US evacuates embassy in Libya

Screen Shot 2014-07-26 at 5.46.27 PM
I’m not certain even an evacuation would get me up in an OspreyPhoto by Shawn Valosin/US Marine Corps

The United States has shut its embassy in Libya and evacuated its diplomats to neighbouring Tunisia under US military escort after fighting intensified between rival militias in the capital’s streets…

Speaking in Paris, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that “free-wheeling militia violence” had become a real risk to US staff as clashes erupted around the embassy…

The evacuation was accompanied by the release of a new State Department travel warning for Libya urging Americans not to go to the country and recommending that those already there leave immediately…

Britain’s foreign office on Saturday also urged British nationals to leave by commercial means, due to “ongoing and greater intensity fighting in Tripoli and wider instability throughout Libya.”

American personnel at the Tripoli embassy, which had already been operating with limited staffing, left the capital around dawn and traveled by road to neighbouring Tunisia, according to spokeswoman Marie Harf.

The move marks the second time in a little more than three years that Washington has closed its embassy in Libya.

There’s no truth to the rumor that John McCain was seen in a rented Toyota pickup truck with a machine gun mounted in the bed – dashing off to Benghazi to rescue Darrell Issa who’s been supplementing his Wall Street investments as an itinerant arms dealer.

Wau al Namus

Wau al Namus
Click to enlarge

Volcanic crater of Wau al Namus, (Wau means hole, so Wau al Namus is “hole of mosquitoes”).This massive (and apparently dormant) volcano can be easily be seen in satellite views of Southern Libya, as a large black smear in the wind-scoured sands of the Sahara. The inner crater is bordered by a chain of small salt lakes. Outside the outer rim of the crater are small black dunes of windblown volcanic residue.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Libyan revolutionaries kick Islamist militia out of Benghazi

Demonstrators celebrate clearing out Islamist Ansar al-Sharia militia

An Islamist militia was driven out of the city of Benghazi early on Saturday in a surge of anger against the armed groups that control large parts of Libya…

A spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia, which some U.S. and Libya officials blame for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last week in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed, said it had evacuated its bases “to preserve security in the city”…

The invasion of Ansar al-Sharia’s compounds, which met little resistance, appeared to be part of a sweep of militia bases by police, troops and activists following a large demonstration against militia units in Benghazi on Friday.

Demonstrators pulled down militia flags and set a vehicle on fire inside what was once the base of Gaddafi’s security forces.

Hundreds of men waving swords and even a meat cleaver chanted “Libya, Libya”, “No more al Qaeda!” and “The blood we shed for freedom shall not go in vain!”

“After what happened at the American consulate, the people of Benghazi had enough of the extremists,” demonstrator Hassan Ahmed said. “They did not give allegiance to the army. So the people broke in and they fled.

“This place is like the Bastille. This is where Gaddafi controlled Libya from, and then Ansar al-Sharia took it over. This is a turning point for the people of Benghazi…”

Libya’s government had promised Washington it would find the perpetrators of what appeared to be a well planned attack on the U.S. consulate, which coincided with protests against an anti-Islam video and the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks…

Although Ansar al-Sharia denies any role in the consulate attack, the latest events in the cradle of Libya’s revolution appeared at least in part to vindicate Obama’s faith in Libya’s nascent democracy.

RTFA for a great deal of detail, chronology of events.

This revolutionary period still runs the risk of being subverted by thugs loyal to Gaddafi’s tribe and ideology. There is the danger of pro-government militias run by Islamists and even al Qaeda attaining positions of political power.

A period of immediate post-revolutionary turmoil is rife with opportunities for agents provocateur as well as the standard flavor of political opportunists who flock to a moment of critical change like greed-driven lemmings.

I wish those folks truly dedicated to building a better Libya nothing but the best.

Somber ceremony as slain Americans return home

Four flag-draped coffins bearing the bodies of the Americans killed in Libya arrived in the United States on Friday for their final journey home as President Obama said the victims “laid down their lives for us all” and vowed to honor their memory by never retreating from the world.

In a solemn ceremony at Joint Base Andrews outside the capital, Mr. Obama and his national security team stood at attention as the coffins were first carried by Marine honor guards off a military plane that had flown them home from Libya and were later lifted into four hearses while a military band played “America the Beautiful.”

