The Survivor: Saif al-Islam Qadhafi

29 October 2011


It has been widely reported that Saif al-Islam Qadhafi has been in contact the International Criminal Court (ICC) by way of proxies on both sides. Saif al-Islam Qadhafi is subject to a warrant for his arrest issued by the ICC, though many African countries choose not to honor these warrants (for example, the President of Sudan doesn’t get arrested, though he has an outstanding warrant from the ICC). The entire warrant is worth reading; here are a couple of extracts:

“…there are reasonable grounds to believe that Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, although not having an official position, is Muammar Gaddafi’s unspoken successor and the most influential person within his inner circle and, as such, at all times relevant to the Prosecutor’s Application, he exercised control over crucial parts of the State apparatus, including finances and logistics and had the powers of a de facto Prime Minister…”


“…there are reasonable grounds to believe that Saif Al-
Islam Gaddafi (i) intended to bring about the objective elements of the foregoing crimes; (ii) knew that his conduct was part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population pursuant to the State policy set up by Muammar Gaddafi in coordination with his inner circle, of which he himself was part; (iii) was well aware of his senior leadership role within the structure of the Libyan State apparatus and of his power to exercise full control over his subordinates and (iv) was aware and accepted that implementing the plan would result in the realisation of the objective elements of the crimes…”

Saif al-Islam Qahdafi was one of the few immediate family members who remained at large with his whereabouts unknown. As I write this he is hidden away in safe house somewhere, contemplating his future. As the contacts with the ICC show, he is considering all his options. This is the mark of a wily and rational survivor.

An obvious destination for Saif al-Islam Qadhafi is Zimbabwe. This possibility had been mentioned in several news stories, was Robert Mugabe was a staunch support of Qadhafi senior right up to the end, and Zimbabwe was one of the few countries in the world to vote against the transfer of Libya’s UN seat to the rebels.

The younger Qadhafi is probably safe throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, and safest in Zimbabwe, but he must make a calculation as to the stability of the Zimbabwe regime. Mugabe is in his 80s and presides over the pariah state; this is a highly uncertain fate that would be subject to change according to the health of Robert Mugabe. Saif al-Islam Qadhafi is young — 39 — and would presumably far outlive Mugabe — perhaps he would live long enough to see a future regime in Zimbabwe that would like to mend fences with the rest of the world, and to that end perhaps turn over their guest to the ICC. This is a very real danger.

There is an aphorism from Pascal that comes to mind:

Three Hosts.–Would he who had possessed the friendship of the King of England, the King of Poland, and the Queen of Sweden, have believed he would lack a refuge and shelter in the world?

Blaise Pascal, Pensées, no. 177

And there is a footnote to explain this cryptic remark:

Charles I was beheaded in 1649; Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated in 1654; Jean Casimir, King of Poland, was deposed in 1656.

This is a variation on the “wheel of fortune” theme that I discussed yesterday in Limits to Social Mobility — as the wheel of fortune turns, even someone who had the friendship of three monarchs might find himself without a refuge in the world. Saif al-Islam Qadhafi must keep this in mind, and because he has shown all the traits of a survivor, we can be certain that he will never forget it.

He will also know that his fate within Libya is not likely to be a happy one. For all the absurd propaganda he spouted, he knows fully well that if he stays in Libya he will eventually be caught, and he is likely to be killed in the process, or subjected to an unsympathetic tribunal likely to deliver the death penalty. Without the national catharsis that would have followed from a trial of his father, the next best thing would be a trial of his son and heir. Saif al-Islam Qadhafi knows what happened in Iraq, and, as a survivor, he is not going to choose that route.

Compared to the options of uncertainly in Zimbabwe or eventual capture in Libya, the ICC looks like a rather attractive option. The ICC would probably make a particular effort to assure a fair trial for him, and they don’t have a capital statute, so even if he was convicted — which is by no means certain; I would, in fact, expect him to find a way to wiggle free — he would only face time in prison. Since he is still young, there is always hope, and he could well serve a sentence and enjoy a free life in the future, or perhaps spend the years of his incarceration in legal battles seeking freedom or clemency or any tactic that might spring him from the joint.

. . . . .

No Longer the Survivor

Note Added 19 November 2011: Saif al-Islam Qadhafi has been captured inside Libya, 50km (30 miles) west of Obari. According to the BBC article, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam captured in Libya, he was being assisted in an attempted escape into Niger. If this is confirmed by subsequent events, we will know that he did not choose the ICC option. He is likely to be tried in Libya, and the BBC story also notes that the ICC recognizes this and is already working to have some kind of role in the trial within Libya.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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