US al-Liby Capture Violates Libyan Sovereignty

The capture in Libya of Abu Anas Al Liby, accused of engineering the 1998 bomb blasts that destroyed two US embassies in Africa and killed 220 people, represents a violation of Libyan sovereignty by the United States, suggests a Abu-Dhabi newspaper. The United States did not notify Libyan officials. The US should have followed procedures carried out for a raid in Somalia on the same day, where it consulted and obtained government approval beforehand, argues an editorial in The National. After decades of dictatorship and the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan state is splintered and at risk of being classified as a “failed state.” Since the 9/11 attacks, the editorial suggests that the United States has stretched the law to combat terrorism, keeping those accused of terrorism indefinitely at the Guantanamo Bay prison, employing extraordinary rendition to allow torture, and authorizing secret wiretap programs. The United States risks stirring anti-American sentiment, bolstering militancy in the region and giving extremists another cause – all for the sake of catching one terrorist suspect. – YaleGlobal

US al-Liby Capture Violates Libyan Sovereignty

Quick grab of suspect behind 1998 embassy bombings could boost militancy in North Africa, argues Abu Dhabi editorial
Tuesday, October 8, 2013

His badge gleaming in the sunshine, the sheriff strides down the dusty western street, wins his shoot-out with the villain, restores peace and order, and rides off into the sunset.

This Hollywood stereotype is embedded in America’s psyche, but translates poorly into its foreign policy. Indeed no US policeman, in cowboy times or today, could do what American troops did on Saturday in Libya: capture a citizen and spirit him away. 

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said blithely that the abduction of Abu Anas Al Liby complied with US law. And Mr Al Liby certainly seems to qualify as a villain: he has been wanted since 1998 in connection with two bombings of US embassies in Africa, in which 220 people died.

Indeed, the ways of US law have become increasingly tortuous since September 11, 2001. From the legal black hole of Guantanamo to the practice of extraordinary rendition, the US has rigged up a legal framework that purports to justify the steady expansion of America’s counterproductive, vigilante-style campaign against terrorists.

There is, however, also the small matter of Libyan law. The sheriff of cowboy-movie lore is the one who upholds law and order.

To be sure, “Libyan law” is more theory than practice just now. After decades of dictatorship, the six million Libyans have been unable to muster very much solidarity; a slide into “failed state” status is a real possibility.

But how is it that the US government, with all its advisers and experts and scholars, cannot distinguish the relatively minor issue of one individual accused of terrorism from the much bigger one of Libya’s future? Why did senior policymakers choose to slap Libyans in the face with this raid, instead of helping the government there to build institutions and set policies that can offer obvious benefits to all Libyans?

There is an instructive comparison to be made between the US raid in Libya and the one in Somalia on the same day. In east Africa, US troops went in with the approval of a government that is making progress; there the US was on the side of law and order.

In a perverse way, the Tripoli raid will bolster Libyan unity, but only by consolidating and increasing public hostility towards the US. Indeed, extremists across the world have been handed another recruiting tool. It’s not exactly a happy Hollywood ending.


This editorial was first published in The National, an English-language daily in Abu Dhabi. 

© The National 2013