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Gaddafi ordered the deaths of senior officials – Senior Libyan judge | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Libyan Judge Muhammad Bashir al-Khaddar was one of the most prominent judicial figures in Gaddafi’s Libya. Al-Khaddar also served as one of the most senior Libyan military judges in the Gaddafi regime. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, al-Khaddar revealed many of the Gaddafi regime’s most closely-held secrets.

Al-Khaddar, who also served as a senior legal adviser to the Libyan Ministry of Defense over the past 25 years, revealed that Shiite cleric Musa al-Sadr, who disappeared from Libya in August 1978, was killed after getting into an argument with then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Al-Khaddar also claimed that Gaddafi ordered the death of a number of senior Libyan officials, including former Libyan Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Bashari. He also revealed the truth behind the infamous Abu Salim prison massacre of 1996.

The following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us start with the investigations that you conducted into the massacre at Gaddafi’s notorious Abu Salim prison in 1996. Do you consider what happened to be a crime?

[Al-Khaddar] When I first began to investigate this case [in 2009] I did not know much about it; this was an obscure case in Libya, with many people [then] believing that it was nothing more than a group of prisoners who attempted to escape, with between 4 and 10 prisoners being killed…so there was not much specific information about this case. Two lawyers brought the true story to light, namely Abdul Hafiz Ghoga and Fathi Terbil. Ghoga is the vice-chairman of the National Transitional Council [NTC], and Terbil is a human rights lawyer.

As I said, when I first took over this case I did not know much about it, I travelled to Egypt and took two volumes [about this case] from media organizations, this included a media archive of everything that was written about this case. I read this closely and discovered that what had happened was a massacre, in every sense of the word. Following this, I received some official documents from the [Libyan] state [about this case], but these documents were useless.

I began investigations with some officers, and their answers were all misleading. One officer said “I was eating lunch [when this massacre took place]”, and another said “I was not present.” The [Libyan] state was preparing them for such questioning; therefore I utilized another means of investigations which was to visit some of the witnesses in their homes. I used my initiative and took their statements [in their homes] and it was clear to me that they told me the whole truth. After this, I could understand the Abu Salim prison case. When I began investigation I felt that it would be difficult [to achieve a result] because all those people being accused of responsibility were in power.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you now tell us the true story of the Abu Salim massacre?

[Al-Khaddar] In short, some prisoners of conscience – some [Islamist] fighters and others ordinary people – demanded their rights and an improvement of conditions, however it seems to me was that their primary demand was that they be allowed to adhere to their own [religious and political] views. The [Gaddafi] regime began to use the language of bullets, as usual, and like all ignorant leaders that do not know the meaning of dialogue, on 27 and 28 February, a massacre took place which resulted in the death of 1,267 prisoners.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who gave the order to fire on the prisoners?

[Al-Khaddar] When you are dealing with Libya you must be aware of one important truth, Muammar Gaddafi was even aware of when a chicken was slaughtered. Although there is nothing on paper, telephone calls did take place between Gaddafi and [then head of Libyan military intelligence] Abdullah Senussi…and this resulted in the order to fire.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] So Gaddafi and Senussi both ordered the use of live ammunition?

[Al-Khaddar] That’s right, but there is no documentation or proof that can condemn them for murder, nor is there anything in the witness statements [to this effect].

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the senior officers involved in this massacre?

[Al-Khaddar] We have not been able to conduct investigations with the senior officers, whilst the junior officers do not know anything except for the orders that they received directly from their superior officers…but Gaddafi is the one who ordered the shooting.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would you agree that this was an unprecedented case in the history of Libya?

[Al-Khaddar] The number of people killed was unprecedented, however in the past killing [in this manner] was normal. We have reports of 300 people being hanged and killed during the month of Ramadan [by Gaddafi forces], in addition to the mass graves that we have found.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you ever been pressured not to release the names of important or even governmental figures under investigation?

[Al-Khaddar] Yes, I have been pressured in this manner, because sometimes you come across important and well-known names in your investigation. For example, Mansour Daw, who was Colonel Gaddafi’s security chief and who recently fled the country for Mali, he played a large role in the massacres committed during the 17 February revolution. Whilst there is also Abdel Hamid El-Sayeh, who belongs to a terrorist branch and was in prison and knew the prisoners one by one. He is a [Palestinian] refugee in Egypt who sought asylum. This is not to mention other names like Al-Tohamy Khaled, who was Director of the Libyan Internal Security Office.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this means that if Gaddafi is ever brought to trial for the Abu Salim massacre he will be found not guilty?

