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Moammar Gadhafi, Fathi Eljahmi, Democracy

Gadhafi gets more than he deserves

By Claudia Rosett

Thursday, September 6, 2007

For the civilized world, Sept. 11 was a horror once beyond imagining. For Moammar Gadhafi, the tyrant who rules Libya, it has turned out to be a windfall.

Thirty-eight years into his bloody, terror-based reign, Gadhafi is playing a wily game in which his concessions to the security-conscious West have been rewarded beyond their merits. The latest sign? A visit planned this weekend from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Gadhafi's big move was to surrender his illicit nuclear program, which he agreed to in late 2003, just days after Saddam Hussein was pulled from his spider hole in Iraq. All of the signs are that Gadhafi gave up his projects for mass murder not out of newfound virtue, but out of fear. Barring serious reform - which has not happened - it would have been quite enough for the democratic world to reward him merely by refraining from invading Libya.

Instead, Gadhafi has become the North African darling of the diplomatic circuit. His regime is effectively out from under both U.N. and U.S. sanctions.

Since early 2004, perched atop Libya's oil wealth, Gadhafi has received a parade of investors and high-level American and European political dignitaries. Last month, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch dropped by Tripoli. And reports have been leaking out of Libya that Condoleezza Rice is planning to visit this year - which, if it happens, would dignify Gadhafi with the first trip to Libya by a U.S. secretary of state in more than half a century. Queried about this last month, a State Department spokesman was coy, saying: "Secretary Rice has said she will visit Libya when the time is right."

The time is wrong. Curbing terror is not solely a matter of obtaining diplomatic promises or even dismantling nuclear equipment. The chief incubator of terror is tyranny, which Gadhafi has by no stretch given up.

The real test of Gadhafi's good faith is not the welcome he puts on for high-flying diplomats, but how he treats Libyans, such as his country's most prominent democratic dissident, Fathi Eljahmi, 66 - currently locked away in Libya's shadow world of prisons, interrogation centers and windowless rooms, where he has spent most of the last five years.

When Gadhafi began his rapprochement with the United States in late 2003, Eljahmi was already in prison for calling for political pluralism in Libya. Gadhafi let him out briefly, in March 2004, at the specific request of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D., Del.), who was visiting the Libyan dictator that month. Eljahmi began giving interviews to foreign media about the need for democratic reform in Libya.

Less than a week after his release, he spoke to the Arab world in an interview broadcast by the U.S.-based Arabic TV station Al-Hurrah. "I share with President Bush and all of the American people human sentiments and desires for freedom, democracy and propagation of democracy," he said. Bush praised Eljahmi by name, citing his case as a sign of hope for the Islamic world.

Within the month, Gadhafi's secret police trashed Eljahmi's Tripoli home, beat him up, and took him back into custody. He has remained imprisoned for 31/2 years, most of that time incommunicado. The State Department, in its 2006 report on human rights, described the Libyan government's treatment of Eljahmi as "cruel, inhuman and degrading." On the rare occasions that Eljahmi has been allowed visitors, he has continued to speak up for freedom in Libya.

Gadhafi has paid no penalty - instead enjoying the benefits most recently of playing hostage politics for years with five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, released from a Libyan prison last month only after presidential intervention from France. His welcome back to the international fold sends a strange and costly message to the Islamic world, where right now, America is spending blood and treasure to support in Iraq precisely the kind of democratic hopes that Eljahmi champions for Libya.


Canada Free Press, CFP Editor Judi McLeod