The arrival, broadcast live on news channels, proved an emotional culmination to an episode that has rocked Washington and American embassies around the world. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looked stricken and seemed to be fighting to control her emotions as she and the president addressed an audience of family, friends and colleagues inside a hangar at the air base. Mr. Obama, himself somber, put his arm around her shoulders in comfort.

Four Americans, four patriots — they loved this country and they chose to serve it and served it well,” the president said. “They had a mission, and they believed in it. They knew the danger, and they accepted it. They didn’t simply embrace the American ideal; they lived it, they embodied it.”

Also on hand for a ceremony the likes of which has been a painful ritual for Americans over the years were Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Ambassador Susan E. Rice and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

When the official video is available, I’ll post a link to it. The whole ceremony was pretty moving.

Yeah – Colin Powell was the only Republican officially attending.

A plea to the SEC for Section 1504 rules — stand up to Big Oil

After four decades of tyrannical rule by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, financed largely by our country’s oil wealth, Libyans have taken steps this summer toward a true democracy. Last month, we got to vote in legislative elections, and this month we experienced the first peaceful transfer of power, from the Transitional National Council to a new national assembly, in our country’s modern history.

While we are grateful to the Western countries that helped us topple Colonel Qaddafi last year, something perverse is happening in those countries now. Oil industry lobbyists are using their influence in Washington and Brussels to try to undermine transparency measures that could help prevent future tyrants from emerging. That must not be allowed to happen…

If we are to transform Libya, we must not only investigate the past but also reform the whole relationship between the energy industry and our government. We need to ensure that bidding is fair and open, that deals are transparent and aboveboard and that revenues are used properly. Public disclosure and legislative oversight of contracts and payments are crucial.

We cannot meet these goals without help from abroad. Colonel Qaddafi’s rule depended on the collusion of powerful foreign allies who would turn a blind eye to blatant corruption deals involving international oil companies and his regime.

America can help prevent such corruption from happening again.

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Secular alliance had the strongest result in Libya’s election

Results from Libya’s first elections since the overthrow of Col Gaddafi have shown gains for an alliance of parties seen as broadly secular…The National Forces Alliance, led by ex-interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, has won 39 out of 80 seats reserved for political parties…The Muslim Brotherhood’s party has gained 17.

The 200-member General National Assembly will also include dozens of independent candidates…The overall orientation that the assembly will have is so far unclear.

What remains to be seen is who, if anyone, will lead the assembly by majority, the BBC’s Rana Jawad in Tripoli reports…

The current interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim al-Keib said the announcement of the results was “a time of celebration”.

“Everybody in Libya is happy. And we are thankful to those partners and friends who have helped us to get to this point,” Mr Keib said.

The assembly will have legislative powers, though it is unclear what role it will play in drawing up the country’s new constitution. The assembly is expected to be in place for at least a year.

It will choose the first elected government since Col Muammar Gaddafi came to power in 1969…The last fully free parliamentary election was held soon after independence in 1952. The last national vote was held in 1965, when no political parties were allowed…

The election commission put turnout at 62% of registered voters.

Bravo – and good luck. The road to democracy is long and difficult. Some of us haven’t mastered it after trying for over two centuries.

The Glasgow Sunday Herald publishes the secret report that could have cleared Megrahi

The controversial report from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) has remained secret for five years because, until now, no-one had permission to publish it.

The Sunday Herald and its sister paper, The Herald, are the only newspapers in the world to have seen the report. We choose to publish it because we have the permission of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the bombing, and because we believe it is in the public interest to disseminate the whole document.

The Sunday Herald has chosen to publish the full report online today to allow the public to see for themselves the analysis of the evidence which could have resulted in the acquittal of Megrahi. Under Section 32 of the Data Protection Act, journalists can publish in the public interest. We have made very few redactions to protect the names of confidential sources and private information.

Click here to read the report in full

The publication of the report aGdds weight to calls for a full public inquiry into the atrocity – something for which many of the relatives have been campaigning for more than two decades…

The SCCRC rejected many of the defence submissions but upheld six grounds which could have constituted a miscarriage of justice. The commission made clear that, had such information been shared with the defence, the result of the trial could have been different…

Megrahi was convicted of murder by Scottish judges sitting at Camp Zeist in 2001. He unsuccessfully appealed in January 2001. He dropped a second appeal shortly before the decision to release him on compassionate grounds in August 2009. He was expected to die from cancer within three months.