[Al-Khaddar] He will not be found not guilty because he has committed more than enough crimes to condemn him. More than a year passed before I was able to achieve anything in my investigation [into the Abu Salim massacre]. After this, I met with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi; his chief of staff Saleh Abdulsalam Saleh was also present and can confirm what happened. He [Saif al-Islam] told me that if you cannot do your job [investigating the Abu Salim massacre] then you should resign. I then issued an official report that not even the Libyan opposition abroad would dared to have written, I reported everything, and I cited the authorities that were wanted for further investigation. I presented this to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and he rejected it.

General Mustafa al-Kharrubi, who was a member of the Libyan Revolution Command Council, was able to convince Colonel Gaddafi to read the report, and Gaddafi sent two comments [on this report] to me: firstly: why do you say the accused and not the infidels? And secondly: why do you use the term “national reconciliation?” I told him that the term “infidels” is not a legal term, but rather a slang or revolutionary term. As for “national reconciliation”, the committee was formed for compensating [the families of the victims] and was named the committee of reconciliation. General Mustafa al-Kharrubi told me that Gaddafi was angered by this report, but fate decreed that the 17 February revolution break out [and I was spared his anger].

[Asharq Al-Awsat] When did you finally submit this report?

[Al-Khaddar] I submitted it in January 2010, and Gaddafi had a copy of it in his office, which included his observations. I urge the rebels to locate this copy and read it, particularly as I fled the country on 23 February via Tunisia [and was unable to obtain it].

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why did you flee the country?

[Al-Khaddar] The revolution broke out, and Benghazi began to liberate itself [from Gaddafi rule]. I was afraid of being assassinated because the Abu Salim is at the heart of the 17 February revolution.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your relationship to Musa al-Sadr?

[Al-Khaddar] I have no relationship with him. I was the Chief Prosecutor of Tripoli when I was appointed to investigate his disappearance.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What did you discover?

[Al-Khaddar] Musa al-Sadr was killed…he was killed and buried in Sirte, and his body was later transferred to Sabha, and then to somewhere else. However there is no doubt that he is dead.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us the circumstances surrounding his death?

[Al-Khaddar] Musa al-Sadr had an internal and external agenda. On the day that he was killed he met with Gaddafi, and this meeting was very intense. Al-Sadr told Gaddafi “you are an infidel” and Gaddafi came close to physically assaulting him. The intellectual debate between the two [Gaddafi and al-Sadr] continued for 5 hours. This [al-Sadr’s death] may have been [Gaddafi’s] reaction, or it may be part of a foreign agenda.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Where did you get this information?

[Al-Khaddar] Gaddafi’s guards [told me], some of whom are still alive. They gave us a lot of information about Gaddafi.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] However how could the guards know what happened between Gaddafi and al-Sadr behind closed doors?

[Al-Khaddar] This clash took place between them [Gaddafi and al-Sadr] in Gaddafi’s tent, in the presence of the guards.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] I understand that some new information has been revealed in the case of Musa al-Sadr’s disappearance. What can you tell us?

[Al-Khaddar] Yesterday they found the body of somebody who had accompanied al-Sadr; we are not certain of his identity. This body was found preserved in a freezer in the port of Tripoli. This freezer also held the bones of other victims, and more information about this will be released in the coming days. I believe that they have found the body of the journalist Abbas Badr al-Din [who disappeared alongside Musa al-Sadr]. This is because he [Abbas Badr al-Din] was a relatively minor figure and so his body was disposed of in this manner after he was killed. As for the more important people who are killed, their bodies are hidden in cemeteries, not left like this.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us more about the manner that Gaddafi developed the Libyan army?

[Al-Khaddar] Gaddafi began amassing arms 4 or 5 years ago. Ordinary [Libya] people do not have weapons, nor even do the police or customs officials. Only Gaddafi’s battalions possessed weapons, because he was afraid of the large number of events that were taking place [in the region], as well as the political opposition [in Libya] and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group [LIFG].

