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Libya's Silenced Son
On September 11, 2012 U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and four other Americans were killed during an attack on the American Central Intelligence Agency annex and command center in Benghazi. A global campaign of public misinformation was immediately launched by the Obama White House. Five days later, Libya’s newly elected president would blow a hole through this Executive veil of secrecy. The Sunday following the Benghazi attack, Libyan President of the National Congress, Dr. Mohammed Yousef al-Magariaf, appeared on CBS News’ Face the Nation to address the events in Benghazi. Fielding questions from Bob Shieffer, President Magariaf insisted that the attack on the covert CIA prison annex had been both highly coordinated and executed with precision by “affiliates and maybe sympathizers of Al Qaeda…..with some of the perpetrators definatly coming from Algeria and Mali.”1 Though having an eloquent command of English after 30 years in the U.S., President Magariaf words were measured and deliberate, as though aware himself that his ad-libbing of the truth would contradict the Obama administration, most visibly in the form of Shieffer’s next guest, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. The bullet-pointed script of Ambassador Rice conflicted with the statements of President Magariaf to the extent that Shieffer implored his third guest, Sen. John McCain, to provide insight. Thus, Sen. McCain, taking the Libyan Presidents lead, dually noted:
“How spontaneous is a demonstration when people bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons and-- have a very tactically successful military operation, but there are so many things that we need to cover but the fact is that the United States is weakened”2. The last portion of Sen. McCain’s statement is especially telling, for this was not the first, nor surely the last time that President Yousef Al Magariaf was willing to sacrifice and risk conflict by standing by his honest principles to pursue the salvation and prosperity of Libya in the international sphere. It was after that goal had been acheived that President Magariaf had given western interests the boot...only to be given the boot by western interests.
The attack on the C.I.A. annex in Benghazi had occurred exactly one month after President Magariaf, leading his newly formed National Front Party, had been elected into office and only 6 months after he had returned to Libya from over 30 years in exile. His political party, the National Front, was new in name but had a deep network with established legitimacy. Prior to November of 2011, when it was dissolved and reformed, the party was known as the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL). Since 1981, the NFSL had been the most active Libyan opposition group against the dictatorial regime of Col. Muammar Gaddafi. The groups’ two primary goals included the overthrow of the Gaddafi government and the establishment of a democracy in Libya. Dr. Mohammed al Magariaf led this group from its founding until his resignation in 2001. Having achieved these goals with the onset of the 2011 Arab African Spring and February 17th Libyan revolution, on May 8, 2012 the party was dissolved and the National Front party was formed with Dr. Mohammed al-Magariaf voted as chairman. In the elections, he went on to become president of Libya on Aug. 10, 2012, after receiving the majority of votes against Ali Zidan, who would later be elected Prime Minister.3
Sen. John McCain’s remarks on American weakness against the threat of global terrorism and his reference to terrorist activities inside Libya reflect a historical dichotomy between Neo-conservatives and elements of political dissent brave enough to actively to challenge the status quo. The evolution of the National Front Party in Libya is can be seen as a beneficiary of this relationship but by no means shaped by it. Factors such as the war on terrorism and rise of modern technology, coupled with the miserable uncertainty of life under authoritarian regimes have compounded to formulate the current political, social, and religious makeup of the current National Front party membership.4 The National Front Party was borne from the aspirations of the Libyan people, whereas its former self, The National Front for the Salvation of Libya, was borne out of the struggle and sacrifice of the Libyan people under the oppressive rule of Gaddafi.
