Over the past few months, the world has honed in on the fate of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the former heir apparent of Libya and one-time galavanting ‘playboy’ who now finds himself in almost complete seclusion after being detained in November 2011 by Libyan rebels. At the same time, international observers, the media and human rights groups have virtually ignored the whereabouts and fate of Abdullah al-Senussi, the other living member of the Tripoli Three – the individuals indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes committed while crushing the Libyan uprising.
The apparent disinterest surrounding Abdullah al-Senussi is only more precarious given his role in and knowledge of Gaddafi-era Libya. As a key confidant, the “right hand man”, the “eyes and ears” and Colonel Gaddafi’s brother-in-law, Senussi has a unique understanding on what made the Gaddafi regime tick.
Moreover, as the head of both the internal and external intelligence services under Colonel Gaddafi, Senussi is associated with, if not responsible for, some of the worst crimes of the Gaddafi regime. The bombing of UTA Flight 772 in 1989, the 1996 Abu Salim prison massacre and the violent repression of pro-democracy protests in the Libyan uprising are but a few of the more notorious acts in which Abdullah al-Senussi was deeply involved.
It is because of Senussi’s intimate knowledge of these crimes that the reputable international lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson, recently maintained that Senussi was the “crown jewel” of justice in Libya. Not only is Senussi associated with the crimes noted above but, with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi dead, Senussi may hold the keys to understanding the Lockerbie bombing, the Gaddafi regime’s funding of the Irish Republican Army, the cozy political, economic and intelligence relations between Western states and the Gaddafi regime and, just as importantly, where the bodies of the Gaddafi regime’s many victims lie.
The situation in Libya has had its moments of pure confusion and contradiction. With regards to Senussi, it was reported in November that he had been detained at his sister’s house in the south of Libya. After reports of his capture, there has been a deafening silence concerning Senussi. Indeed, it is not clear whether Senussi was, in fact, captured and then escaped, or whether he was ever captured in the first place. It is worth recalling headlines in August that declared that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi had been captured. Just hours later he was seen taking a joy-ride through the streets of Tripoli.
Today, no one seems to know where Senussi is. Worse, no one seems to care. Since the false reports regarding his arrest were made, there has been virtually no news as to where he is or what fate awaits him. Both the media and human rights groups have declined to express anything but a cursory interest in where he is, indicating a paucity of interest in his whereabouts, especially when compared to the coverage of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.
Of course, international attention in Libya has generally only focused on one of the Tripoli Three at a time throughout the conflict. For months, the focus was almost entirely on Colonel Gaddafi. Once he was killed in late October, attention shifted to his son, Saif, who continues to receive the vast majority of attention from the media and human rights groups.
At this time, it is likely that Senussi is no longer in Libya. There are rumours that he may be in Morocco or Niger. Senussi’s absence from Libya, in combination with scarce interest on the subject, suggests that perhaps there may be little interest in actually finding and detaining him. It is worth remembering, in this context, that Senussi has a deep reservoir of knowledge concerning not only dealings between the West and Gaddafi but many of the individuals now in positions of – or positioning themselves for – lucrative government jobs. Putting Senussi into the proverbial dock could lead to embarrassment for those who associated closely with Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and who prefer their dirty laundry un-aired. It certainly is not beyond the realm of possibilities that some have judged that Senussi is best not found.
Of course, to allow someone associated with the gravest excesses of violence during Gaddafi-era Libya to run free is to deny justice. This exposes a bitter irony for those groups interested in ending impunity, achieving justice and beginning the process of reconciliation in Libya but which have demonstrated disinterest in Senussi’s whereabouts and fate. If it holds that Senussi truly is the “crown jewel” or “big fish” in the pursuit of justice in Libya, the media and especially human rights groups would do well to highlight it.
This piece was originally posted at Radio Netherlands Worldwide.