Moammar Gaddafi, Socialist Revolutionary or Charlatan?

Defining socialism broadly as the advocacy of an egalitarian, classless society, and those figures and movements who made it their cause, what is Moammar Gaddafi’s place in this evolution?  He is never mentioned in the same league as the more influential thinkers such as Lukacs or Gramsci or Foucault, and rightly so, but he is the creator of the Third Universal Theory. It rejects capitalism and communism in favor of an organic, participatory, bottom-up process which he dubbed Jamahiriya (Arabic for “government by the masses”). This democratic contruct was rendered impotent however, when he induced it to cede critical decision-making powers to him. Nevertheless, he did effect boldly anti-capitalist measures which abolished “slave wage labor” and made all workers equal partners.”Power, wealth, and weapons–in the hands of the people,” is Jamahiriya’s mission statement.

While Gaddafi’s autocracy vexes most socialists, it is not incompatible with some strains of Marxist thought. He wields no more power than did Lenin, Castro, or Mao. Allowing for the sake of analysis that the vesting of unvitiated prerogative in a single individual is consonant with the aims of socialism, has Gaddafi used Libya’s wealth and his authority to promote international socialist transformation? What follows is an assessment, admittedly scant, narrow, and desultory, of Gaddafi as a revolutionary.

In 2003, Moammar Gaddafi made a “slimy, disgusting” deal to accept responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against Libya.[1,2] The bargain was brokered by the Rothschild family with negotiations taking place in their hillside mansion on the island of Corfu.[2] Since then the Colonel has been the darling of Western capital, even winning the praise of the ever-fastidious IMF.[3] He has thrown open Libya’s markets to freebooting investment banks and privatized much of its industries.[3,4] The Rothschild’s chief salesman and million-dollar “part-time” consultant, Tony Blair, negotiated shared-operating agreements on behalf of BP (the family’s British oil company) and Shell (their Dutch holding) in which the former British prime minister secured a eighty-five percent share for his employer.[5] So great is now the investment of foreign capital in the Central Bank of Libya and the Libya Investment Authority (sovereign wealth fund) that it exceeds by half the oil-rich nation’s entire GDP.[3]

Gaddafi too has taken to investing his and Libya’s money in everything from real estate to banks and newspapers and even an Italian football (soccer) team.[6] In fact, so convivial is the relationship between the “socialist” Libyan leader and his new bourgeois friends that he has taken a position in the Pearson Group, which publishes the Financial Times, the voice of international capital.[6] If it is the case that the Corfu deal was a Faustian bargain entered into by Gaddafi of necessity and in contravention of his dearest personal convictions, then congratulations are in order. For not only has he overcome his long-held, oft-proclaimed aversion to capitalism, he seems to be thriving in his new life as an entrepreneur. If one didn’t know better, it might appear as though he were enjoying his new membership in the global billionaires’ club. For most it would be a daunting task to partner with those against whom one has spent a lifetime in bellicose opposition, not so for the Colonel. Gaddafi is so deeply ensconced in the milieu of high finance that some of his new fraternity brothers are suffering the effects of the Libyan revolution along with him.[7]

That Gaddafi is now wedded to capital is beyond dispute, but since 1969, when, at the head of the Movement of Free Officers, Socialists, and Unionists, he overthrew the Libyan monarchy, there have been whispers that he was the tool of imperial interests and was aided in the coup by the British.[8] At first blush this appears ridiculous. It is difficult to imagine how the Brits could have been unhappy with the deposed king, Idris I, as he was utterly compliant. Why then should they intrigue against him? Yet when one examines Gaddafi’s career, one is struck by the shear number of controversies in which there is ample reason to believe he acted in concert with reactionary forces. Many of these disturbing episodes concern his campaigns in Africa. This worthy topic, as it is far too broad and I too inexpert, cannot be done justice here.[9,10,11] Instead I will focus on three puzzling incidents whose reverberations were felt more keenly in Europe and the Mideast.

The Edwin Wilson Affair

One of the more serious charges against Gaddafi is that he is a sponsor of terrorism. What is less well known is that arms and explosives which the Libyan leader distributed were provided by a CIA agent named Edwin Wilson. And that at least some of the terror operations were in fact the false-flag operations of Western intelligence services.