Shortly after the 1981 publication of Claire Sterling’s book, The Terror Network, CIA director William Casey began to advocate for more a more aggressive policy of clandestine operations against the wave of international terrorism, arguing that terrorist networks were Soviet proxies under the guise of revolutionaries. This was despite the objections that much of Sterling’s book consisted of black propaganda that the CIA had itself fabricated to against the Soviets.5 After the Beirut Marine bombing left 241 Americans dead, America was on terrorist watch more than ever. It was not long before Libya soon rivaled the USSR itself for attention at the CIA. Col. Muamar Gaddafi was diverting billions in oil revenue in every direction outside of Libya to finance regional and international attacks on Western interests, particularly in regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Those billions not only facilitated acts of terror, but also gave the Soviets cold hard cash with which to extend their life span. In addition, Libya was growing increasingly close to the Soviets outside of just arms deals. Col. Gadhafi employed thousands of Soviet and East German military and intelligence personnel to maintain his expensive military hardware as well as developing his own the Stazi and Gestapo hybrid, the Muhabaraht.6 In addition, a secret pact between Greece, a N.A.T.O. ally, left Western military intelligence vulnerable. Gaddafi’s penchant for antagonizing his neighbors, well as his early disregard for encrypted phone lines, provided wealth of reports that vastly outnumbered, and therefore overshadowed, other regions of CIA concern. Before long, CIA director Casey would inquire daily “What’s that damn Gaddafi up to today?”7
Increasingly Gaddafi was forced to compose his personal body guards from these East German and Soviets, as his increasingly bizarre, oppressive, and damaging policies left him alienated from all angles, especially within his own army officers and government. His assaults on the traditional structures of government and self-serving religious policy angered technocrats and religious leaders alike. The first decade of Gaddafi rule saw dozens, if not hundreds of coups, assassination attempts, and defections. These were likewise met with hundreds, if not thousands, or executions, imprisonments, and assassination orders both inside Libya and abroad. One such disillusioned technocrat was Dr. Mohammed Yousef-al Magariaf. He was from Benghazi and served as the dean of Benghazi University. He had received his Ph.D. in Economics from the London University and, like most of the Libyan professionals or middle class, was as progressive as he was pious. He was disturbed by Gaddafi’s disregard and even contempt for education, especially the universities, which devolved into vehicles of revolutionary propaganda. English was banned, books were burned, classes cancelled for rallies or parades, and perhaps most disturbing of all, students were encouraged to challenge both fellow students and professors loyalty to the revolution.
Even when studying abroad, the university students were required to participate in Revolutionary Committees and act as agents of the regime. Eventually Libyan Embassies abroad were taken over by these revolutionary elements and converted into People’s Bureaus, which along with offices of Libyan Airlines abroad, become cells, or extensions, of the Libyan intelligence network.8 Many acts of terror were committed by students or agents posing as students, and many airplane and airport bombings were traced to Libyan Airline baggage or crew, notably the Sept. 23, 1984 London shooting which took the life of 26 year old police constable Yvonne Fletcher as well as the Dec. 27, 1986 death of Natasha Simpson during attacks at the Rome and Vienna airports.
Dr. al-Magariaf took his job very seriously and earned a reputation for his work. While he was not yet vocal against the regime, he did encourage the students to assert their rights to education whenever safely possible. He was soon assigned to the position of State Comptroller General in Tripoli. There, once again, he understood the importance of his position. While many colleagues never bothering showing up to work, Dr. al-Magariaf made meticulous reports on the dismal state of Libya’s corrupt finances, vulnerable economy, and ruinous military spending.9 He became spiteful of a government intent on not formulating a fiscal policy in efforts to shroud corruption and trails of blood money. He chased the numbers and consistently filed the reports, so that the situation arose where the regime trusted his dedication, yet it grew weary of his prying spreadsheets. The regime, valuing loyalty yet wanting him far away from Tripoli’s coffers, installed him as the Libyan Ambassador to India. Before leaving, Dr. al-Magariaf was able to visit a friend in one of Tripoli’s jails. The misery he saw there moved him. He asked his cousin who worked in the prison system to do whatever he could to improve conditions. His cousin was later killed by the regime for bringing attention to the prisons.
