The small creditors

In the days since Col Gaddafi was killed, I have noticed that the western media are obsessed with ensuring that Libyan officials answer to western courts for things the régime did in the 1980s in Europe, such as the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984 and even the Lockerbie bombing (in which their involvement, and that of Abdul-Baset al-Megrahi who is currently terminally ill, are heavily disputed). People have expressed huge regret that Gaddafi was killed, rather than taken to answer before a court for his crimes. The latter has been expressed by Libyans as well, particularly given that his death would stop him exposing the crimes of those who defected to the new régime during the war, but coming from westerners it always seems to refer to their involvement in international terrorism, not their repression and mass murder against Libyans.

I have heard reports from people who have lived in Libya under Qaddafi who say that the standard of living under him was low, despite the country’s huge oil wealth: that people went for weeks without being paid, that shops were empty and that people had to fight when supplies did come in, and that he decreed that anyone who lived in a house owned it, enabling houses to be simply seized by their tenants and the real owner losing everything as a result. Although people claim he established a health system, the standard of care was very poor, nurses were abusive, people got misdiagnosed and women died in childbirth regularly, and the conditions of the hospitals were filthy inside. Qaddafi also lavished money on foreign dignitaries and enterprises while people at home suffered delayed pay, poor healthcare and poor general law enforcement (such as traffic law).

However, worst of all was the repression — the widespread spying and phone-tapping, the mass arrests in which people were held for years without trial, the torture; and even those who lived in exile were at risk from assassination by Qaddafi’s hit squads. I just watched a Panorama which gives details of a massacre in Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, prompted by an attempted break-out by a group of (it appears political) inmates, mass arrests, torture presided over by security chief Musa Qusa, who had been in close contact with the British security service MI6, and renditions (kidnappings) of Libyan exiles from far eastern countries with the collaboration of the British security forces. Musa Qusa himself is now in Qatar, where he is protected by the government.

The likelihood is that all those who might answer for the murder of WPC Fletcher, and even for other terrorist actions in the 1970s and 1980s, have their own people to answer to. Of course, the British state kissed and made up with Qaddafi and was happy to collude in its more recent acts of repression, so it is somewhat hypocritical to demand that we have priority in trying people who may have worked with our security forces more recently, for the small number of casualties they took here. It is rather like the situation when a company goes bankrupt: those they owed huge amounts of money because they took out large loans stand to get paid back before those who own £20 gift vouchers — the latter are probably going to be out of pocket. Britain is simply one small creditor among many.

Picture source: Daily Telegraph).

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