Tuesday 6 September 2011

The new Libya won't trust Britain so easily now | News


The documents revealing the cosy relationship between top British and Libyan intelligence officials are embarrassing not just because they confirm Britain's rendition of Islamist terror suspects, including Abdel Hakim Belhadj, the Transitional National Council's new security commander in Tripoli, but also because they lend credence to Britain's reputation as a slippery operator in the Middle East. David Cameron's support for the TNC was meant to gain souk cred by tying Britain's banner to the spirit of the Arab Spring. Cameron has said the new documents should be examined by the independent Detainee Inquiry, chaired by Sir Peter Gibson. They show how keen Tony Blair was to bring Gaddafi into the fold following Saddam Hussein's fall in April 2003 and to trade an end to Libya's pariah status in return for help in the war against terrorism. There was little wrong with that. What is sickening is the extent to which Britain sought to ingratiate itself by delivering up Gaddafi's opponents. No less disturbing is the manner in which Britain's cosying up to Gaddafi has been represented as a mistake by misguided individuals, for which institutions such as the London School of Economics have suffered. Perhaps the most fascinating new document was sent on March 18, 2004 to Musa Kusa, head of Libyan intelligence, by Mark Allen, MI6's director of counter-terrorism, who crowed about Belhadj's rendition while arranging a forthcoming visit by Blair to Libya. A week later Gaddafi welcomed the British PM in his Tripoli tent (as requested by Allen for publicity reasons). It is difficult to say who was the greater showman: the unctuous Blair or Gaddafi joking how his Third Universal Theory, the basis of his Green Book, paved the way for Blair's Third Way politics. Within two months, Allen was pipped as the next MI6 head by John Scarlett, who, two years earlier, as chief of the Joint Intelligence Committee, had backed Blair's argument that Saddam had dangerous weapons of mass destruction. Allen left the SIS shortly afterwards. For Middle East watchers, an interesting outcome has been these glimpses of intelligence machinations in this most secretive of regions. A Le Carré of the al Qaeda conflict will surely follow. It is Cameron who now has to deal with the practical consequences. The ultimate fate of Gaddafi and his family is out of his hands. But Britain has tough decisions to make about other players, including Musa Kusa, who defected from Libya in March, came to Britain, and was last heard of in a Qatar hotel. In 1980 he was expelled from Britain for advocating the murder of Libyan dissidents. For this and his wider role in Libyan terrorism, many powerful voices argue that he should be tried in Britain. But, even at this stage, it may be that he has too much to reveal. More immediately, the Prime Minister needs to assess the role of former Islamists such as Belhadj in the new regime and take appropriate measures. It will not be enough to kick the rendition issue into the long grass by referring it to the Gibson inquiry, which has yet to begin its work. If David Cameron hoped for an easy ride in post-Gaddafi Libya, these papers have disabused him of that notion.