Libya Rebel Leader Underscores Our Deep Hypocricy
Sep 4, 2011

Libya Rebel Leader Underscores Our Deep Hypocricy

(updated below)

When it first became clear that NATO actions in Libya were going to far exceed the UN mandate of a no-fly zone to protect civilians and would instead be a massive and sustained bombing campaign on all kinds of military targets in support of the rebels who would - in all likelihood given the assistance - manage to win militaristically, one of the first questions I had was: who are these rebels? What do we know about them? What assurances do we have that the country they might mold would be to our liking?

Abdelhakim Belhadj
Since then, much has been released about them and much remains hidden. It would be hard to imagine, were this kind of thing just not so very common, that one of our new best friends would be a man like Abdelhakim Belhadj. The commander of the rebel force that liberated Tripoli, this man embodies the complex and unprincipled duality between friend and foe so often seen in US relations in the middle east.

Abdelhakim Belhadj is a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a banned terrorist organization. He is the kind of militant who has popped up in numerous countries and conflicts from the Afghan-Soviet war in the eighties to the Libya war today. He has previously been interrogated (he claims tortured) by the CIA until ultimately rendered back to Libya by the Americans were he spent years in Qaddafi jails.

 Pause for a moment to consider just how twisted it is that we have the kind of person who, if he was not on "our side", would be immediately labeled a terrorist along with everything that word tries to connote. Yet here he is as a key player fighting on the same side as an extensive multilateral NATO effort. Surely this is not the kind of democracy loving, peaceful were it not for necessity, western oriented, secular friend who we would hope these rebels to be and is so often portrayed in the media.

 Except, this isn't the first time he has been on the side of the US. During the Afghan-Soviet war, he was a member of the mujaheddin fighters against the Soviets. These groups of fighters received enormous amount of assistance from the US (often funneled through Pakistan) to fight the Soviets and then were largely ignored after the Soviet collapse in 1989. This is the same group of people that Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar were once part of.

 The hypocrisy is not just regarding interactions with Mr. Belhadj, it is also with Qaddafi's entire regime. Numerous documents are popping up in Tripoli that are demonstrating the full extent of the growing and even friendly relationship between the CIA and Qaddafi. Mr. Belhadj is undoutably far from the only "terrorist" to suffer the extraordinary rendition program of the CIA which sent him from CIA prisons back to Qaddafi prisons.

 Consider all the work that has gone on in recent months regarding the portrayal of Qaddafi. He is supposed to be some kind of raving monster who, after decades of rule, must now be brought to justice. Like Saddam Hussein before him, he is made out to be - and so he becomes - the quintessential villain to be opposed at all costs. It is this singular fact which lets us ignore pesky details such as how blatantly illegal the war in Libya is for the US or how egregiously it violates the UN mandate. Yet it is precisely this same monster who only a few years back was enjoying a comfortable working relationship as the US turned over terrorists to him to imprison for them.

 What ties all of this together is simply realpolitik. It isn't ideological similarities, it isn't shared values, it isn't good people vs bad people, and it doesn't have much to do with Islam; in short it is none of the familiar platitudes so often repeated by the political class. It is about these people being useful to the present interests of the United States and their allies. Useful, and so they are used. When they are fighting the Soviets, they become our friends. When they preach jihad in Pakistan, they are our enemies and so must be sent to the kind of friend willing to lock them up for us. And when our new friend, and all his beautiful oil, switches to being our enemy, our old enemy/friend makes for the perfect new friend to fight with us.

UPDATE: More details are emerging, in particular the fact that the British MI6 also played an allegedly significant role in the arrest, torture and rendition to Libya.

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