LIBYA – ‘The Deal in the Desert – Dining with the Devil without long spoons’ (Updated 24th January 2015)
The meeting in 2004 between Muammar Gaddafi and Tony Blair in the former’s famous Bedouin tent was labelled the ‘Deal in the Desert’. Amongst other things it led to an exchange of information between MI6 and Gaddafi’s intelligence service.
In my blog on 21st August I argued that when dining with the devil one should use a long spoon and Mr Blair misplaced his when he and Gaddafi met that day. At best, the ‘Deal in the Desert’ may have been and exercise in excessive pragmatism. At worst, and suspicion is growing that the worst is likely, it may have been a disaster.
There was tawdriness in the way the Blair government used the British intelligence services. It may have led to deterioration in standards as bad leadership so often does. For example, the manner in which Alistair Campbell, Mr Blair’s Director of Communications and Strategy, presented the case for going to war against Saddam Hussein was cavalier and cynical.
On 3rd February 2003 Campbell produced a dossier which asserted that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. It was called ‘Iraq: It’s Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation’ and was said to have been the distillation of the best intelligence available. It was later to be called the ‘Dodgy Dossier’ and was largely plagiarised, some, it is said, from the work of a graduate student whose typos were not corrected. It must surely have embarrassed some good MI6 officers.
A government capable of such cynicism might well have known – but chose to ignore – that intelligence gathered by the Gaddafi regime would be tainted. It might be argued that it also knew that the USA was passing on intelligence gained by torturing suspects during the notorious ‘rendition’ program of the Bush era.
The Libya Herald reports that Gaddafi’s former spy-chief, Abdullah Al-Senussi, has been extradited by Libya from Mauritania and will go on trial in Libya soon. We are hoping to hear a great deal from Mr Senussi. Perhaps he will be asked about the destruction of PA103 over Lockerbie, the Union des Transports Aériens flight number 772 which was blown up in 1989, the notorious massacre in Tripoli’s Abu Salem jail, the back channel conversations which may have preceded the release by the Scottish government of Abdelbaset Ali Mohammad al Megrahi and of the connections between Gaddafi’s intelligence services and MI6.
The Libya Herald also carries and excellent piece about a Human Rights Watch report, released yesterday, which states that scores of incriminating documents have been discovered, some of which were in the offices of former Libyan intelligence chief Musa Kusa after Tripoli fell to rebel forces. They are said to show a high level of cooperation between the Gaddafi government in Libya and the US and the UK governments in the renditions of Libyan prisoners during the Bush admiration.
The Human Rights Watch report also argues that ‘the US played the most extensive role in the renditions back to Libya’ where prisoners were tortured by the Gaddafi regime, probably at the behest of Mr Senussi. It adds… ‘Other countries, notably the UK, were also involved even though these governments knew and recognized that torture was common during Gaddafi’s rule’.
The Libya Herald quotes three of the dissidents returned to Libya who say ‘they were subsequently interrogated by American, British, French and Italian intelligence officers in Qaddafi’s jails’. MI6 may be working on damage limitation plans.
Update 13th December 2012
It has just been reported in the Telegraph that the British government has made a £2 million out of court settlement with a sometime Libyan dissident, Sami al Saadi, who was rendered from Hong Kong to Gaddafi’s Libya where he was imprisoned and tortured. Papers relating to the case, in which MI6 may have been involved, were found in the offices of Musa Kusa after Tripoli was liberated in 2011.
It seems that Sami al Saadi intended to take the British government to trial but that would have entailed the case being heard in secret. As he pointed out secret trails were common in Libya under Gaddafi and he was not about to repeat the experience in Britain.
In the British Telegraph today, Sir Richard Dearlove, who was head of MI6 at the time, has been quoted as saying: “It was a political decision, having very significantly disarmed Libya, for the government to co-operate with Libya on Islamist terrorism. The whole relationship was one of serious calculation about where the overall balance of our national interests stood.”
It was a shoddy ‘Deal in the Desert’ was it not?
Update 27th July 2013
This in the British Telegraph has to be read, though perhaps with a pinch of salt. It suggests that the release of the Lockerbie bomber was linked to a major arms deal.
Update 4th August 2013
The British Sunday Telegraph seem to have unearthed evidence of some murky aspects of the relationship between Mr. Blair and Gaddafi. Whilst this piece, dated 4t August 2013, might be read with caution it raises some serious questions.
Update 21st December 2013
The failure of Belhaj’s attempt to sue the sometime British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, in connection with his rendition back to Libya and subsequent torture has sparked a number of articles in the UK broadsheets. This from the Guardian is amongst the most thoughtful and gives context to Sir Richard Dearlove’s statement posted above.
Update 26th January 2014
The deal in the desert has repercussions for Toney Blair again. This time the victims of the IRA Semtex campaign are apparently suing him for allegedly scuppering their chances of compensation from the Libya government.
Update 24th January 2014
The problems for the Tony Blair increase by the hour!