Recovering Gaddafi’s Black Box
Tripoli and Nouakchott - Many questions remain unanswered about Wednesday’s long-awaited extradition from Mauritania to Libya of former Libyan intelligence chief Abdallah al-Senoussi, and about what the future holds for the man termed the “black box” of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s regime because of the many secrets he was privy to.
The brief Mauritanian statement announcing the move offered no clarification. It came despite repeated earlier declarations by President Mohamed Ould Abdul-Aziz that Senoussi would not be handed over as he was subject to legal proceedings in Mauritania, and that his extradition would be considered by the Mauritanian courts after they had tried him. Abdul-Aziz had also stressed that Senoussi would not be extradited without guarantees regarding how he would be treated.
Accordingly, observers in Nouakchott concluded that a deal must have been done to “sell” Senoussi to Libya. The fact that the Libyan delegation sent to take custody of Senoussi included Finance Minister Hassan Mukhtar Hamida Bin-Zaqlan revived earlier speculation that Mauritania had demanded payment of one billion dollars in exchange for his handover.
Mauritanian sources said the high-level Libyan delegation took custody of Senoussi at a formal ceremony in Nouakchott which was filmed by state TV, before flying him back on a Libyan plane. Bin-Zaqlan said Senoussi was in good health, and initially refused to board the jet and had to be dragged into it.
Mauritanian judicial sources said that all the proper legal procedures had been observed in the process of Senoussi’s extradition, and that “all the guarantees requested [by Nouakchott] were provided by the Libyan government.” Libyan officials had earlier sought to get Nouakchott to tone down its demand for assurances that Senoussi is given a fair trial and not to subject him to torture or mistreatment.
The two countries have been negotiating about the matter since May, when Senoussi attempted to enter Mauritania from Morocco on a forged Malian passport, with Justice Minister Abdin Ould al-Khair and Economy and Development Minister Sidi Ould al-Tah representing the Mauritanian side. Both outgoing Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Rahim al-Keib and his deputy, Mustafa Abu-Shaghour, led Libyan delegations which visited Mauritania to discuss the issue.
The Libyan authorities were not alone in wanting to get their hands on Senoussi, whether due to his extensive knowledge of the secrets of the Gaddafi regime, or his alleged involvement in many of its crimes, most notoriously the 1996 Bouslim prison massacre in which more than 1200 political detainees were slain.
France and the International Criminal Court also sought extradition of Senoussi to face trial. Lebanon, whose foreign minister, Adnan Mansour, was in Mauritania recently, too asked for access to Senoussi to question him about the 1978 disappearance of Moussa al-Sadr, a prominent Lebanese Imam and founder of the Amal Movement.
Senoussi had clearly been hoping to find sanctuary in Mauritania, where controversy had raged over the granting of Mauritanian diplomatic passports to former senior figures in the Gaddafi regime.
Senoussi may not be the last to find himself handed over to his country’s new rulers. Libyan officials say they want all the Gaddafi regime officials who managed to flee the country brought back, arguing that this is essential for launching a process of national reconciliation.
Keib recently went on a tour of neighboring countries to press them to extradite a number of wanted individuals. He is believed to have offered them financial inducements. The influence and financial clout wielded by some of these figures in the host countries appears so far to have thwarted diplomatic efforts to secure their extradition.
Although the whereabouts of many senior Gaddafi loyalists are well known, and the media have published details about some of them living in Egypt, the authorities failed to get them handed over.
Keib appears to have decided to make this a priority in the dying days of his administration. He said during a recent parliamentary cross-examination that Egypt had promised to repatriate some of Gaddafi’s men, and Morocco had pledged not to provide them with sanctuary, although he avoided mentioning Algeria or Niger. In a statement Wednesday congratulating Libyans on Senoussi’s repatriation, he urged Libya’s other neighbors to follow the example set by Tunisia and Mauritania.
When Tunisia handed over former prime minister al-Mahmoudi al-Baghdadi, media reports spoke of a payment of half a million dollars being made to the Tunisians in exchange. Keib hopes more such deals can be done. Among the inducements he reportedly offered Egypt and Morocco was preferential access for their citizens to the Libyan labor market, potentially providing employment for some two million people.
Justice and Reconciliation
Many Libyans share the view that the extradition and trial of former regime officials is a precondition for the launch of any national reconciliation process in the war-torn country.
In the view of journalist Mahmoud Shammam , justice has to come before reconciliation, making any discussion of reconciliation premature for now. He said Libyans would oppose any initiatives that disregard this, or trade-offs with former regime loyalists.
“Those who incited murder and bloodshed must face trial, and those who stole the people’s money must return it and turn themselves in,” he said, adding that Gaddafi-era officials should be pursued through international courts until Libya has recovered all its rights.
Shammam estimated the total number of Libyans who have fled the country at around 200,000.
Benghazi University law professor Hana al-Qalal concurred: “People should understand that there can be no national reconciliation unless it is preceded by genuine justice for those who were oppressed and had their rights violated and were robbed and killed for 42 years,” she said.
“The rights of the criminal should not be protected at the expense of the rights of the victim. But what is happening now is that thanks and rewards are being offered to people who were part of the system of evil and oppression in Libya,” she added. “National reconciliation cannot be achieved with this kind of logic.”
Rights activist Abdul-Baset Bou-Marzouq said some members of the government and Transitional National Council (TNC) had advocated a “no victor no vanquished” approach since the revolution had “allowed the losing side to switch over to the winning side without admitting defeat, in order to carry on the battle.”
He said a precondition for national reconciliation was “to end the battle first, and for the vanquished to admit defeat. Only such an admission can ensure reconciliation and assure the victors of their victory. Then they will automatically want reconciliation, so they can get on with building a country in which all are partners.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.