Archive for the ‘Libya’ Category

Terror and Slow Justice: Dragging Libya to court for a deadly 1989 hijacking.

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

originally published in The Weekly Standard, Sept 4 2017

Few Americans noticed, but this past June, Muammar Qaddafi’s longtime spy chief Abdullah Senussi was apparently released from prison in Tripoli, where he had been sentenced to death in July 2015 for decades of officially sanctioned murders of his fellow Libyans. If Senussi was not released—everything is murky in Libya—he was at least seen at a festive meal at a Tripoli hotel.

Justice has been a long time coming to Senussi, one of six Libyans convicted in a French court in 1999 for the murder of 170 people on UTA Flight 772, the “forgotten flight” of the title of Stuart Newberger’s book. The DC-10 had left Brazzaville, Congo, on September 19, 1989, and reached its first stop, N’Djamena, Chad. It took off from N’Djamena for its final stop, Paris, but 45 minutes after takeoff a bomb exploded and the plane broke into four sections that plunged from the sky, some of the passengers likely still conscious when they smashed into the Niger desert.

Newberger, a lawyer who represented the seven Americans killed on Flight 772, writes that it is unlikely Senussi will leave Libya alive. But his own narration of decades of terror by Qaddafi and others, and decades of appeasing international responses, should make us wonder. One condition of the release of the American hostages from Iran in 1981 was that they could not sue Iran. Many laws have been passed since to assist victims of terror in seeking redress in civil lawsuits in the United States, but as Newberger’s UTA 772 case shows, legal judgments can always be overtaken by political events. The results are rarely fair to the victims of terrorism and their loved ones.

Newberger is most engrossing in describing the work supervised by France’s Jean-Louis Bruguière, an 11th-generation investigating magistrate, which he calls with some justice “one of the greatest detective stories of all time.” The plane’s debris—and the passengers’ remains—were scattered over a 50-by-5-mile area of remote desert in an era before GPS, mobile phones, Google Earth, and many other contemporary tools. Remarkably, within four weeks the remains of a suitcase were found; it tested positive for plastic-explosive residue.

Bruguière leveraged France’s good connections in Congo, where it turned out the bomb entered the UTA plane in a suitcase carried by a Congolese, Apollinaire Mangatany. His small group of revolutionaries aimed to overthrow Mobutu, the dictator of neighboring Zaire, and they accepted assistance from Libya’s Brazzaville embassy. In revenge for France’s support of Chad in the recently ended Libya-Chad war, Mangatany’s Libyan handlers supplied him with a suitcase containing explosives, telling him it was intended to blow up the French plane when it sat on the runway in N’Djamena. Mangatany may not have been killed in the explosion: His remains, along with those of over 60 of the other passengers, were never identified, and it’s possible he got off the plane in Chad and disappeared.

By June 1990, physical evidence surfaced indicating Libya’s involvement. Newberger details the patient police work that tied a tiny piece of green plastic circuit board found at the crash site to the German middleman who sold 100 Taiwanese-made timers to one of Abdullah Senussi’s subordinates in the Libyan Mukhabarat (intelligence service). The Germans apparently had thought they were providing timers for battery-operated runway lights on remote desert airstrips in Libya.

In October 1991, Bruguière issued international arrest warrants for four Libyans—including Senussi. But none was extradited: Libya doesn’t allow its citizens to be tried for crimes outside the country, and Libya’s lawyers pointed out at the time that France doesn’t either. Eventually Bruguière charged Senussi and five other Libyans with destroying UTA 772; they were convicted in absentia in 1999.

Meanwhile, in November 1991 a Scottish prosecutor had indicted Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, apparent Libyan Mukhabarat agents, for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988, which resulted in the deaths of 259 passengers and crew, as well as another 11 people on the ground. The majority of victims aboard that flight were American and the crash site was easy to reach, so it received much more media attention than UTA 772. Yet even for Pan Am 103 it would take until 2003 for a compensation deal to come together, and it was not finalized until 2008.

Newberger entered the story in April 2002 when he was contacted by Douglas Matthews, the billionaire owner of the DC-10 leased to UTA. Matthews wanted to bring a civil suit against Libya for the destruction of his $40 million aircraft, and his lawyer knew of Newberger.

Newberger had become famous in 2000 for winning $40 million in compensatory damages for newsman Terry Anderson, held hostage for seven years by Iran. This lawsuit was only made possible by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and by 1996 amendments to the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. These measures, enacted in response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, allowed for the waiving of sovereign immunity to bring lawsuits against states that sponsored terrorism, and allowed commercial assets of these countries to be seized in the United States. It took the passage of still another law for Anderson to collect his judgment from $400 million in Iranian government funds frozen in the United States.