Edwin Wilson ostensibly left the agency in 1971. Thereafter he ran shipping companies as part of a naval intelligence unit called Task Force 157. One such outfit was World Marine. As its head, Wilson brokered a series of arms deals for American intelligence, including one which sent a high-tech spy ship to Iran. These clandestine purchases were laundered by the Nugan Hand Bank of Australia, a CIA front. The bank eventually imploded and the resulting investigation revealed its illegal activities. Wilson, by this time living in Libya, was indicted on weapons and other charges in the US and a request for extradition was made, which was refused.

Gaddafi was Wilson’s biggest customer. World Marine had provided him with arms and no less than twenty tons of military-grade plastic explosives. Under Wilson’s direction, “former” American intelligence agents and Green Berets trained Libya’s army and police. A weapon used to murder a Gaddafi opponent living in Bonn, West Germany was provided by Wilson. A Libyan dissident living in Colorado was assassinated by one of Wilson’s Green Berets who traveled from and subsequently returned to Libya. It is no wonder Gaddafi didn’t want to hand Wilson over.

Wilson was tricked by one of his “former” CIA colleagues into believing he could safely travel to the Carribean, where he was arrested. At his trial he said that he was still a CIA agent and acting under their orders, and that he was being made the fall guy to protect the agency. CIA Executive Director Charles Briggs produced an affidavit which falsely claimed that they had had no dealings with Wilson after his putative resignation in 1971. Wilson was convicted on numerous charges, and sentenced to 52 years.

Once in prison, through the Freedom of Information Act Wilson obtained scores of government documents dated after 1971 in which he is named as an agent. He sought and received a new trial and the federal judge in Houston, Lynn Hughes, overturned the most serious conviction saying that the prosecutor and the CIA had “deliberately deceived” the court in the first trial and that Wilson had been “double-crossed” by the agency.

It is incomprehensible that Gaddafi didn’t know with whom he was dealing. He would also have to know that the weaponry he provided to terrorists would have been unavailable if US intelligence didn’t want those organizations to have them. Furthermore, these arms ended up in the hands of the Palestine Liberation Front, among others, who under the leadership of Abu Abbas commandeered the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. According to Mossad defector Ari Ben-Menashe, the hijacking was part of a series of black ops orchestrated by Israeli intelligence.[12] This was not the only case where weapons provided by Gaddafi were used in “terror attacks” which later were revealed to be the operations of Western intelligence services. Arms originating with the CIA through its man Wilson are sold to Libya, and pass into the hands of reputed terror cells, which turn out in fact to be agents of Western governments, was Gaddafi duped each time? Or was he complicit? [13,14,15,16]

The Case of the Missing Imam

In 1928, Musa as-Sadr (sometimes transliterated al-Sadr) was born in Iran to a Shi’ite family of Lebanese Arabs. He attended Tehran University where he earned degrees in Islamic Jurisprudence and Political Science. He continued his Islamic studies after graduation and became a widely revered imam.

Sadr was one of those rare clerics who could submerge in his own ecumenical culture without succumbing to disdain for the secular world or other religious traditions. He was a progressive, as much concerned with the affairs of state as with theology. During his years at university, he became acquainted with radical teachers and students who would later play a pivotal role in the Iranian revolution. He also became associated with the Freedom Movement of Iran, a leftist dissident group opposed to the Shah. As an imam and the son of an ayatollah, he had extensive contacts within the clergy. He was related to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini by marriage.

In 1960, Sadr accepted an offer to go to Lebanon and become the chief imam in the city of Tyre. Imam Musa was appalled to see the extent to which the ruling pro-Western Christian and Sunni factions had subjugated the Shi’a. He began to agitate for reform. In 1967, he persuaded the government to recognize the Twelvers (a Shi’ite denomination) as an official Lebanese community, which gave them civil rights. In 1974, he launched the Movement of the Disinherited. It operated clinics and schools and other essential services for the poor, and lobbied the government on their behalf. Many of their leaders were drawn from the Iranian expatriate community which had fled the Shah and his feared security apparatus, the SAVAK.

While mainly Shi’ite, the Movement stood for all of Lebanon’s disadvantaged and claimed Christians among its founding members. It also reached out to other religious minorities and in so doing won the favor of Syrian ruler Hafez al-Assad. The Assads are Alawis, an independent sect regarded as non-Islamic by some Muslims. Sadr aggressively courted the autonomous group in the hope of bringing them into the Twelver fold. Perhaps his motives for embracing the Alawis had more to do with a larger political vision than a concern for theological comity, but in either case he succeeded.[17] The Assads were strengthened by the agreement as objection to their rule on religious grounds was thereby invalidated. Mutual interest thickened to friendship and the goodwill between Sadr and the House of Assad spawned a networking back-channel for Mideast dissidents of all stripes.

