Trading Renditions for Oil Contracts

In September, Libyan rebels found a collection of documents that seemed as if they had been specially packaged to cause the US and–especially–the Brits a great deal of embarrassment. They detailed the rendition to Libyan torture of one of the leaders of the anti-Qaddafi uprising, Adul Hakim Belhaj. Today, the Guardian has a long, important article detailing the story behind that package of documents. Go read the whole thing–but here’s the chronology it lays out.

  1. In the lead-up to efforts to make friends with Qaddafi in 2002 and 2003, the Brits reversed their long-standing tolerance of members of the anti-Qaddafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)
  2. As part of this effort, they tried to expel “M” in an immigration proceeding protected by their version of State Secrets (the form of tribunal the Cameron government is trying to expand)
  3. At the same time, they started working to deliver Belhaj to Qaddafi; in November 2003, the British assured Libya they were working with Chinese intelligence to capture him
  4. In March 2004, the secret court rejected “M’s” deportation from the UK, accusing the Home Office of deliberately exaggerating ties between LIFG and al Qaeda
  5. Also in March 2004, Belhaj and his four months pregnant wife, Fatima Bouchar, were held in a facility on or near the Thai airport for five days; Belhaj was tortured
  6. On March 8, they were then rendered to Libya; the rendition flight stopped for refueling in Diego Garcia (the plane would proceed from Libya to Iraq to render Yunus Rahmatullah–the US prisoner who won a habeas petition in the UK–to Afghanistan)
  7. Two weeks after Belhaj and Bouchar arrived in Libya, Tony Blair visited Libya and Shell announced a £110m deal for oil exploration off Libya’s coast
  8. Bouchar was released after four months–just before she delivered her first child; Belhaj and another LIFG leader, Abu Munthir al-Saadi, were held six years
  9. In early sessions with British interrogators, Belhaj and al-Saadi were told they would receive better treatment if they claimed LIFG had ties to al Qaeda [Note this was in a period when we had reason to want to have good reason to hold a bunch of Libyans we had captured in Afghanistan]
  10. In 2005 the British declared LIFG a terrorist organization and expelled members, including “M”; presumably they used intelligence gathered in Libya using torture

In short, the British appear to have traded a handful of LIFG members to lay the groundwork for an expanded oil relationship with Qaddafi–a relationship that would culminate, in 2009, with the exchange of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for some BP contracts [see chetnolian’s correction on this point].

And along the way, in a process that parallels what has happened as we’ve killed off Taliban leaders with drone strikes, LIFG grew more extreme.

By early 2005, the British government had been forced to conclude that the capture of the more moderate elements among the LIFG leadership, such as Belhaj and al-Saadi, had resulted in a power vacuum that was being filled by men with pan-Islamist ambitions. Among a number of documents found in a second Tripoli cache, at the British ambassador’s abandoned residence, was a secret 58-page MI5 briefing paper that said “the extremists are now in the ascendancy,” and that they were “pushing the group towards a more pan-Islamic agenda inspired by AQ [al-Qaida]”.

Well then, if Libya ends up going sour or chaos continues to leach into Mali, I guess we’ll only have ourselves and Obama’s celebrated Libyan intervention to blame.

That and the crimes we committed 8 years ago all so the Brits could get Libyan oil.

One final comment. As it becomes increasingly clear how our former partners in crime can make life difficult if they lose their power, I wonder if it changes US willingness to back our old partner in torture in Egypt?

12 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    @Phil Perspective: Well, there have long been suggestions that Megrahi wasn’t the culprit or certainly the only one.

    So you’re assuming that the Brits weren’t just holding Megrahi in the first place as a convenient way to pin it on Qaddafi. I’m agnostic about whether he was involved or not, but it’s certainly possible he was a convenient scapegoat.

  2. Phil Perspective says:

    @emptywheel: He certainly wasn’t the only one involved with the operation. What I’m saying is that the bombing complicated British efforts to buy, one way or another, Qaddafi’s oil. Basically, most of our foreign policy stinks. After all, when was it that Cranky McSame and Mini-me were hanging out with the Colonel in Tripoli somewhere, and Tweeting about it? Just a year, or two, before our help in “liberating” Libya from Qaddafi?

  3. bmaz says:

    @emptywheel: I have never liked the smell of the case against Megrahi. He may be involved, may not; if so it is certainly unlikely that it is how it has been framed.

  4. ryan says:

    @Phil Perspective:
    I assume you’re referring to the trip of McCain, Lieberman and Graham in 2009. In the words of an old Doonesbury, “before we all go jumping into bed together …”

    There are many things about Obama foreign policies I dislike, but at least in my opinion, the activities of McCain, Lieberman and Graham are hardly even relevant. You can hardly throw it all together and call it “our foreign policy.” Different people and different factions have different mixed motives. It just confuses things to wad them up in the same lump of yeasty dough.

  5. Gitcheegumee says:

    Anybody recall the Saudi Al Yamamah /BAE scandal?

    It is VERY interesting to enter…BAE and BP… into the search engine of one’s choice.

  6. rugger9 says:

    One wonders just how much of our civilization our officials continue to sacrifice at the altars of the oil companies.

    Ye gods. And the article is indeed sickening, but these two were lucky, whereas Al Libi and many others were not.

  7. orionATL says:


    did britain not agree to join us in invading iraq specifically in order that bp be a strong player in the iraqui oil-fields?

  8. Bob Schacht says:

    Well, you see, taking all the moderate leaders out of circulation so that the extremists with AQ connections take over, well now, that just means that the “War on Terrorism” just has to continue, donchaknow, and we can never retire the AUMF! Perpetual war!

    BTW, some people argue that it really was WW-II that got us out of the Great Depression. Is there a parallel? Except that WW-II was much shorter than our Perpetual War. And WW-II ended.

    Bob in AZ

  9. posaune says:

    Good Lord, EW! I take a couple of days off for my kid’s spring break, come back here to find so many posts, I’ll NEVER catch up! I knew your mind went a million bytes per second, but really, now! Is it speed?

  10. chetnolian says:

    @bmaz: Two points; first if Megrahi was one of the bombers, and I incline to believe he was not, the trial certainly did not successfully prove it. It was a travesty, thanks largely to US involvement in bribery of the key witness.

    Secondly, Marcy does need to understand British politics (not easy I grant you)before making simple statements like “in exchange for some BP contracts”. The miserable Blair probably was pleased, BP probably was pleased, but the decision really was by the devolved Scottish, not the UK, Government as Megrahi was tried under Scottish law, Lockerbie being in Scotland. Despite trying very hard, no one has successfully demonstrated that Kenny McKaskill, the Scottish minister involved, was not really convinced the man was in the last stages of terminal illness. If we must have a disgraceful reason for his release then I suggest it is that as a result Megrahi’s appeal was not submitted. That appeal would assuredly have shown what a miserable blot on the Scottish legal system the trial had been.

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