While serving in India, the public execution of protesting university students in Benghazi finally pushed Magariaf to defect with his family to Egypt and publically condemn the Gaddafi Regime. His home in Benghazi was promptly demolished, his extended family arrested, and after being tried and sentenced to death in absentia, he found himself at the top of Gaddafi’s long hit list. Following his defection in late 1979, he took upon himself the role of representing a vocal opposition to the regime, distributing a pamphlet under his own name, “Gadhafi’s Campaign of Terror”. In it he denounces the regime and expresses his disgust at such murderous polices as a recent terrorist attack on Feb. 23, 1980, in which he reveals that he was in fact the target of that armed assault of the Air Kuwait arrival gate at the Rome Airport. This was to be the first of three assassination attempts on his life, as his intricate knowledge of Gaddafi’s lurid finances and made him a top target.
This was soon followed by another publication, “Memorandum Presented to the Summit Conference of the Organization of African Unity.” This was addressed to participants of the summit in Nairobi on June 24, 1981 in which he sought to make known his ambitions to unite with other leaders of the continent in their shared animosity of Gaddafi.10 It was not long before world leaders took heed of his voiced and visible campaign, while their support was discreetly less voiced and invisible to the public. On October 7, 1981, following Sadat’s assassination in Egypt the day before, Magariaf held a press conference with other members of the Libyan opposition who had assembled in Khartoum, Sudan. There they announced the formation of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NSFL). The NSFL was comprised from cross section of the most educated individuals from some of the most influential families in Libya. The NFSL at that point had no political orientation, as it was formed as an umbrella group of individuals who recognized two common goals: the assassination of Gaddafi, and the installation of a democratic government in Libya.11 Everything else could be ironed out after the fact, which in many respects led to its dissolvent three decades later, to be reformed as the secular, progressive National Front Party.
Above all, CIA director Casey valued loyalty and human intelligence, namely in the form of recruitment. It was rare that a report would cross his path without his scribbling of “Recruit? – C.” Also, constant leaks to the press, which he attributed to congressional oversight committees, caused much friction between his agency and others. There were several stories published, mainly by Bob Woodward in The Washington Post and in Newsweek, which forced Casey to abandon or alter the clandestine missions which were conceived under the Reagan Doctrine. While other government departments tried to their best to wean Casey’s hawkish influence, his persistence was firm. In the first week of December 1981 President Nimeri of Sudan had met the chief Libyan opposition leader, Mohammed al-Magariaf, during Nimeri’s visit to Washington, DC.
Sudan had become a base for the NFSL and its media propaganda campaign against Gaddafi, of which consisted of regular newsletters in Arabic, English, and French, as well as a Arabic language magazine, Al-Inqad. In addition, they had been making use of a clandestine radio station in Khartoum to broadcast into Libya, much to the bane of Gaddafi, all of which was funded primarily with a 7 million dollar deposit in a Sudanese account by Saudi Arabia.12 President Nimeri at this meeting offered a large increase in the scale of Sudanese support for the NFSL operations. This would consist of training facilities, weapons, ammunition, and Sudanese passports with other documents. These would all be crucial in developing their media operation to branch out in conjunction with a clandestine military operation from inside Libya. The NFSL was given full use of all Sudanese military resources as well as the Sudanese intelligence agency, the SSO. This was in addition to support that NFSL was receiving from Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, and Chad, and eventually America.
