France and the International Criminal Court want custody of Muammar Qaddafi's just-captured intelligence chief. But his trial should be conducted by Libyans, in Libya.
Libyan justice for Senussi relies on fair proceedings
The weekend arrest of Abdullah Al Senussi in Nouakchott, Mauritania, has touched off a three -way struggle over the right to put him on trial. Libya, France and the International Criminal Court all want him. Other claimants may yet surface.
Mr Al Senussi, who was Muammar Qaddafi's intelligence chief and brother-in-law, does have a lot to answer for. France, which reportedly helped to track him down, has already convicted him in absentia for blowing up a French airliner over Niger in 1989, and wants him to serve his sentence. (The US and UK are interested in his connection to the 1988 plane explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland.)
The ICC, still celebrating its first conviction last week, wants Mr Al Senussi on two counts of crimes against humanity. And Libya … well, Libya may not have enough lawyers to tally up the crimes of which Mr Al Senussi is accused, not least the 1996 massacre of 1,200 inmates at Abu Salim prison, but most recently numerous murderous attacks on civilians at the beginning of last year's revolt.
Mauritania, then, has a tricky decision to make. The right one would be to hand Mr Al Senussi over to Libya. He is a Libyan, the crimes of which he is accused were primarily committed in Libya against Libyans, and they are graver, by the crude calculus of body counts or by almost any other measure, than the French case.
The only question about Libyan jurisdiction is this: can he get a fair trial there? The concept of impartial justice may seem almost whimsical in the case of a notorious mukhabarat chief, but fair trials are what set law-abiding states apart from Qaddafi-style thugocracies; this question is a legitimate one.
And the answer is, we believe, that while the newborn Libyan government has its problems, it is committed to real justice and is making some progress towards imposing its will on the country's various armed factions.
To be sure, the crude "execution" of Qaddafi did no one any credit, but Libya is calmer now. The militia holding Qaddafi's son Saif Al Islam has agreed to turn him over to the government; a decent jail is being built and the legal case is being developed.
The ICC, meanwhile, needs to reconsider its disdain for national jurisdictions, at least in cases where local courts have the will to try cases in front of a jury of a defendant's peers. One ICC conviction in 10 years, plus many other apparently endless cases, should not be a source of pride. The court seems to have forgotten that justice delayed is justice denied.
The Libyan people, through their courts, deserve the opportunity to judge Abdullah Al Senussi.