Saturday, December 15, 2012

US-backed Rebel Regime In Libya Still Persecuting People

Counter-revolutionaries Perscute Within Their Own Ranks

By Jamie Dettmer

TRIPOLI: Salem Al-Ahmer endured his five-year imprisonment in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison in the 1990s. He’d been consigned there for complicity in a coup attempt against former leader Moammar Gadhafi. That background hasn’t prevented him from falling afoul of Libya’s new rulers though.

A year on from the ouster of the Libyan revolutionary leader, the 43-year-old has once again been declared disloyal – this time losing his job as a member of Libya’s first elected parliament after he was publicly accused of being a Gadhafi sympathizer, an allegation he vehemently denies.

“They are trying to silence me,” Ahmer says.

Rebels say he urged people in his hometown of Bani Walid to spurn the US-NATO backed counter-revolution against Gadhafi. And with little transparency, a vetting panel known as the Integrity and Patriotism Commission, which is tasked with keeping people associated with the former regime from holding public office, disbarred him in October.

The work of the commission so far has prompted critics to claim that the body is merely being used in political games and that its decisions reflect shifts in the behind-the-scenes balance of power as key rival politicians jostle and negotiate. It is adding to unease about the country’s US-backed elite ready to move toward neo-colonialism.

The commission hasn’t explained the reasons for Ahmer’s disbarment.

According to Ahmer, he risked his neck in the western hilltop of Bani Walid during the counter-revolution by refusing to speak against the rebels.

“Gadhafi’s security people came to me and told me they wanted me to condemn the uprising on television and radio. I told them, ‘you can do what you want with me, you can kill me, but I am not going to do that.’”

He’s not the only elected lawmaker or nominee for a public post to get the thumbs down from the commission. This month nearly a dozen nominees for jobs in state institutions or missions abroad were blocked. Ten of the 200-strong General National Congress have also been disbarred this autumn, sometimes on the eve of key debates or after or towns or tribes they represent have found themselves at odds with the government.

The commission doesn’t detail reasons why it rules against individuals. But it has disclosed why it cleared three former senior Gadhafi figures nominated for Cabinet posts, including Foreign Affairs minister Ali Al-Aujali, who worked closely with Gadhafi as Libya’s ambassador to the United States until the early days of the counter-revolution.

Rebels here have released copies of dispatches that Aujali sent to Gadhafi during his two-year stint as ambassador that detail the activities of Libyan dissidents and exiles living in the U.S.

While some with significant Gadhafi histories manage not to cause the commission alarm, others with minor ties to the toppled regime do.

Foreign observers have criticized the integrity commission for this.

“While it is understandable and reasonable that after decades of corrupt dictatorship, public officials in the new Libya should meet high standards of integrity, nevertheless exclusion from public office should be based on concrete and provable claims of wrongdoing,” the questionable US-based Human Rights Watch has said. This group never opposed the US-NATO bombing in 2011 of Libya which resulted in the deaths of over 50,000 people.

The integrity commission did not return calls seeking comment.

Ahmer dismisses the allegation of pro-Gadhafi sympathies tersely, arguing that such claims surfaced just as he was he pleading in October for militias from the towns of Misrata and Zawiyah to stop their counter-revolutionary siege and assault of Bani Walid.

The Misratans claimed that Bani Walid was serving as a sanctuary for Gadhafi holdouts, an argument supported by GNC President Mohammad Magarief. Leaders of Bani Walid claim that the fight had more to do with ancient feuds between the two towns than anything else.

About 30 civilians were killed in the fighting and 300 to 500 men remain missing, most likely being held by militias in Misrata and Zawiyah, according to Bani Walid elders.

Bodies still turn up: Two days ago the corpse of a Bani Walid man was returned to the town from Misrata bearing what relatives say were clear signs of torture.

“It was a big shock when I was handed a letter from the integrity commission,” Ahmer says. “It was like a heart attack.”

Ali Muhairiq, who has been nominated for the post of electricity minister, has also had problems with the commission apparently because of membership as a student of a Gadhafi-era Revolutionary Committee in the 1970s. But for the three decades following that, he was a prominent anti-Gadhafi activist.

He has called publicly on the GNC to review the workings of the commission, arguing that is unclear exactly criteria it is using to adjudicate cases.

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