The UTA 772 suit was filed in 2003 and took its name, Pugh v. Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, from Robert L. Pugh, a diplomat who survived the U.S. embassy attack in Beirut in 1983 and was ambassador to Chad in 1989. His wife Bonnie had been one of the seven Americans killed on UTA 772. It took until 2008, with Libya delaying every step of the way, but Pugh resulted in a massive judgment of around $6 billion in favor of the American plaintiffs. Here is where Newberger and the families involved in his case find out that “politics was more powerful than law”—because (spoiler alert) a political agreement ended up having a large effect on the settlement. The relatives who participated in the Pugh suit were each eligible to receive $10 million, just a tenth of what they would have received under the court judgment against Libya, had it been allowed to stand.

Newberger’s book is at its best—clear and fast-paced—when discussing the details of policework. The book would have benefited, however, from an editor who could have steered the author away from some formulaic descriptions and clichés. Also, it would have been compelling to hear the voices of the Pugh plaintiffs that Newberger represented, were they willing be interviewed and quoted. And, given the complicated nature of the story Newberger is telling, the absence of a timeline is keenly felt.

In the years since the Pugh case was decided, the struggle to use our legal system to bring terrorists and their supporters to justice has continued. A law passed in 2016—the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which was enacted in the only override of a presidential veto in the Obama years—allows federal courts to exercise jurisdiction over foreign states charged with supporting terrorism, regardless of whether the state is designated a sponsor of terrorism. This change in the law made it possible, earlier this year, for many of the families of the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia in civil court. This is a welcome development, but if there is any lesson to be found in Newberger’s book, it is that expectations should be tempered, since justice can be very slow in coming.

Stop Donald Trump from Colonizing Your Brain

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Originally published on on May 21 2017:

Like a Libyan dictator of old, the leader is everywhere, including inside your head
By Ann Marlowe
May 21, 2017 • 10:00 PM

I keep trying to finish this essay, but every six three hours or so there’s a major new Trump scandal to react to.

It reminds me of a remark in the German filmmaker Wim Wenders’ 1976 movie Kings of the Road. A German character says that Americans have “colonized our subconscious.” He means the music, the movies, the blue jeans that formed hipster identity in 1970s Germany.

Trump has colonized our subconscious—in fact, he was succeeding at that even during the campaign. (Too many were ready to embrace a psychopath who had no internal censor because a decade of stultifying political correctness had led to a craving for something that felt like truth-telling, even if it wasn’t.) And now a fevered fixation on Trump, Trump, Trump is playing into his hands.

Usually, you have to be a dictator to accomplish this. What’s happening here reminds me of visiting Libya in the first heady days of its freedom from Gadhafi.

I spent about six weeks in eastern Libya in spring 2011, when a million people woke from a 42-year-long nightmare and dipped their toes into ordinary life again. The most emblematic story I heard in Benghazi was told to me by someone who, even more than today’s citizen activists, dropped everything to do what she thought was right. She was a dental professor who, on Feb. 17, 2011, walked out of the classroom where she was grading exam papers and didn’t go back for seven months. It was more important to help make a new society.

This brilliant woman, Iman Bugaighis, eventually did go back to teaching. She also spoke repeatedly of the need to root out the “little Gadhafi in our heads.” Without doing that, she said, there would be no real democracy in Libya. (Today, there’s too much democracy in Libya. But that’s another story.)

From what Iman and many other Libyans told me, Gadhafi’s regime was omnipresent. The TV, the radio, the posters in the street, and the photos in government offices: Gadhafi, Gadhafi, Gadhafi. You were never able to get him out of your head.

Another Libyan spoke of the regime’s “organized confusion,” a deliberate effort to govern by impulse so that no one could think straight and organize to resist. The regime did crazy things to make sure you paid attention. One day, the school curriculum might be totally changed, or the military academy moved hundreds of miles, or English and French books banned, or any madness you can imagine.

Once your life revolves around hating someone, you’re finished as a thinker, artist, human
Starting to sound familiar? In totalitarian societies, the need to focus obsessively on the regime helps grow a little Leader inside one’s head. Even in opposition, there’s no escape. And once your life revolves around hating someone, you’re finished as a thinker, artist, human.

Since Trump’s election, friends of mine who had no prior interest in politics, people who never even voted most of the time, have been marching, Tweeting obsessively, talking about getting involved with “the resistance.” Some are arty people who are far to the left, others are rentiers, bon vivants. Before the election, some were spending money and enjoying life. Others were involved with Mandarin art activities, pursuits that no longer seem urgent.

Meanwhile, I’ve met other people from a wide range of professions who have been doing anti-Trump research, often very good research, as citizen journalists. Twitter is full of their work, even though it’s the shrill simplifiers who get most of the attention.

It’s like what happened to many Americans after Sept. 11. Some joined the military or got a degree in Middle Eastern studies. More eccentrically, I learned Farsi and went to write about Afghanistan.

