The trial of Moammar Gadhafi’s son Saif al-Islam may be delayed to include any relevant testimony obtained via interrogation from the country’s notorious former spy chief, a government official said on Thursday.
In August, Libyan leaders said that the younger Mr. Gadhafi’s trial on war crimes charges – the most high-profile prosecution of a figure from his late father’s entourage to date – was due to begin in September.
But the arrest on Wednesday of Abdullah Senussi, the former spy chief known as “Gadhafi’s black box,”appears to have pushed that date back, postponing a trial that a lawyer from the International Criminal Court has already said is unlikely to be fair.
Mr. Senussi was finally handed over to Libya by Mauritanian authorities after being captured in the West African state in March and triggering a tug of war between Libya, France and the ICC for his extradition.
The ICC says Mr. Senussi, the former head of military intelligence in Libya, played a “crucial” role in attempting to crush the popular revolt that eventually ousted the Gadhafi regime late last year, and it called him an “indirect perpetrator of crimes against humanity, of murder and persecution based on political grounds.”
The new Libyan leadership wants to prosecute Mr. Senussi for activities during Col. Gadhafi’s long reign, and in particular his alleged role in the massacre of some 1,200 prisoners at the Abu Salim prison in 1996.
France also has a claim on the former spy chief, who in 1999 was sentenced in absentia by a Paris court to life in prison for involvement in the bombing of a French UTA airliner over Niger in September 1989. All 170 people on the plane died.
Meanwhile, in a report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch also said it has acquired new evidence of the extent to which the United States and some of its allies, including Britain, allegedly detained exiled opponents of Col. Gadhafi and forcibly transferred them back to Libya.
The rights group said it assembled its report by interviewing victims and witnesses familiar with alleged abuses and by combing through once-secret archives that became public during the Libyan revolution.
They illustrate how between late 2003, when the late Libyan leader agreed to give up his weapons of mass destruction programs, and the 2011 revolution, Col. Gadhafi and Western intelligence agencies quietly co-operated in battling Islamic militants.
“Not only did the U.S. deliver Gadhafi his enemies on a silver platter, but it seems the CIA tortured many of them first,” Laura Pitter, a counterterrorism expert at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, said in a written statement.
The cases of the two former stalwarts of the deposed Gadhafi regime – Mr. Senussi and Col. Gadhafi’s son – are now linked. Taha Ba’ara, a spokesman for the Libyan prosecutor general’s office, said Thursday that Mr. Gadhafi’s trial will be “delayed a little because Abdullah Senussi will be able to provide new information that can be used in Saif’s trial.”
Human rights activists worry that a weak central government and a relative lack of rule of law mean that legal proceedings for both men will not meet international standards.
Rights groups have called on Libya’s government to hand over Mr. Senussi to the ICC where an arrest warrant for him remains in force. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called on Libyan authorities to co-operate with the ICC.
Mr. Ba’ara said the fledgling government would guarantee Mr. Senussi’s rights. “If he asks for a lawyer then we don’t mind providing him with one during interrogation, but if he doesn’t ask for one then we cannot force him to take one,” he said.