Critical portions of the evidence used to convict Megrahi of the Lockerbie bombing were not only flawed; but, contradictory and possibly contrived. No one doubts or denies the complicity of the Libyan government of Muamar Ghaddafi in the terrorist bombing. But, the uniform condemnation of Megrahi and the possible reasons for the Scottish government allowing his release has been another holy crusade by politicians and pundits unaccompanied by facts.

Which is why this police report, the result of several consecutive examinations and re-examinations of the evidence surrounding Megrahi’s trial, has been kept secret. In my opinion, because publication would show up once again that political decisions have been more important to verdicts of guilty or innocent – than justice. Resulting from pressures from the United States at least as much as anything else.

In addition, a criticism of prosecutors that never seems to end appears in this document. Prosecutors deciding which evidence will be allowed to the defense. Instead of free access to all the evidence collected – the prosecution decides some must not been seen for whatever reason.

Profiling doesn’t work any better in Libya than in New Jersey

Nicholas Davies-Jones and Gareth Montgomery-Johnson, who were working for Iran’s English-language Press TV, were detained on Feb 22 by the Swehli brigade, one of the dozens of militias which last year helped force out Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Earlier this month, the Swehli militia said the Britons, initially detained for illegal entry into Libya, were suspected of spying. They were transferred to the custody of the government last week however.

Speaking on BBC 5Live following their release, Mr Montgomery-Johnson said: “We’re pleased to be back with our own families because they’ve been through a similar ordeal. While we were there we were given no information at all. Now we’re overwhelmed and thankful.”

They said five days after they had been taken, the militia had gone to their hotel to find footage and began looking through equipment and the archive material.

“My father, who’s a nurse, had given me some bandages in case we got into trouble. Some had Welsh written on and they thought this was Hebrew and we were Israeli spies,” he said…

This would be hilarious if these poor buggers hadn’t been in danger of losing their lives.

U.S. conservatives offered lobbying support to Qaddafi

To a colorful group of Americans — the Washington terrorism expert, the veteran C.I.A. officer, the Republican operative, the Kansas City lawyer — the Libyan gambit last March looked like a rare business opportunity.

Even as NATO bombed Libya, the Americans offered to make Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi their client — and charge him a hefty consulting fee. Their price: a $10 million retainer before beginning negotiations with Colonel Qaddafi’s representatives.

“The fees and payments set forth in this contract are MINIMUM NON-REFUNDABLE FEES,” said the draft contract, with capital letters for emphasis. “The fees are an inducement for the ATTORNEYS AND ADVISORS to take the case and nothing else.”

Neil C. Livingstone, 65, the terrorism specialist and consultant, said he helped put together the deal after hearing that one of Colonel Qaddafi’s sons, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, was interested in an exit strategy for the family. But he and his partners were not going to work for free, Mr. Livingstone said…

Mr. Livingstone, a television commentator and prolific author who moved home to Montana this year to try a run for governor, said…“The idea was to find them an Arabic-speaking sanctuary and let them keep some money, in return for getting out,” he said. The consultants promised to help free billions of dollars in blocked Libyan assets by steering the government into compliance with United Nations resolutions…

Now the confidential documents describing the proposed deal have surfaced on the Internet, offering a glimpse of how some saw lucrative possibilities in the power struggle that would end Colonel Qaddafi’s erratic reign. A Facebook page called WikiLeaks Libya has made public scores of documents apparently found in Libyan government offices after the Qaddafi government fell.

The papers contained a shock for the Americans: a three-page letter addressed to Colonel Qaddafi on April 17 by another partner in the proposed deal, a Belgian named Dirk Borgers. Rather than suggesting a way out of power, Mr. Borgers offered the Libyan dictator the lobbying services of what he called the “American Action Group” to outmaneuver the rebels and win United States government support.

Some of the American partners deny any knowledge of the lobbying part of the consultancy. Oh.

The other American partners – Neil S. Alpert, who had worked for the Republican National Committee and the pro-Israel lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Randell K. Wood, a Kansas City, Mo., lawyer who has represented Libyan officials and organizations since the 1980s – didn’t respond to requests for comment…

Of the $10 million fee the group sought, Mr. Borgers said, “The aim was not to make money.” On the other hand, he added, “If you want to put up a serious operation in Washington, I think you need at least $10 million.”

The Treasury Department is about as up to speed as you would expect. They say the group’s application to be paid by the now-disappeared Qaddafi government is “still pending”. Which would be laughable if it wasn’t so typically stupid.