Due in no small part to the imam’s successes, relations between the Lebanese government and the Movement deteriorated. Sadr was allied with the Lebanese National Movement, a coalition of political parties, many Marxist, which stood in opposition to the rightist government. As tensions deepened, in 1974, Sadr’s Movement formed a militia which came to be known by its acronym AMAL (Arabic for “hope”).

In Iran, revolution was in the air. The US advised the Shah to make accommodations with the Freedom Movement of Iran and the newly revived National Front, which favored a constitutional monarchy. Their hope was to cleave the secular factions from the more conservative clerical opposition of Ayatollah Khomeini and his Council of Islamic Revolution. Nothing, however, could save the Shah. He fled and the revolutionary forces seized power in February of 1979. Eight months later, US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinksi met with the FMI’s Ebrahim Yazdi in Algeria. News of this meeting caused concern among supporters of the ayatollah that the secular revolutionaries were colluding with the Americans. Thus belatedly did the US succeed in sundering the revolutionary right from the left, but the provocation bolstered Khomeini’s position and led to the storming of the American Embassy and the hostage crisis. The interim government dissolved and left the clergy in control.

Meanwhile civil war had begun in Lebanon. Sadr embarked on a tour of Arab states in the hopes of convening a summit to find a solution. In Libya, Sadr and two companions left their hotel for a scheduled afternoon meeting with Moammar Gaddafi and were never seen again.

Suspicion immediately fell on Gaddafi. He claimed that the three left Libya for Rome and met their fate there. This explanation was received with what in the guarded, circumspect world of diplomacy was unusually blunt skepticism. The imam’s family, which has never believed Gaddafi’s account, insisted that Italy was not on Sadr’s itinerary, and given the purpose of his trip, he would have no reason to go there. Italian authorities investigated the matter and reported that as far as they could determine no one by the name of Sadr had entered Italy.

So what happened to the charismatic cleric and his companions? Since there is no evidence that they ever left Libya, the conventional wisdom is that Gaddafi had them killed. The Lebanese government indicted Gaddafi in 2008.[18]

Who benefited from Sadr’s removal? As an Arab, Lebanese, Iranian national, head of an armed resistance movement, leftist political activist, and imam, he had areas of mutual sensitivity and experience with many of the hostile parties in the Middle East. As an Arab he could have served as an emissary of the Iranian revolution to the Arab world. Sadr disappeared during the period when the US was maneuvering to split the opposition. With his connections to both the secular and religious revolutionary factions, he could have served as intermediary and thwarted the divisive plot.

Perhaps more importantly, it was through the mediation of Sadr and AMAL that the bond between the Assads and revolutionary elements in Iran was forged.[19] This unlikely entente persists to this day, much to the chagrin of the US and Israel.

In Lebanon, Sadr was succeeded at the head of AMAL by Hussein el-Husseini. Unfortunately he lacked the imam’s appeal and never commanded the respect his predecessor enjoyed. He resigned, which paved the way for Nabih Berri.

Berri worked as a lawyer for General Motors in Beirut and Detroit. He left his home of two years in Michigan when Sadr disappeared and headed for Lebanon. He joined AMAL and served in varying capacities until he became its head when el-Husseini departed.

As leader, Berri moved AMAL to the right and eventually participated in the National Unity government with rightist Rashid Karami. His policies were anathema to rank and file members who saw them as a betrayal. They left the organization in numbers and formed a new defense organization–Hizbollah. These defections marked the end of AMAL as a force in Lebanese life. What had been an inspired popular resistance movement declined into moribund irrelevance under Berri.

Why would Gaddafi have Sadr killed? They had much in common. They both professed Islam and socialism, they were natural allies. Sadr’s disappearance occurs during that period when Edwin Wilson is selling Libya weapons and “former” agents of American intelligence and armed services are training Gaddafi’s goons and murdering his opponents. For those who entertain the idea that Gaddafi has, at least at times, acted at the behest of imperialist interests, this incident is instructive. Sadr was an enemy of two governments allied with Washington and Tel Aviv, it was they who had the most to gain from his demise. Even if Gaddafi was taken unawares, and Sadr was slain by Wilson’s thugs, he had to know who was responsible and should have acted accordingly. Instead he reacted with apathy and silence. If Sadr was assassinated, which seems quite likely, then Gaddafi is at the very least an accessory.