Is this drastic change in interests healthy? Yes and no. Yes to the point where it corrects an unhealthy ignorance of political matters and isolated self-absorption. But no, when you stop producing or consuming culture or art. No, when you can’t get Trump out of your head.

I force myself to stop checking Twitter and read a book instead, preferably one written a long time ago and in a foreign language. Go to a museum now and then. An opening. Moderation. Balance. Pick a piece of the work and do it, steadily and surely. I think of an almost 2,000-year-old rabbinical edict: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”

Whose Convenience? The Murky World of Bottom-Feeding Shipping Registries

Monday, December 5th, 2016

originally published in the December 12 issue of the Weekly Standard:

Whose Convenience?
The murky world of bottom-feeding shipping registries
DEC 12, 2016 | By ANN MARLOWE

Hurd’s Bank, July 2015
Sixteen miles out to sea from Valletta, Malta, safely into international waters, dozens of large ships sit at anchor in July of last year. An hour before the late summer sunset, the sea and sky are nearly the same blue. That day, more than forty vessels are in the free, shallow-water harbor known as Hurd’s Bank. Crew members—pudgy men in cheap sportswear—lounge on the rails of their vessels, enjoying the end of the day. Ship owners often leave skeleton crews on board these vessels, who are supplied with food and water from shore. They wait for the right moment or the right deal for their often-illicit cargos. Hurd’s Bank isn’t the only such free offshore anchorage in the world, but it’s the only one in Europe.

It’s a peaceful scene, but Hurd’s Bank helps keep the slow-burning Libyan civil war going. Many of the vessels here are tankers, and some carry diesel purchased in Libya at the local, subsidized price, diesel which is then illegally exported to be sold for 15 to 20 times as much off the coast of Malta. The tankers that hold Libyan diesel here have loaded it at western Libyan ports, such as Zuwara. Buying at the subsidized price—or simply appropriating the fuel—and selling a few hundred miles away on Hurd’s Bank is an easy way for

Libya’s militias to finance themselves.

Among the ships out on Hurd’s Bank in the summer of 2015 were “two vessels that are involved in fuel smuggling,” according to a recent report by the U.N. Security Council Panel of Experts on Libya. One was the Amazigh F, an oil tanker owned by the Basbosa Shipping Company. The Marshall Islands address of Basbosa Shipping is the same as that of ADJ Swordfish Ltd. (now ADJ Trading, Ltd.), a company controlled by a Libyan named Fahmi Ben Khalifa together with investors from Malta and Egypt. The other of the two ships was the Basbosa Star, then owned by ADJ Swordfish.

Before anchoring off Malta that July, both the Amazigh F and the Basbosa Star had sailed to Libya multiple times. And on each of their trips, the U.N. panel notes, the ships had shut down their automatic identification systems as they approached the Libyan coast, “following the pattern of smugglers.”

“One individual stands out in the fuel smuggling business from Zwara,” the U.N. panel writes: Fahmi Ben Khalifa, also known as Fahmi Salim. “He has a long record of smuggling. During the Qadhafi regime he was imprisoned for a period for drug smuggling.” In addition to his Maltese company, Fahmi Salim “also chairs the board of directors of a Libyan company, Tiuboda Oil and Gas Services Limited,” the panel details. Fahmi Salim had tried to get a proper license to bring fuel into Malta from Libya, but Maltese officials rejected the request. That didn’t stop him from doing business.

Both the Basbosa Star and Amazigh F spent most of their time shuttling between Malta and Libya; both operated out of the same Marshall Islands address. But they have something else in common: They are among the hundreds of vessels flying the flag of Palau. The Basbosa Star changed its flag from Sierra Leone to Palau in February of last year; the Amazigh F was Palau-flagged beginning early in 2014. (A year ago, the ship’s name was changed to Sea Master X.) The activities of the Basbosa Star, Sea Master X, and other Palau-flagged vessels point to the larger problem of regulating the world’s many “flags of convenience.” The proliferation of fast-growing, obscure shipping registries offers rogue owners many opportunities to dodge authorities.

The Republic of Palau is a far-flung Micronesian nation made up of hundreds of small islands east of the Philippines. With a population of 21,000, its total landmass is equal to about that of Norman, Oklahoma. Made into an American territory after World War II, Palau became independent in 1994. The country uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, and English is an official language along with Palauan. The cash-strapped little country has relied on fishing and tourism for its scanty revenues. In September 2012, the Palau Registry was launched with two Chinese gambling ships, adding registering vessels to Palau’s endeavors.

