BEIRUT: To mark the 36th anniversary of the disappearance of influential Imam Musa Sadr and his two companions in Libya, The Daily Star publishes an interview with Professor Chibli Mallat.
Mallat has been the lawyer of the Imam Sadr family in the case against slain Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi, who they accuse of kidnapping Sadr, since 2000.
The interview was conducted by the Imam Sadr Cultural and Research Institute in Tehran which is directed by Hawra Sadr, the imam’s daughter. This interview will also be published in Farsi in Tehran Saturday.
Sadr, Sheikh Mohammad Yaacoub and journalist Abbas Badreddine disappeared Aug. 31, 1978, during an official visit to Libya on the invitation of Gadhafi, who denied any involvement in the crime. But in 2008, Lebanon indicted the late Libyan leader and 16 of his aides in the case.
The fall of Gadhafi in the summer of 2011 raised hopes that the mystery would be resolved. During the same year, Lebanon’s government formed a committee to follow up on the case. However, three years later, little progress has been made. In spring 2014, Lebanon and Libya signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under which Libyan authorities have promised cooperation to achieve a breakthrough in the case.
Q: What are the obstacles preventing the achievement of results in the case of the disappearance of Imam Sadr and his companions?
A: The main obstacle is known, it is the death of the person primarily responsible for the kidnapping of the imam and his two companions: ousted Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi. He knew all the details of the crime which he committed throughout three and a half decades.
Q: How are these obstacles being dealt with?
A: We can’t totally overcome the negative consequences left by the death of the person primarily responsible for the crime. Since he was eliminated from the scene, the investigation has sought to follow other people who were involved in the crime in one way or another, either by participating in it or by being privy to some of its details. These people are scattered around. Some have died, some ran away and some of the most important ones are in prison. Piecing together the full picture is probably impossible, because their knowledge [about the crime] will inevitably fall short of what Gadhafi knew, so the puzzle has to be reconstructed with an exhausting examination of details through unreliable, hard-to-get participants/informers.
Q: How is the Lebanese state handling the Sadr case? Is it up to your expectations?
A: It is clear that the successive Lebanese governments didn’t deal with the case at the level needed. The simple proof is that the whereabouts of the imam and his companions are still unknown, and the families bereft of a central answer: where is the imam and why isn’t he back with us three years after Gadhafi has been killed? From the beginning, Lebanon, Iran and Arab countries have failed to fulfill their duties because they did not make this case central to their relationship with Libya under Gadhafi’s rule. Meanwhile, the families of the kidnapped have been demanding “truth and accountability” with whatever limited means they had. By their steadfastness, hard legal work and a worldwide campaign that made an impact as far as New York and Australia, they achieved an immense and unprecedented success by putting Gadhafi on the defensive worldwide following his indictment by the late, courageous judge, Samih al-Hage. The concerned governments remain short of the families’ achievements.
Q: Are there any indicators that the Memorandum of Understanding signed a while ago between Libya and Lebanon will be implemented?
A: The Memorandum of Understanding has confirmed that the crime had taken place in Libya. This significantly blocks attempts made by Gadhafi to absolve himself and Libya of responsibility and raises the issue of the grave collusion between the Italian authorities under [former Prime Minister Slivio] Berlusconi and Gadhafi, a matter yet to be properly clarified by the Italian government. But the “close cooperation” which the new Libyan government has pledged in the Memorandum is still insufficient. We aren’t seeing enough efforts to force the clarity needed with those [suspects] who are still alive, especially Gadhafi’s son [Seif al-Islam] and [former chief of Libyan intelligence Abdullah] al-Sanousi, who are in jail in Libya.
Q: It has been more than three years since the fall of Gadhafi’s regime in Libya. So why hasn’t the truth been revealed and why haven’t the imam and his companions been freed? Are there undisclosed facts that you prefer not to talk about? Is tension in Libya affecting the follow-up on the case? How?
A: The simple, disheartening reality is that we’re still way short of knowing what actually happened since the imam was kidnapped.
Libya today is a collapsed state and its airport is closed due to acts of violence committed by militias. So this adds to the difficulty of seeing the MOU delivering on its promises. My own, personal regret is that for a decade and a half, I haven’t succeeded in linking the resistance of the Sadr family’s relentless judicial battle with Gadhafi. I didn’t succeed in allowing this extraordinary nonviolent resistance to Gadhafi’s criminal record that the case represented to be properly acknowledged, especially inside Libya.
Our judicial battle was an unprecedented international resistance on the moral and legal levels that has refused compromises in the face of all kinds of physical intimidation and bribery attempts by Gadhafi. But we were not able to effectively connect with the persistent, extraordinary national Libyan resistance which eventually erupted in the revolution of 2011 to bring about Gadhafi’s grotesque end in the sewers, together with his indictment as a criminal against humanity by the ICC [International Criminal Court].
Q: How’s the Libyan state dealing with the Lebanese official committee? The committee has asked and continues to ask to conduct field investigation in order to reach the place where the imam and his companions are being held. Has the Libyan state responded positively to this demand?
A: The various supporting committees, including the national civil committees and the official committee following up on the case have shown some dedication to the accountability process.
However, they’re still facing huge obstacles on the ground, either because of chaos in Libya or because the residue of the Libyan state is incapable or unwilling to handle this case nationally in Libya and create the right judicial atmosphere to deal with arrested suspects and those who escaped. The two central questions remain unanswered: what happened in the afternoon of Aug. 31, 1978, the day the imam was “disappeared” by Gadhafi? And where are the imam and his two aides?