Former Gaddafi loyalist Major Abdel Moneim al Houni has said that Sadr was killed on Gaddafi’s orders and is buried in southern Libya.[20] Other recent Libyan defectors have claimed that the imam is still alive and being held in prison.[21] There is even one account of the imam being hurriedly boarded onto a small aircaft.[22] Sadly, it is much more likely that Gaddafi has Elvis under lock and key as the rock star’s discovery would pose less a danger to the regime than the imam’s. It is reasonable to speculate that once detained, the unfortunate cleric would have been aggressively interrogated and his brain emptied of all that it knew of the revolutionary cells in Iran and Lebanon. It is possible that they kept him alive for a time as events unfolded in the region, but once AMAL had been successfully corralled and the clergy had triumphed in Iran, Sadr would no longer be of any value. Ironically, it may have been the ascent of his in-law, Ayatollah Khomeini, which sealed his fate.

Lockerbie

In December of 1988, Pan Am flight 103 burst into pieces over Lockerbie, Scotland when a bomb exploded in its cargo hold. Two hundred and seventy were killed. The US first pointed its finger at Syria, more specifically Ahmed Jibril and his Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, the Marxist militia then enjoying Syrian protection.[23] Later they blamed Iran.[24] They accused the Islamic republic of perpetrating the outrage in retaliation for the USS Vincennes’ “accidental” shooting down of Iranian Air flight 655.[25] Then, finally, they settled on their favorite foil–Libya. Again revenge was said to be the motive and the US bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi the provocation.

From the very beginning there were doubts. Locals were especially incredulous as what they were hearing from their government differed from what they had experienced. Many residents of the small Scottish town reported seeing a number of officials with American accents on scene within an hour of the crash. These men walked among the debris and removed several items.[26] No mention of this was ever heard in media reports and the US government denied having investigators at the crash site that quickly. Among the most vocal of the skeptics was Lockerbie’s representative in parliament, Tam Dalyell, and local pastor, Rev. Patrick Keegans, of the Holy Trinity Church.[26,27]

Some of the victim’s families filed a law suit against the airline. Pan Am’s insurer hired Interfor. According to its “about” web-page, Interfor, Inc. is an international investigation and security consulting firm offering comprehensive domestic and foreign intelligence services.[28] Their detailed report makes no mention of Libya.[29]

Maggie Mahar of Barron’s, John Picton of the Toronto Star, and Ian Ferguson and John Biewen of America Radio Works also looked into the bombing and likewise determined that Libya played no part.[30] Vincent Cannistraro, who investigated the matter for the CIA, told the New York Times that it was “outrageous” to blame the Libyans.[31]

While the conclusions of these four inquiries differ, they all contend that drug-runners with deep ties to American intelligence services committed the horrific crime. The motive was to silence the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Major Charles McKee and his team who had left their mission in Lebanon without authorization, and who had resolved to expose the illegal trafficking in narcotics.[32]

In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. In its preparation for war, the US solicited and received support from Syria and Iran. It was at this point that new evidence in the Lockerbie case came to light. Syria and Iran were exonerated, and Abdelbasset Ali al-Megrahi, head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, and Lamen Khalifa Fhima, station manager for the airline in Malta,  were indicted in US District Court. Gaddafi refused to extradite them but in 1993 agreed to hand the two men over for trial before three Scottish judges in Holland. The US and UK at first rejected the proposal but eventually yielded in 1998. The trial began in May of 2000.

As the date approached, the US AND UK had two obstacles to overcome: the absence of evidence against the defendants; and the mutinous chorus of disgust, increasingly audible, wafting up from the usually taciturn intelligence underworld. Cannistraro’s unhelpful remarks to the press may have been a faux pas, but many of his colleagues, enraged by the loss of so many confederates, were defiantly voicing their disbelief. In order to quell this rebellion and prevent further embarrassing revelations, the US muzzled its intelligence community.[33]

As for the lack of evidence: The three most important witnesses against the Libyans, Toni Gauci, Edwin Bollier, and Ulrich Lumpert, have admitted to perjury, with Gauci and Bollier disclosing they were offered enormous sums.[34,35,36]