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you investigate any attempts of military coup in Libya?

[Al-Khaddar] When I was General Prosecutor following the [Al-Fateh] revolution, I investigated one such case; the Gaddafi regime executed those who tried to carry out a coup. There was another coup attempt led by Omar al-Mahishi [in 1975].

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How did Gaddafi survive such conspiracies?

[Al-Khaddar] He knew all the conspiracies before they took place. However some such conspiracies were only uncovered at the last minute; this was due to luck, not the Libyan intelligence. Some of these conspirators broke in the end and revealed information [about other conspiracies] in order to escape punishment. I have a number of files of people that have been killed and assassinated by the Gaddafi regime, and this requires further time [to analyze].

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Like who?

[Al-Khaddar] Former Libyan Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Bashari and former Libyan Justice Minister Ibrahim Bakkar were both assassinated on Gaddafi’s orders.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us talk about al-Bashari. I heard that he was killed whilst driving his car?

[Al-Khaddar] Ibrahim al-Bashari knew a lot of security secrets, and his star was on the rise in the Libyan political arena. He then began to intervene in a manner that Gaddafi did not like. It was this, in addition to other family and moral issues, which led to his death.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What family or moral issues?

[Al-Khaddar] I do not want to talk ill of the dead, what is important is that al-Bashari crossed a red-line, and was killed for it. This was somewhere in the city of Khoms. This [assassination] is something that was repeated with a number of others, and Khoms was Gaddafi’s preferred place for this. He eliminated dozens of people there. In addition to this, he had another favored spot on the Libyan – Tunisian border; this is where former Justice Minister Ibrahim Bakkar was killed, and where they attempted to kill [senior Libyan intelligence official] Mohammed al-Misrati, but he miraculously survived.

As for Ibrahim Bakkar he was run over by a car, it was a stolen vehicle with no license plates, and the reason that Gaddafi ordered his death was that he [Bakkar] knew about an aircraft travelling from Benghazi to Tripoli carrying around 230 people onboard which was shot down [by the Gaddafi forces]. This was approximately 11 years ago, against the backdrop of the air embargo imposed on Libya following the Lockerbie case. The officers who fired upon the plane are still alive, and we must begin investigations into them.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was Gaddafi truly such a criminal?

[Al-Khaddar] He was a far greater criminal than this! The crimes he carried out are indescribable!

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think Gaddafi – if he is captured – will be tried internationally or in Libya?

[Al-Khaddar] As you know, as international trial will only focus on the 17 February events, however if he is tried in Libya he will be held to account for all the crimes he committed since the 1969 coup until today.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] If you were the presiding judge, how would you judge him?

[Al-Khaddar] If I could be the presiding judge, then I would not want anything else in this world, not money, not position, not anything. However this would not be so that I could revenge myself against him, but rather for the sake of justice.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would you treat him respectfully?

[Al-Khaddar] I am a judge, first and foremost, and I must respect others and be respected.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think Gaddafi will ever be captured and brought to trial?

[Al-Khaddar] I was asked this question two months ago and I said that Gaddafi is Libya’s Osama Bin Laden; they will find him hiding in a hole somewhere. However he will not accept trial because he is a dictator. You must also be aware that the International Court of Justice does not include the death penalty.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will you nominate yourself as a Libyan presidential candidate?

[Al-Khaddar] If I felt safe, and felt that the western world truly wants a free Libya…then I will put myself forward as a presidential candidate to do what I can for the sake of democracy, justice, and security, for this is something that the Libyan people deserve.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think you are a suitable person for this position?

[Al-Khaddar] That’s up for the Libyan people to decide.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What chances do you think you have of winning a Libyan presidential election?

[Al-Khaddar] Mention my name to the Libyan people and you will see. They will tell you that I was the only figure in the Gaddafi regime that was sincere and whose hands are clean. I was not a politician, I was a judicial figure. Gaddafi offered me the position of Minister of Justice, but I twice refused this position!

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What would you say to the Libyan people?

[Al-Khaddar] My advice to the rebels is don’t do what the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutionaries have done; for everyone who served in the Gaddafi regime but who kept his hands clean and did not seize public money should have a large role in governing Libya. The current method of removing all those who worked with Gaddafi should be avoided.