Global Policy Forum

Former Libyan Spy Chief Could Face Execution Soon, Lawyer Fears


Observers are concerned that the Libyan government is failing to live up to its promises to provide former members of Muammar Gaddafi’s government with a fair and transparent trial. While Libyan authorities have been eager to accommodate international concerns over the treatment of Gaddafi’s son Seif, others may not be receiving appropriate treatment.  The lawyer for Gaddaffi’s former spy chief, Abdullah al-Senussi, has written to the ICC and the British government claiming that his client has been subjected to torture and may face summary execution. In response, the ICC has reiterated its demand that Mr. Senussi be transferred to The Hague. Mr. Senussi’s case raises questions about the ICC’s complementarity principle and whether the court can take on a case when a national judicial system fails to comply with international law. 

By Marlisle Simons

January 24, 2013 

Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s intelligence chief is expected to be tried by a Libyan military court in the coming days and will face a certain and swift execution, his British lawyer said Thursday.

The lawyer, Ben Emmerson, sent urgent letters on Thursday urging the British government and the judges of the International Criminal Court to intervene and prevent what he called a summary execution of his client, Abdullah al-Senussi.

In a letter to the British Foreign Office, Mr. Emmerson said that he had learned from Mr. Senussi’s family that he had been tortured in custody, his trial was to start before the end of January and his execution was planned for Feb. 15.

The lawyer asked the British government to put the issue on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council. In response to Mr. Emmerson’s letter, judges at the International Criminal Court, where Mr. Senussi is wanted on charges of crimes against humanity, immediately issued a new order to Libya to hand him over to The Hague for trial. It also ordered Libya to provide a response about its plans for Mr. Senussi no later than Monday.

Mauritania arrested Mr. Senussi, Colonel Qaddafi’s brother-in-law, last March as he was trying to escape prosecution by the Libyans, the French and the international court who had charged him with human rights abuses and terrorist acts during his many years as the confidant and spy chief for the former Libyan leader.

He was extradited to Libya in September after months of pleading from the Libyan authorities in return for an alleged payment to Mauritania that was widely reported in both countries. Quoting from Libyan government records, Mr. Emmerson told the international court that Libya’s Council of Ministers last November had approved the payment of about $200 million “as a donation to the Mauritanian people.”

Mr. Senussi is believed to hold crucial information related to the bombing of a French and an American passenger jet in the late 1980s and many killings in Libya, including a 1996 prison massacre.

Mr. Senussi and Colonel Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi are perhaps the two most notorious survivors of the Qaddafi era, and they have been the subject of a tug of war between Libya and the international court who both want to put them on trial.

The Libyan government is treating the two cases quite differently: it has hired international lawyers and gone through a series of steps to demonstrate that it is competent to provide a fair trial for Mr. Qaddafi at home, but it has not tried to challenge the court’s jurisdiction in the case against Mr. Senussi. Rather, it has ignored the court’s questions and its orders to hand him over.

Yet whatever the technicalities, Libya has made clear that it intends to keep the two men and prosecute them as it sees fit.

Mr. Senussi has been kept incommunicado in a prison in Tripoli. Mr. Qaddafi is still in the hands of an armed militia in Zintan, a small city in northwestern Libya, and the Tripoli government has so far failed to gain custody over him.

The warnings from Mr. Senussi’s lawyer about a likely execution came on the same day as the court’s release of a long explanation filed by the Libyan government on why it could provide a fair trial for Mr. Qaddafi. The 60-page document addressed questions from the court judges, and listed steps Libya was taking including the training of staff, the gathering of evidence and the preparation of the court. It said that Mr. Qaddafi’s trial could start in about four months, and it would include charges of murder, persecution and financial crimes.

Eleven other defendants could be tried at the same time if the cases were related, the document said.

Melinda Taylor, the court-appointed lawyer for Mr. Qaddafi, said the document was full of promises but did not adequately deal with the lack of security that would make a fair trial nearly impossible. “How can the authorities protect judges, lawyers, let alone witnesses?” she said.

Mr. Emmerson said that it was ominous that the lawyers for Libya who have been answering the court’s questions about Mr. Qaddafi had provided no guidance on Mr. Senussi’s case.

He said that action was needed by the Security Council, which had requested the court to investigate crimes in Libya. “It’s unthinkable that the Security Council should stand by whilst the dogs of war in Libya tear their enemies to pieces, in clear defiance of international law and of a resolution passed by the Security Council itself,” he said.


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