Dirty deals and unprincipled politics
Dealings with Libya in recent years by Europe have been dictated by unprincipled politics and naked profiteering. The sudden discovery of a humanitarian imperative is not only deeply hypocritical, but also duplicitous.
What's the story behind Libya under Gaddafi moving from a pariah state to an accepted part of the international community to apariah state again?
The shifting attitudes towards Gaddafi are down to politics and profits. In 2003, I think Gaddafi was genuinely worried about being put in Bush’s “axis of evil” and being next in the firing line. After 9/11, President Bush had told the world “you’re either with us or against us” and Gaddafi decided “with us” was his best option. What followed was a series of behind-the-scenes negotiations , leading up to UK Prime Minister Blair’s now infamous “deal in the desert” in 2004.
Tell us more about those 2004 agreements
It was basically series of trade-offs. Gaddaffi would ditch his nuclear and chemical weapons programmes and pay compensation to the families of victims of Libyan terrorist attacks – Lockerbie [PAN AM flight 103 in 1988], Berlin [La Belle discotheque in 1986] and the French UTA Flight [772, which went down over Niger in 1989]. In addition, Gaddafi agreed to open Libya's economy to western investment.
In return, the UN would lift its arms embargo and the US government would remove Libya from its list of state sponsors of terror and ensure Gadaffi’s immunity from prosecution for those crimes.
Perhaps the biggest opportunist in all of this was the EU, which saw a chance to install a migration “buffer state” in North Africa: a way of stopping refugees and migrants leaving Africa for Europe, and a location where so-called “illegals” could be sent back to. This in turn bought Italy into the picture as one of the major migrant entry points from Libya. Italy would ultimately agree to pay billions in compensation for its 30 year occupation of Libya, much of which would be reinvested as infrastructure deals with Italian contractors.
So who would you say have been the main beneficiaries of the 2004 desert deal?
Gaddafi certainly did very well. He secured access to the international arms market, military equipment, and training for his special forces – all of which is now coming back to haunt us. Then there’s western multinationals, of course. A $200 million dollar gas contract for Shell was signed in the tent as part of the “deal in the desert”. A $900 million dollar oil deal with BP followed in 2007.
The arms industry, telecommunications companies, energy industry [all did very well out of the "deal in the desert"]. All of this of course made the Gaddafi family even richer, helping them maintain their grip on power.
As I said before, the Italians did very well too. Italian arms company, Finmeccanica received contracts worth hundreds of millions of Euros for border control and surveillance equipment, not just for policing the Mediterranean, but also Libya's borders with Niger, Chad and Sudan to the south. Massive construction deals like the planned coastal “super highway” also went to Italian contractors.
French and German companies also got a good slice of the pie. The arms industry, telecommunications companies, energy – they all did very well. All of this of course made the Gaddafi family even richer, helping them maintain their grip on power. They duly kicked some of this back to European banks and via trophy assets like Juventus football club and Saif Gaddafi’s cash rich love-in with the London School of Economics (LSE). These assets are now frozen under the UN sanctions regime, but the hypocrisy speaks for itself. No-one seemed to care where the money came from just a few months ago.
Let’s not forget the 'war on terror' in all of this either. The compensation deals I spoke about before – and I guess this was a good thing for the victim’s families - were negotiated with Moussa Koussa, then head of Libyan intelligence, now Gadaffi’s foreign minister. He is a man reportedly more brutal and loathsome than Gaddafi himself, and directly involved in torture.
Anyway, the compensation deals clearly led to a cosy relationship between Koussa’s men and the CIA, and the US “extraordinary rendition” policy was duly extended to that country. Libya became another proxy in a policy of ghost prisons and kidnap and torture of detainees on behalf of the US. The Americans even invited Libyan intelligence to Guantanamo Bay to interrogate Libyan detainees, who had strongly supported the insurgency in Iraq. Is this another factor which may come back to haunt the current coalition?
Can you tell us something more about Libya’s role as the EU’s “migration buffer” state. And its impact on African migrants?
Yasha [Maccanico] has been documenting this for Statewatch for the past seven years. We have basically presided over a situation in which we outsourced responsibility for migrants and refugees bound to Europe from Africa to that very same torturous regime. As long as Libya prevented people reaching Europe, agreed to take back those people we expelled, and to police the Mediterranean on our behalf, we turned a blind eye to the appalling treatment they meted out.
In fact, more than that, we were complicit in that treatment. The EU provided technical assistance on border controls, the processing of refugees and the facilitation of repatriations to and from Libya (so-called “readmission agreements”). European money flowed into Libya to fund immigration controls, build detention centres and train and equip border guards.
Now that concern for the welfare of Libyan citizens is apparently top of
the international political agenda, [isn't it] strange that our
leaders showed not one jot of concern for the hundreds of thousands of
Africans who were brutally rounded-up by the Libyan authorities?
Now that concern for the welfare of Libyan citizens is apparently top of the international political agenda, it seems rather strange that our leaders showed not one jot of concern for the hundreds of thousands of Africans who were brutally rounded-up by the Libyan authorities (or sent there from Europe via the EU agency FRONTEX), systematically denied their rights under the Geneva Convention, detained in appalling conditions and then expelled to neighbouring countries?
Many thousands were simply dumped in the desert on the other side of Libya’s southern borders. Hundreds, probably thousands died. All of this has been documented by human rights groups, condemned by the UNHCR and European Courts, and simply ignored by EU policy-makers.
Why do you think European and US elites have decided finally to get rid of an 'amenable tyrant'?
Why do we want “regime change” in Libya? That’s clearly the aim, even if it is expressly not what the so-called “international community” has authorised. As Seamus Milne said in the Guardian, “amenable tyrants” are of no use to us when their regimes are on the brink of collapse. That’s why we we’re quite happy to stand idly by as Bahrain, Saudi and many other reprehensible regimes brutally suppress their own versions of the Arab Spring.
Meanwhile intervention in Libya gives unpopular leaders like Cameron and Sarkozy their “Falklands moment”, and is more importantly supposed to ensure our influence and protect our interests in a post-Gaddafi Libya. There’s also big money in post-war reconstruction, and rearmament of course. All of which points toward a deeply flawed and dangerous plan which may very well backfire, as it has elsewhere, with terrible consequences for Libyans on both sides of the current conflict.
What alternatives are there to no-fly zone or invasion that would protect civilians from Gaddafi?
Notwithstanding the fact that it may now be too late , we should have encouraged and supported a genuine regional solution. That might have included a genuine No Fly Zone, but it would not have led to the full-blown military assault we are now witnessing.
Instead of engaging concerned and influential actors like Egypt, Turkey and the African Union, our leaders took their counsel from the tyrants of the Arab League, pretending this was the same thing as the “international community”. In doing so, it marginalised those other states that wanted to protect civilians from Gaddafi every bit as much as we supposedly do, yet who wanted to do this without fuelling a civil war that may ultimately partition a country and create another colonial protectorate.