It seldom bodes well when the dauphin of an insane dictator dresses like a hedge fund analyst for HSBC and sounds off like Uday Hussein. Yet this is precisely the figure cut by one Saif al-Islam, of the many sons of Muammar Gaddafi (he was a “colonel” last week, but I'm waiting to see in which man’s army he'll remain a colonel by daybreak) as he takes to the Libyan airwaves to blame the murder of 233 protestors on foreign provocateurs, alcohol and drugs. “Violence,” declared this lip-trembling heir to nothing in particular, has been committed “by both sides,” although the regime will fight to the “last man and woman and bullet.” Saif warned of “civil war” if democratic ferment, now spread to Tripoli, continued. It no doubt will do since Gaddafi’s own henchmen are either fleeing the city via helicopter or being placed under house arrest by defecting members of the army. Libya’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations has accused Gaddafi of committing “genocide” against his own people, which I think redefines opportunism even by Turtle Bay standards.
As for the Mad Dog himself, one fiercly denied rumor has it he’s boinked off to Venezuela where he'd no doubt have been welcomed by another alms-giving harlequin who claims to understand socialism. (If Caracas got Ahmadinejad next, that city really could be host to a SMERSH-like operation of caricatured baddies.)
Yes, eveywhere the scenery of Gaddafi’s pseudo-state seems to be collapsing all around him. And it’s worth remembering that, not two years ago, many credulous observers with a fondness for third worldist movements were congratulating this regime on its “reforming” tendencies. Hadn't it paid out a bit to the families of the terrorist victims of Pan Am Flight 103, not to mention turned over a scarily well-advanced nuclear weapons programme that no one even thought it possessed? If you didn't know any better, you might figure that Gaddafi was on the dictatorial mend.
I quote from a 2009 essay written by Sarah Leah Whitson whose nongovernmental organisation, Human Rights Watch (HRW), compiled the current death toll from the Libyan crackdown of 2011:
But the real impetus for the transformation rests squarely with a quasi-governmental organization, the Qaddafi Foundation for International Charities and Development. With Saif al-Islam, one of Qaddafi’s sons, as its chairman, and university professor Yousef Sawani as its director, the organization has been outspoken on the need to improve the country’s human rights record. It has had a number of showdowns with the Internal Security Ministry, with whom relations remain frosty. Saif al-Islam is also responsible for the establishment of the country’s two semi private newspapers, Oea and Quryna.
That’s a funny thing about unelected scions who are outspoken about improving human rights. Threaten their privilege and the longevity of their ill-gotten rule, and suddenly all those corpses lying about with multiple gunshot wounds to the head were suicides by guilty CIA stooges. According to The Guardian, ”While studying for his PhD [at the London School of Economics], Saif enjoyed a life of considerable luxury in one of London’s wealthiest and most prestigious suburbs. In August 2009 Gaddafi bought his son a £10m house in north London. Inside the neo-Georgian eight-bedroom mansion, Saif could relax in his own swimming pool sauna room, whirlpool bath and suede-lined cinema room.” Even still, a man of the people.
Whitson came to a measure of national attention after she and an HRW fundraising group traveled Saudi Arabia to cadge for cash from wealthy sheikhs by touting the organisation’s anti-Israel credentials. As for Saudi Arabia, that fantasia of open society, its biggest problem was said by HRW at the time to be the way it treated its migrant workers...
Not that Whiston was alone in thinking this way of Libya. In May 2009, the prominent Libyan dissident Fathi Eljahmi died in a Jordanian hospital. He had been flown there in a comatose state after spending five years of solitary confinement, and being routinely tortured, in one of Libya’s prisons. Eliahmi’s brother Mohammed wrote in Forbes in June 2009:
Perhaps because they still fear antagonizing Gaddafi, in their May 21 statement [acknowleding Fahti’s death] Human Rights Watch didn't call for an independent investigation and stopped short of holding the Libyan regime responsible for Fathi’s death.
Amnesty International also compromised. They moved an April 2009 demonstration originally slated to occur in front of Libya’s U.N. mission to the U.S. mission instead so as not to antagonize Gaddafi. For the same reason, they ignored pleas for a public statement about Fathi’s deterioration. While an Amnesty delegation was in Libya when Fathi died, the Libyan regime refused it permission to travel to Libya’s second largest city.
After learning of Fathi’s death, Amnesty declined to condemn Libya’s role and instead simply requested that Gaddafi’s regime inform the family of the conditions that led to his death.
And herein lies the problem with human rights organisations, particularly those that tend to whitewash or sanitise human rights-averse regimes that they hope the United States won't “demonise” or, God forbid, sanction or topple. If they're a bit soft on bad governments in the Middle East, it’s because they've espoused some of the characteristics of bad governments in the Middle East. High on their own ideological supply, sealed off from contrary information or opinion, institutionally glutted with money, security and international legtimacy and -- above all -- resistant to internal or external criticism.