Guardian, March 31)

We shall soon see whether men like Moussa Koussa will again be embraced by the West—this time as the New Bosses of a post-Qaddafi Libya. In which case, we will doubtless see the insurgency continuing even after the dictator’s fall—this time with the West on “wrong” side (as is usually the case).

See our last post on the Libya crisis.

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  1. Scottish prosecutors ask NTC for Lockerbie info
    Scottish prosecutors asked Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) on Sept. 26 for any evidence, witnesses or assistance they can provide in tracking down those involved in the Lockerbie bombing. The request follows the Scottish Crown’s recent defense of its decision to release convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi on humanitarian grounds due to his terminal prostate cancer diagnosis. Megrahi, convicted of murdering 270 people in 2001 in the mid-air explosion of Pan Am Flight 103, was received as a “hero” upon returning to Libya from prison and still lives two years later. Convinced that Megrahi did not act alone, prosecutors have also suggested investigating the possible involvement of former Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi. (Jurist, Sept. 26)

    Responding to the request in a press conference, the NTC’s interim justice minister Mohammed al-Alagi said: “The case is closed.” He added that Megrahi should not face a new prosecution. (The Telegraph, Sept. 27)