The allegation was that the two men conspired to place the bomb upon the aircraft in retribution for the US attack on Libya in 1986. This theory was dealt a blow when just weeks before the trial was set to begin, the chief prosecutor, Lord Hardie, resigned in dismay claiming he had been deceived about the strength of the Crown’s case.[37] His replacement called over a hundred witnesses, almost all of whom were British and American intelligence agents. In a decision which seemed incongruous even to supporters, the judges ruled that one defendant, Megrahi, was guilty of conspiring to blow up the plane while his alleged co-conspirator was found to be not guilty. UN observer Hans Koechler called the decision “arbitrary” and “inconsistent” and “a travesty”.[38]

In 2003, the deal was struck in the Rothschild villa in Corfu. In exchange for the lifting of sanctions, Libya agreed to accept responsibility for Lockerbie, pay billions in reparations, and open up its markets to foreign investment.

Conclusion

Even if we grant Gaddafi the benefit of the doubt and stipulate that he resisted as long as he could, his capitulation has been absolute. He has conceded everything. He has come to complete accommodation with the same forces which imposed the crippling sanctions, framed Megrahi for Lockerbie, and now loot Libya through usurious oil contracts. It is hard to square this acquiescence with socialism. As it now stands, his relationship to capital differs in no meaningful way from that of King Idris, save that Gaddafi claims the mantle of revolutionary.

Was Gaddafi defeated? Or has he been on the winning team all along? His career is mixed, with self-interest being its dominant theme. Never was this more manifest than in his squalid defense of Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. Nothing could be more definitive.

When the Dark Ages finally come to an end, and the history of universal human suffrage can at long last be written, Moammar Gaddafi will have no place in it.

[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/3156061.stm

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1284132/Tony-Blair-special-adviser-dictator-Gaddafis-son.html

[3] http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pn/2011/pn1123.htm

[4] http://www.mathaba.net/news/?x=626089

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libyan_Investment_Authority

[6] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/22/gaddafi-libya-oil-wealth-portfolio

[7] http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/mar/03/lse-director-resigns-gaddafi-scandal?intcmp=239

[8] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/22/arab-1848-us-hegemony-dented

[9] http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/71185

[10] http://www.horacecampbell.net/2010/10/muammar-al-gaddafi-obstacle-to-african.html

[11] http://www.timeslive.co.za/opinion/editorials/article937996.ece/Weve-seen-some-crazy-leaders-but-Gaddafi-takes-the-fruitcake

[12] Profits of War, Ari Ben-Menashe. http://www.mediamonitors.net/gillespie1.html

[13] Scroll to “Edwin Wilson” for an excellent hour-long synopsis: http://takingaimradio.com/shows/audio.html

[14] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A59212-2004Jun21_2.html

[15] http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKwilsonE2.htm

[16] http://www.ask.com/wiki/Edwin_P._Wilson

[17] http://www.martinkramer.org/sandbox/reader/archives/syria-alawis-and-shiism/

[18] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7584557.stm

[19] http://www.aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=3&id=12930

[20] http://www.thenational.ae/news/worldwide/middle-east/libya-probes-missing-lebanon-cleric

[21] http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/02/23/138850.html

[22] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musa_al-Sadr

[23] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1998598.stm

[24] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/scotland/article6797831.ece

[25] http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/3/newsid_4678000/4678707.stm

[26] http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=18871

[26] http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/latestnews/Tam-Dalyell-39Issue-is-not.4615519.jp

[27] http://www.mathaba.net/info/lock-1.htm

[28] http://www.interforinc.com/Page.asp?Cat=1

[29] http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/lockerbie/resources/pdf/interfor_report.pdf

[30] http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/lockerbie/story/printable_story.html

[31] http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,159523,00.html

[32] An excellent audio synopsis is Libya and Lockerbie, the Untold Story: http://takingaimradio.com/shows/audio.html

[33] http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4156/is_20000528/ai_n13949725/

[34] http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/238210

[35] http://mathaba.net/news/?x=564358?related

[36] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_Bollier

[37] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/645898.stm

[38] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_K%C3%B6chler%27s_Lockerbie_trial_observer_mission, Koechler called the denial of  Megrahi’s appeal a “spectacular miscarriage of justice”. An exhaustive compilation of Koechler’s commentary on the subject, as well as international media coverage, can be found here: http://www.i-p-o.org/lockerbie_observer_mission.htm

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