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Col Mu'amar al-Qadhafi

Update No: 025 - (01/12/05)

The Postponement of the Bulgarian Nurses Trial Reveals Political Implications for Qadhafi
The saga of the Bulgarian nurses, other than oil, continues to generate international concern about Libya, raising questions as to what really has changed in Libya since it 'gave up weapons of mass destruction'. Last month Col. Qadhafi's son Saif ul-Islam, who has acted as the unofficial ambassador for Libya, attracting investment on promotion tours, hinted that the nurses are being wrongfully held and that Libyan hospital conditions are to blame for the infection of 426 children at a Benghazi hospital with AIDS. The detained people appealed one and a half years ago against the sentence, basing their appeal to the experience of renowned scientists, including one professor who discovered the AIDS/HIV virus, and they stressed to the court that the bad health conditions in the hospital is behind the Children's infection with the virus, and that the conditions were bad before the arrival of the five nurses, and that the only evidence taken against them was their admission taken under torture. On November 19, the Libyan Supreme Court postponed its sentence on the appeal of the death penalties faced by the five nurses and one Palestinian doctor. The chairman of the court, judge Ali al-Allus, said that adjourning the session was to allow more time for the defense commission to organize its defense and give new evidence. The chairman of the defense commission for the medical team Othman al-Beizanti said that the decision bewildered him, and that there is no precedent for this case in the Libyan judiciary, adding that the Supreme Court should have confirmed this sentence or ordered a retrial.

But the foreign affairs Minister Shalqam suggested that the delivery of humanitarian aid might convince the court to lift the sentences. The aid would be delivered directly to the families of the affected children. The issue was brought up at the Euromed summit in Barcelona, where Shalqam was quoted as saying "we have to find a solution for the families of the children who died if these families accept that, medicines and good hospitals should be provided to patient children, and then the penalty will be lifted immediately." Sofia has rejected the notion of compensation, for such a solution would imply the nurses are actually guilty. It appears that Shalqam told Bulgarian officials that Libya expects a humanitarian "initiative from Sofia," which does not necessarily reflect an assumption of responsibility by Bulgaria. Shalqam indicated that so far Libya had spent more than $60 million dollars on the Libyan AIDS infected children, adding that they were sent to Italy with their families and that every family was given an apartment and a car and EURO 19,000. As Qadhafi's son, Saif ul-Islam said, the AIDS cases resulted not from any wrongdoing by medical staff, but by the general poor technical conditions in Libyan hospitals. If offered as an explanation to the children's families and to the average Libyan, however, such an admission would necessarily imply the guilt of the government, eroding its legitimacy. 

Indeed, the populations hinted at its reaction were the government seen to be guilty, and suggests the rationale for transferring the guilt to the Bulgarian nurses. Angry relatives of the victims, waiting outside the court, threw stones at the police. They also prevented European diplomats attending the trial from leaving the court through the back door. The protesters chanted slogans demanding the execution of those they described as 'killers of children.' The court having postponed the sentence, the European commission for external affairs considered this a positive step, stressing confidence in the Libyan judiciary system in order to ensure justice. Political and diplomatic analysts say that Tripoli may face riots if the nurses are released. For the Libyan government, therefore, it is still politically convenient, even necessary, to maintain a veil of guilt over the foreign medics, until it can find a way to secure the suggested humanitarian aid. Though the aid itself is far less important than how it is perceived by the people. While the Bulgarians refuse to offer the aid in the form of compensation, it is more willing to offer it in the form of technical medical cooperation, or even financial assistance to the families. The Libyan government, on the other hand, cannot simply accept such aid as it leaves out the onus of blame. Saif ul-Islam Qadhafi noted this as he reiterated (in what cannot be too different a view than his father) that he personally does not consider that the five Bulgarian nurses who were sentenced to death on charges of transferring the AIDS/HIV virus to hundreds of Libyan children as guilty. He added, "I personally do not think so, but in spite of that, we have a catastrophe. Whether it is a conspiracy as they said, and which I do not believe, or it is a neglect or maladministration, we at the ultimate end have a catastrophe. It is a reality that we cannot ignore."

Similarly, should the case be left dangling any further, it could stall Libyan relations with the west, especially that both the European Union and the US continue demanding the release of the five Bulgarian nurses. US President George W. Bush stressed in October the need to free the five nurses saying they need to be pardoned and released. The European Union called for the release of the Bulgarian nurses on October 6th, deploring the "criminality in which they are treated." Qadhafi has tried to diffuse the situation, which George Joffe, a professor at Cambridge, described as "an impossible circle to square," by suggesting in a CNN interview that if the evidence against the medics was obtained by torture, "it cannot stand". But, the Libyan leader has stopped short of taking the risk of incurring his people's wrath, by 'washing his hands' of the situation, saying the courts are the only competent bodies to decide the matter. If time causes more anguish for the imprisoned medics, it also gives more time for the EU and the US to channel diplomatic pressure. Perhaps the ability to obtain advanced military equipment (from the US or the EU) might help, and there are developments to suggest that might be a possibility

Indeed, while the trial debacle continued Deputy Director of CIA, Vice-Admiral Albert M. Calland III, visited Tripoli for meetings with top Libyan officials including Muammar Al-Qadhafi to discuss expanding Libya's role in fighting terrorism. The Americans also met with Gaddafi's Intelligence Aid, Abdullah Sanusi (he is wanted in France for the bombing of a civilian jetliner over Africa in 1989 that killed 170 people. Sanusi was convicted in absentia and is unable to travel to many European countries as he would be arrested. He is also prohibited from entering the United States, having earlier been convicted in absentia for terrorist activities). Cleland's visit confirms the view that Washington now considers Libya an important area for the intelligence community and for the pursuit of its interests in the region, even if Libya is still listed officially as a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department.

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