Musa Kusa: Bad People Sometimes Get a Pass

Tuesday, 05 Apr 2011 11:39 AM

By Judith Miller

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Musa Kusa, Libya’s foreign minister until his defection last week, is a somewhat richer man today. The Treasury Department announced Monday it was unfreezing his funds in international banks, given his defection from the regime of Moammar Gadhafi and subsequent flight to London.

Kusa’s foreign assets, the total of which the Treasury has not disclosed, were frozen along with those of 13 other top regime family and officials under Executive Order 13566, part of the sanctions the Obama administration has imposed against the regime to speed Gadhafi’s political, if not physical demise. But Musa Kusa’s judicial fate is still undecided.

Kusa may not look like a killer. An elegant, trim man from a prominent Libyan family with a sculpted face and salt-and-pepper hair, he could pass for an Arab investment banker, or perhaps a university professor.

Having earned a Master of Sociology degree from Michigan State in 1973, he loves the Spartans and is known for regaling diplomats with tales of their basketball triumphs.

But appearances often collide with reality in Orwellian Libya. Until two years ago, Kusa had been Gadhafi’s intelligence chief for some 15 years, and his deputy intelligence chief before that. So he not only knows where Libya’s proverbial bodies are buried, he has helped bury a few himself. Not literally, of course.

Members of Libya’s elite don’t usually bomb, strangle, bludgeon, or torture people to death. They order others to do it for them.

The possibility that the NATO allies may finally get a full accounting of Gadhafi’s terrorism and his networks’ capabilities and reach explains why Western officials are calling Kusa’s defection a “triumph” and an “intelligence coup.”

It explains why, according to Britain’s Daily Mail Online, Kusa is now sitting in a safe house in the Home Counties, one of those small cities surrounding London whose names tend to end in “shire,” being grilled by British intelligence officers about life with Gadhafi and his nefarious accomplishments.

In Kusa’s case, the list is undoubtedly impressive. It is said to include not only the arming of Ireland’s IRA, which he boasted about in his younger years, but also his largely unacknowledged support for Charles Taylor’s incredibly murderous Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, Abu Nidal, and most notoriously, his alleged role as mastermind of the Pan Am 103 and UTA 772 bombings.

The mini-uproar over Britain’s decision to host Kusa in light of his unsavory past has prompted British Prime Minister David Cameron to say that Kusa has not been, and will not be, granted immunity from prosecution — either by British courts or the International Criminal Court.

But intelligence officials on both sides of the Atlantic suspect that given his longstanding dealings with Western intelligence agencies, Kusa is unlikely to be hauled off to The Hague or a Scottish prison any time soon.

Cameron has also chosen to stress Kusa’s potential value in NATO’s effort to oust “brother-leader” Gadhafi, calling his defection a “‘serious blow” to the “crumbling and rotten Gadhafi regime.”

How do American national security and foreign policy gurus feel about making a deal with Kusa, or for that matter, with Gadhafi himself? The White House won’t say, but the experts are deeply divided.

Michael Hayden, a former director of both the National Security and the CIA, argues that Kusa’s defection is likely to encourage others within Gadhafi’s small inner circle to defect, further isolate Gadhafi, and hence, make it more likely that the “brother-leader” will step aside rather than continue fighting.

Noting that Washington had dealt with Gadhafi through two administrations after his decision to abandon weapons of mass destruction and join the global war on terrorism, Hayden argued that the desire for “retributive justice” had to be weighed against securing “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

That, he said, could best be achieved taking steps that to speed Gadhafi’s departure from the political arena.

Robert Joseph, by contrast, a defense expert who headed counter-proliferation at the White House’s National Security Council under President Bush and who secretly negotiated with Kusa the terms under which Libya abandoned its weapons of mass destruction programs, opposes immunity for Kusa or any other Libyan official implicated in the Lockerbie bombing.

“These individuals should be held accountable for the terrorist acts they committed," he said in an interview. Simple justice for what prior to 9/11 was the largest loss of American life in a civilian terrorist attack demanded that prosecutors be able to bring cases against those responsible for the murder of 259 people, most of whom were Americans. "Trading justice for information, or to encourage further defections, is not only a bad trade, it's a betrayal of the victims of their brutal crimes," he said.

The issue of justice in the Lockerbie bombing has been clouded by the premature release from a Scottish prison of the only person to be convicted in the Lockerbie bombing — Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan operative.

Convicted of murder in January 2001 by a panel of Scottish judges at a special court in the Netherlands for the Lockerbie bombing, the Scottish government released him in August, 2009 on grounds of compassion, after doctors said he had terminal prostate cancer and had only three more months or so to live.

Returned to Libya with a hero’s welcome in the private plane of Gadhafi’s son, Saef al-Islam, despite Libyan pledges that his repatriation would be low-key, the dying Megrahi is still alive almost two years later and living in Tripoli.

Although Gadhafi paid $2.7 billion to the Lockerbie families — $10 million per victim — and millions more to compensate families of earlier victims of terrorist attacks, and also accepted Libyan responsibility for terrorist acts committed by Megrahi and another of his intelligence officers, Gadhafi was permitted to deny his own obvious complicity in the crime.

Allegations that British oil companies were granted access to lucrative oil fields, which British government and oil company executives have denied, have prompted calls for both investigations into the circumstances surrounding al-Meghrahi’s release and other efforts to bring the Libyans responsible for the bombing to justice.

Since his own defection from the regime, former Libyan Justice minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil, now a leader of the rebel coalition, has said that he has as yet unspecified evidence that Gadhafi directly ordered the bombing.

The White House is cagey about Kusa’s fate. The FBI’s investigation into the Lockerbie bombing has never been closed, and one law enforcement official said that the Bureau would very much like to discuss the bombing with Kusa.

Whether that pesky inquiry will be permitted to interfere with the administration’s apparently greater goal of getting rid of Gadhafi, White House officials won’t say.

His detailed knowledge of Gadhafi’s inner circle, of who would be most likely to betray the “brother-leader” and defect, of its inner ancient tribal disputes, of the rank and file and “tactics, techniques and procedures” of Libyan intelligence, of its Arab and European networks, and its failed and successful strikes, have made his defection last week a prime catch for the American-supported NATO alliance that has imposed a “no-fly zone” over Libya to stop the Gadhafi from slaughtering his citizens in Benghazi, and whose ultimate political aim is to force him from power.

Megrahi was jailed for life in 2001 but the 58-year-old was freed on compassionate grounds in August 2009 by Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill because doctors said he had cancer and would be dead within three months.

Still alive, the issue has been a thorn in Anglo-American relations ever since. Read more from the Daily Mail.

Read all of Judith Miller's columns on Pundicity.com

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