Prosecutors seek Kadafi arrest warrant at International Criminal Court

Prosecutors asked judges of the International Criminal Court on Monday to issue arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, his son and brother-in-law, further isolating the autocratic ruler who has proved hard to dislodge despite NATO airstrikes and popular uprisings.

A legal brief presented to the judges accused the three of crimes against humanity in the killing of civilians as an effort to crush demonstrations they feared would unseat them, as happened with longtime rulers in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.

The prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, argued that Kadafi planned to answer his critics with violence even before the first antigovernment crowds gathered in Libya in mid-February. Ocampo charted a timeline for Kadafi’s actions and sketched out a division of responsibility among the Libyan ruler, his son Seif Islam and his brother-in-law Abdullah Sanoussi.

Judges at the court, based in The Hague, will take at least three weeks before ruling on the request, Moreno-Ocampo said in an interview. But his move was certain to please officials of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is conducting a bombing campaign under a United Nations mandate to protect Libyan civilians. Over the weekend, a senior British military official warned that Kadafi might be able to hold on if NATO did not escalate the airstrikes.

“NATO doubtless will appreciate the ICC investigation and indictment of top Libyan leaders, including Kadafi,” said David Scheffer, a former Clinton administration ambassador at large for war crimes issues, who now teaches international law at Northwestern University.


Scheffer said the move might increase pressure on Kadafi to think about finding refuge in a country that has not agreed to ICC jurisdiction.

The Obama administration has reportedly explored which countries not party to the ICC might harbor Kadafi. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, now on trial at The Hague for war crimes, fled to Nigeria, helping end his country’s civil war before he was eventually detained and sent to the court.

Some human rights groups have questioned why the court has not also opened an investigation of Syria’s government, which has likewise cracked down on a protest movement.

Moreno-Ocampo called the evidence against Kadafi overwhelming and added that his investigation had been authorized by a U.N. Security Council resolution.

“People who are against the regime are suffering persecution today. That’s the reality,” Moreno-Ocampo said. “The way to protect civilians today is to have these [arrest] warrants.”

The prosecutor said he had interviewed Libyans who had fled the country, including witnesses who could testify to instructions from Kadafi, his son and brother-in-law to kill and imprison protesters. He refused to reveal their names and declined to comment when asked whether Kadafi’s former foreign minister Musa Kusa, who fled to London, had provided evidence.

In Tripoli, a government spokesman said the prosecutor had reached “incoherent conclusions.”

“We have never, in any stage of the crisis in Libya, ordered the killing of civilians or hired mercenaries against our people,” spokesman Musa Ibrahim said in a statement. “In fact, it is the rebels who took up arms in the middle of our peaceful cities and caused the death of many people and invited fighters from several nationalities to join them.”

The Libyan government has “long requested fact-finding missions, international observers and experts to counterbalance the biased and inaccurate media reports about events in Libya. No one listened,” Ibrahim said.

The government also accused the ICC of targeting African leaders exclusively, referring to Taylor and the outstanding warrants for Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir.

People in rebel-held areas said it was high time that the court acted.

“Kadafi destroyed our city, he killed our children and he fought us with all kinds of weapons, so what is the meaning of the request or a report saying Kadafi is a criminal?” said Aiman Abu Shama, a doctor in the besieged western port of Misurata. “Everybody knows that he has to be arrested.”

The prosecutor’s office described Seif Islam as his father’s “de facto prime minister,” who also played a leading role in bringing foreign mercenaries to Libya. It branded Sanoussi the Libyan leader’s “right-hand man” and “executioner.”

The prosecutor said Kadafi tried to avoid creating a paper trail by giving orders verbally through a special institution called the Information Bureau of the Leader. In mid-January, worried by the uprising that brought down Tunisian President Zine el Abidine ben Ali, Kadafi held meetings with tribal leaders, professionals and journalists in which he “threatened them with reprisals should they join the protests,” the court papers read.

Moreno-Ocampo alleged that Kadafi, Sanoussi and Seif Islam huddled in private to plan how to crush demonstrations. Kadafi mobilized security forces, including newly recruited mercenaries, and appointed another son, Saadi, to be mayor of Benghazi, the eastern city where the protests first broke out and that now serves as the rebels’ de facto capital.

“In the early days of the demonstrations, Kadafi transmitted orders through his secretariat to discipline civilians by killing them and destroying their property,” he charged. “Further, Sanoussi, upon Kadafi’s instructions, directed and coordinated the operation of the security forces in Benghazi and expressly ordered the shooting at civilians.”

Security forces opened fire around Benghazi, including on a funeral procession Feb. 18.

“The same attacks were replicated throughout the country,” the prosecutor’s brief read, including the shooting of a funeral procession in Misurata two days later. Kadafi also ordered snipers and security forces to take up strategic positions around mosques in Tripoli, the capital, where they killed up to 100 civilians on Feb. 25, the prosecutor said.

Since mid-February, Moreno-Ocampo said, many journalists, political activists, demonstrators and others have been arrested and disappeared, and torture has taken place inside Kadafi’s jails. The prosecutor described methods of torture such as “tying electric wires around victims’ genitals and shocking them with electricity and whipping victims with an electric wire after tying them upside down with a rope connected to a stick.”

At first, the prosecutor had focused solely on Kadafi, but he said it became clear early on that Kadafi shared authority with the two others. “Seif is more [about] planning, hiring mercenaries and making speeches. Sanoussi is the executioner. Sanoussi is cracking their backs,” Moreno-Ocampo said.

Sanoussi, who is married to the sister of Kadafi’s second wife, is head of military intelligence. The prosecutor’s brief says he is believed to have ordered security forces to open fire on prisoners during a riot in 1996, killing about 1,000 of them, and that a French court convicted him in absentia of involvement in the 1989 bombing of UTA Flight 772, which killed 170 people.


McDonnell reported from Tripoli and Parker from Baghdad. Times staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo contributed to this report.