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Qaddafi’s Inner Circle on Trial for War Crimes

Although the deceased dictator’s two sons and 37 former members of his elite cadre face charges, only 23 of them appeared in court today.

by Olivia Becker
Apr 14 2014, 10:05pm

Photo by Reuters

A controversial war crimes trial for the remaining members of Muammar Qaddafi’s inner circle, as well as his two sons Saif al-Islam Qaddafi and Al-Saadi Qaddafi, resumed on Monday in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

Although the two sons and 37 former members of the deceased dictator’s elite cadre face charges — including Qaddafi’s former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, former prime minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, and former foreign intelligence chief Abuzed Dorda — only 23 of them appeared in court on Monday.

Neither of Qaddafi’s sons was present. Saif al-Islam and Saadi were both notorious for extravagant lifestyles that were mostly financed by the Libyan treasury.

Saadi, a former soccer player who commanded Libya’s special forces, was arrested in Niger in March and extradited to Libya to stand trial, so his absence was odd. Saif al-Islam was one of his father’s closest advisors and widely seen as his political heir. He has been held in Zintan by militia forces since his capture in 2011. His jailers have refused to turn him over to the central government, although he was expected to appear at the trial via a video link. It showed an empty courtroom in Zintan instead.

The defendants are charged with various offenses relating to the violent repression of the 2011 revolution that ousted Gaddafi, including murder, torture, kidnapping, embezzlement, and incitement to rape.

Both Saif al-Islam and Senussi also face charges of war crimes from the International Criminal Court for their role in masterminding the crackdown on demonstrators during the uprising, which resulted in civilian massacres.

The defendants have not been allowed full access to lawyers or adequate time to prepare their defense.

The ICC ruled in 2013 that Libya could try Senussi, but continues to demand that Saif al-Islam be turned over to The Hague. Libya has thus far ignored this demand.

Human rights groups have expressed concern over the fairness of the trial and the decision to try the men domestically instead of in an international court.

"The prosecuting authorities appear to have manipulated the status of domestic investigations in order to meet the political and strategic imperative that Mr. Qaddafi should not be transferred to the ICC," Xavier-Jean Keita, principal counsel for The Hague's defense office, wrote in a statement in 2012.

In November, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed its opinion that Saif al-Islam’s detention has breached several criminal procedures, and that the serious due process violations in his case would make it impossible to ensure him a fair trial.

Human Rights Watch in particular has criticized the detainment of Saif al-Islam and other Libyan officials, asserting in February that Libya’s government was holding them without due process.

The defendants have not been allowed full access to lawyers or adequate time to prepare their defense.

Richard Dicker, international justice director for Human Rights Watch, has criticized procedural flaws in the trial that he argues makes it unbalanced.

“Putting Qaddafi-era officials on trial without fair-trial guarantees shouldn’t leave anyone satisfied that justice is being done,” Dicker said on Monday.

Reuters, which was one of only a few media organizations who were granted access to Monday’s proceedings, quoted Senussi complaining to the judges. "I want to be treated like other prisoners,” he said. “I want visiting rights. I don't have a lawyer."

Senussi is widely believed in Libya to be responsible for a massacre of 1,200 inmates at Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison in 1996. He is also suspected of being linked to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. Formal charges have not been brought against him in either instance.

Libya has struggled to establish a legitimate democracy in the three years following Qaddafi’s ouster. The trial is being scrutinized to see how it reflects the country’s progress.

The trial is expected to last months, with more than 200 witnesses interviewed and some 40,000 pages of evidence prepared against the defendants.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928