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Prosecutors seek Kadafi arrest warrant at International Criminal Court

Prosecutors accuse Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, son Seif Islam and a brother-in-law of killing civilians in a bid to crush protests. They say Kadafi planned to respond with violence even before the first protest took place.

May 16, 2011|By Patrick J. McDonnell and Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times
  • Prosecutors allege that Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi huddled in private with his son and a brother-in-law to plan how to crush demonstrations.
Prosecutors allege that Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi huddled in private… (Sergei Grits / Associated…)

Reporting from Tripoli, Libya, and Baghdad — Prosecutors asked judges of the International Criminal Court on Monday to issue arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, his son and brother-in-law, further isolating the autocratic ruler who has proved hard to dislodge despite NATO airstrikes and popular uprisings.

A legal brief presented to the judges accused the three of crimes against humanity in the killing of civilians as an effort to crush demonstrations they feared would unseat them, as happened with longtime rulers in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.

The prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, argued that Kadafi planned to answer his critics with violence even before the first antigovernment crowds gathered in Libya in mid-February. Ocampo charted a timeline for Kadafi's actions and sketched out a division of responsibility among the Libyan ruler, his son Seif Islam and his brother-in-law Abdullah Sanoussi.

Judges at the court, based in The Hague, will take at least three weeks before ruling on the request, Moreno-Ocampo said in an interview. But his move was certain to please officials of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is conducting a bombing campaign under a United Nations mandate to protect Libyan civilians. Over the weekend, a senior British military official warned that Kadafi might be able to hold on if NATO did not escalate the airstrikes.

"NATO doubtless will appreciate the ICC investigation and indictment of top Libyan leaders, including Kadafi," said David Scheffer, a former Clinton administration ambassador at large for war crimes issues, who now teaches international law at Northwestern University.

Scheffer said the move might increase pressure on Kadafi to think about finding refuge in a country that has not agreed to ICC jurisdiction.

The Obama administration has reportedly explored which countries not party to the ICC might harbor Kadafi. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, now on trial at The Hague for war crimes, fled to Nigeria, helping end his country's civil war before he was eventually detained and sent to the court.

Some human rights groups have questioned why the court has not also opened an investigation of Syria's government, which has likewise cracked down on a protest movement.

Moreno-Ocampo called the evidence against Kadafi overwhelming and added that his investigation had been authorized by a U.N. Security Council resolution.

"People who are against the regime are suffering persecution today. That's the reality," Moreno-Ocampo said. "The way to protect civilians today is to have these [arrest] warrants."

The prosecutor said he had interviewed Libyans who had fled the country, including witnesses who could testify to instructions from Kadafi, his son and brother-in-law to kill and imprison protesters. He refused to reveal their names and declined to comment when asked whether Kadafi's former foreign minister Musa Kusa, who fled to London, had provided evidence.

In Tripoli, a government spokesman said the prosecutor had reached "incoherent conclusions."

"We have never, in any stage of the crisis in Libya, ordered the killing of civilians or hired mercenaries against our people," spokesman Musa Ibrahim said in a statement. "In fact, it is the rebels who took up arms in the middle of our peaceful cities and caused the death of many people and invited fighters from several nationalities to join them."

The Libyan government has "long requested fact-finding missions, international observers and experts to counterbalance the biased and inaccurate media reports about events in Libya. No one listened," Ibrahim said.

The government also accused the ICC of targeting African leaders exclusively, referring to Taylor and the outstanding warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir.

People in rebel-held areas said it was high time that the court acted.

"Kadafi destroyed our city, he killed our children and he fought us with all kinds of weapons, so what is the meaning of the request or a report saying Kadafi is a criminal?" said Aiman Abu Shama, a doctor in the besieged western port of Misurata. "Everybody knows that he has to be arrested."

The prosecutor's office described Seif Islam as his father's "de facto prime minister," who also played a leading role in bringing foreign mercenaries to Libya. It branded Sanoussi the Libyan leader's "right-hand man" and "executioner."

The prosecutor said Kadafi tried to avoid creating a paper trail by giving orders verbally through a special institution called the Information Bureau of the Leader. In mid-January, worried by the uprising that brought down Tunisian President Zine el Abidine ben Ali, Kadafi held meetings with tribal leaders, professionals and journalists in which he "threatened them with reprisals should they join the protests," the court papers read.

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