by Margaret Cooker & Drew Hinshaw on 06 Sep 2012 | Comments
Handoff From Mauritania, a Rebuff to International Court, Marks Triumph in New Leaders’ Efforts to Prosecute Old Regime
Libyan authorities have taken custody of Moammar Gadhafi’s former spy chief, who was captured by Mauritania in March while on the run from an indictment on war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
The return of Abdullah Senussi to Libya on Wednesday represents a diplomatic victory for the new government in Tripoli. Libya’s new leaders have sent several delegations to Mauritania to win custody of Mr. Senussi, a fugitive who was one of the most hated figures of the Gadhafi regime for his suspected role in Libyan-sponsored international terrorism attacks in the 1980s and a massacre of hundreds of Libyan prisoners in the mid-1990s.
Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagour said it was unclear what charges Mr. Senussi would face, but that there were numerous witnesses ready to testify about mistreatment.
“Its a great day for justice in Libya,” he said.
But the development raises questions about how Libya will deal with the international community regarding other efforts to extradite Mr. Senussi.
Mr. Abushagour said he didn’t expect any diplomatic fallout over Mauritania’s decision to hand Mr. Senussi over to Libya. “Senussi is Libyan and committed crimes against the Libyan people,” he said.
An ICC spokeswoman said the court hadn’t received any official information on the transfer, but added that Libyan authorities would be obligated to surrender Mr. Senussi to the court, where he is wanted for alleged crimes against humanity.
France also seeks custody. France convicted Mr. Senussi in absentia for his role in a 1989 airline bombing that killed 54 French nationals. Paris had wanted to bring him back to France to serve his sentence there. The French foreign ministry had no comment on Wednesday.
Mr. Senussi arrived in Tripoli early Wednesdayaccompanied by the Libyan chief of staff, Mr. Abushagour said.
Libya’s new rulers have fought to try Gadhafi’s family members and regime officials at home as a matter of national pride, rather than lose jurisdiction to the international community. Human-rights activists and Western diplomats worry that a weak central government in Libya and a lack of rule of law mean that these suspects won’t receive a fair trial as the country follows a wobbly path to democracy.
Libya’s transitional government has held Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the son of the former ruler, for almost a year without publicly charging him. Officials in Tripoli have declined to turn him over to the ICC despite the court’s indictment against him. Libya would support the ICC attending the trials of Seif al-Islam Gadhafi and Mr. Senussi, Mr. Abushagour said.
Mr. Gadhafi has had only brief access to a lawyer. Earlier this summer, Libyan security officials arrested a defense team of international lawyers appointed by the ICC to represent him, after they held a brief meeting with him in the provincial town of Zintan. The Libyan officials accused the legal team of threatening the country’s national security and conducting espionage on behalf of Gadhafi sleeper cells. The lawyers were released without charge amid outcry by the ICC.
In its arrest warrant for Mr. Senussi, who was one of Gadhafi’s most trusted lieutenants, and for the younger Gadhafi, The Hague-based ICC said both men had used their positions of command to have attacks carried out against opponents of the Libyan leader, who was hunted down and killed by rebels after his ouster in August 2011.
Mr. Senussi was arrested in March in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, after arriving on a plane from Morocco. Mauritanian authorities said he had entered the country on a false passport and they were holding him in custody while investigating international claims against him.
The Mauritanians agreed to Mr. Senussi’s extradition after their court convicted him of entering their country illegally, according to Mr. Abushagour, the deputy prime minister, who took part in several diplomatic missions to Mauritania to press for Libya’s primacy in taking control of Mr. Senussi’s legal fate.
Mauritania released a brief statement that said Mr. Senussi had been flown back to Libya but didn’t include any details about the government’s decision.
A nation of just three million people covering a stretch of the Sahara nearly twice the size of Spain, Mauritania repeatedly rebuffed Gadhafi’s attempts to annex the country into his own. More recently, Mauritania has fought back a wave of incoming Islamic militants, many armed and trained by the late Libyan leader.
Source: Wall Street Journal