Palau is just one of dozens of flags of convenience, many from weak or impoverished—even landlocked—nations desperate for hard currency. Flags of convenience have often been used for legally dubious purposes. The first such registry, in Panama, was attractive as a way to avoid new U.S. regulations on sailors’ working conditions. And from the beginning, it facilitated smuggling: The first vessel with a Panamanian flag of convenience was the aged cargo ship Belen Quezada, which, in the early years of Prohibition, ran liquor from Canada to the United States. Flags of convenience continue to provide cover for owners engaged in criminal enterprises, which include not just smuggling fuel, but such dangerous gambits as shipping weapons to terrorists.

Rogue flag-of-convenience ships tend to be found around the world’s ungoverned or barely governed spaces. They are not, for the most part, a direct menace to the United States, except when we have to go in to clean up the mess created by smugglers overseas. Our Coast Guard—unlike that of, say, Libya—has the resources to protect national waters. According to the Coast Guard, under Port State Control (PSC) regulations, “all foreign-flagged vessels are examined no less than once each year.” A Coast Guard spokesman says, “Generally vessels that have not undergone a PSC exam within 12 months and vessels that are a first-time arrival to the U.S. will receive a Port State Control Safety and Security exam.” Most of those ships are allowed to go on their way: While 8,925 vessels made 73,752 U.S. port calls in 2015, only 202 ships were detained, or 2.2 percent of vessels in American waters. The United States currently bans a grand total of three vessels from its waters.

Flags of convenience range from the big players such as Panama (72 percent of all commercial shipping worldwide) and Liberia, down to landlocked countries such as Bolivia and pariah states including North Korea. Even the big players are vulnerable to misuse. At the end of the ’90s, the Liberian registry of shipping, once the world’s largest, ended up in the hands of convicted war criminal Charles Taylor. The registry was accused of funding U.N.-banned weapons shipments and facilitating the transport of “blood diamonds.” Revenues from the registry provided as much as a third of Liberia’s national income. (The Liberian registry, which is run out of Virginia, was in the news again in 2013 as a donor of $120,000 to Terry McAuliffe’s campaign for governor of Virginia.)

There are several big regulatory bodies that inspect and, when necessary, detain ships, and these rank the flags of convenience by their frequency on the detention lists. Two of the main foreign regulators are the organizations created by the Paris Memorandum of Understanding and the Tokyo MoU, and they represent European and Asian authorities. The U.S. Coast Guard has its own Targeted Flag List that gives special scrutiny to ships flying the flags of Belize, Bolivia, Honduras, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Taiwan, Tanzania, or Thailand. From 2013 to 2015, for instance, 25 percent of Belizean ships and 26 percent of Bolivian ships entering U.S. waters were detained.

Beneath these flags of convenience singled out for regulatory attention, there are other, newer, privately run registers that are below the international radar, plying waters where they aren’t likely to run into port state inspections that would look too closely at where they’ve been and what they’ve been carrying, and otherwise get them into trouble. Several are associated with budget-strapped, low-population, under-governed Pacific island nations, such as Tonga, Tuvalu, and now Palau.

The Tongan registry at one point had 180 ships. It is one of the very few flags of convenience to be forced by international pressure to shut down foreign registrations. Several Tongan-flagged ships turned out to belong to al Qaeda. In January 2002, the Tongan-flagged ship Karine A was found by Israeli authorities to be transporting 50 tons of weapons and ammunition to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. That same year, 15 Pakistani men on board the Tongan-flagged Sara were arrested and charged with plotting an al Qaeda attack in Europe (the ship had been on its way from Casablanca to Libya when it detoured into Italian waters and was stopped).

More recently Tuvalu’s flag has had troublesome connections. In 2012, Reuters Freight Fundamentals reported that the National Iranian Tanker Company had flagged 11 of its tankers to Tuvalu, in an apparent effort to circumvent impending EU sanctions.

The Palau registry has had its share of vessels in the news—and not in a good way. A ship called the Lucky Star 8 attempted to conceal a recent visit to North Korea. The Amaranthus was found abandoned, moored along the west coast of the Greek island Zakynthos with a hold full of smuggled cigarettes. Even with innocent cargo there are problems: The Minnath—carrying 200 tons of vegetables—was so unseaworthy it nearly sank off India last year.

The Palau registry claims it cares about safety and legality. “Marine Inspections are required to be done annually at no cost to the owner. If a registered vessel under the Palau Flag has showed good record .  .  . the Flag Inspection may be waived for two years.” The registry even says it has a network of inspectors on-call and ready to go to work. But clearly something has gone amiss with this inspection regime if so many Palau-flagged ships are found in questionable circumstances. There’s also an underlying question about motive when you consider that the Palau registry appears not to be a huge moneymaker: The Republic of Palau earned only $100,000 from its registry in its first two years.

Palau is just one example—and it may be far from the worst—of why policing the murky world of shipping registries needs to be done with new vigilance.