Within the Reagan camp, the emphasis on Libya by CIA director Casey led Washington to focus more attention on Gaddafi, and in turn, the NFSL as means to undermine him.13 This concentration on Libya in part stems from the unabashed nature in which Gaddafi pursued his terrorist tactics. While there was heavy proof that other countries such as Syria and Iran were behind terrorist activities, Gaddafi represented a clear cut, archetype terrorist whose actives could be more clearly proven with a constant flow of intelligence. Director Casey hoped to pursue the NFSL as a means to put pressure on Gaddfi, but did not have grandiose plans for them to topple his regime. Rather, Casey saw Gaddfi’s suspicious nature, with extreme paranoia towards his opposition, as a vulnerability and hoped to use the NFSL to exploit this psychological weakness. To this end, the NFSL, armed by the CIA, established an army in waiting in Chad.14
A covert operation was planned in the summer of 1981.15 After a briefing of the House Intelligence committee by CIA deputy director for operations, Max Hugel, some members of the committee, objecting to the vagueness and legality of the operation, wrote a letter to President Reagan in complaint. This classified letter was then leaked to the press to appear in Newsweek in an article which exposed “a large scale, multi-phase and costly scheme to remove Qaddafi from power.” The mission was canceled and U.S involvement denied. In December of 1990, another attempt to use Chad as a base is foiled, this time by the ascent to power by Idriss Deby. 650 NFSL troops were expelled from their base by Deby, and were promptly rescued by U.S. planes sent to pick them up. Deby then took foreign journalists to the vacated base to show off the American made and American supplied arsenal, including large stocks of stinger missiles.16 The NFSL would continually be forced to move their camps or offices at the whim of their host countries. Forced, out of Chad, then Sudan, and later Morocco and Egypt, Gaddafi was able to influence his neighbors and actively pursue the NFSL across international borders, whether by the assassination of opposition leaders, pressure put on host countries, or even boldly sending a Soviet built Tu-22 fighter to bomb the NFSL radio station in Khartoum in March of 1983.17
Despite setbacks, the NFSL grew in both size and ambition, culminating in a daring commando raid on Gaddafi in the middle of downtown Tripoli on May 8, 1984. From their training base in Sudan, the anti-Gaddafi forces entered Libya from Tunisia using Sudanese passports with the intent on assaulting Gaddafi’s headquarters in downtown Tripoli. For the first time, opposition forces from inside as well as outside Libyan joined together in a coordinated five hour long gun battle in Tripoli. This union was possible mainly due to NFSL radio broadcasts into Libya prior to the raid urging Libyans to revolt and join the coup.18 The plot was doomed, however, after three NFSL members were caught at the border, tortured, and confessed to the plot as well as naming participants inside Libya who had yet to assume their positions. Those who had managed to get into position panicked and rushed to attack without backup. With the tactical element of surprise gone, Gaddafi forces were able to subdue the attack, mainly through a series of roadblocks. The price paid for the failed raid was very high in that the NFSL military wing was destroyed and its commander, Ahmed Ahawas, killed. Gaddafi made thousands of arrests inside Libya in response to the coup, further decimating the NFSL chances of future success. The regime itself was purged of any whiff of dissent as 75 military officers were charged and executed, with many executions aired on Libyan state television. While the raid was a devastating failure, it proved to the world that Gaddafi was not invincible, as well as exhibiting the many Libyans willing to die in battle against him, and thus worthy of additional clandestine funding.19 As members of the NFSL watched their comrades die on TV, the group began to fracture with the loss of so many members.20 Some members argued with the brazen nature of the raid, seeing it as an example of the increasing arrogance in leadership. Others objected to the collusion with Western intelligence.21 The U.S. airstrikes in Libya on Feb. 17, 1986 further divided NFSL membership as Western involvement in the group was heavily scrutinized upon the deaths of innocent Libyan civilians.22
Despite setbacks, the height of NFSL power would come in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the end of Libyan Military action in Chad. With U.S. help, the NFSL was able to recruit from thousands of Libyan prisoners of war who had been captured and imprisoned in Chad.23 Among these recruits was General Khalifa Heftar, Gaddafi’s commander in the Chad campaign. He would defect with his men, some of them by force, to NFSL command. From their Chadian outpost of Ouadi Doum, the NFSL forces continued to train themselves for expected operations into Libya. However, as previously mentioned, NFSL forces were forced to evacuate Chad in 1990 after Gaddafi clandestine forces help depose the Chadian government. Gen. Heftar, with hundreds of his men, resettled in the U.S. with many living in Virginia, near CIA headquarters. Gen. Heftar would return to Libya in 2011 to aid the rebel forces of the NTC against Gaddafi, followed by other NFSL members who would leave the U.S. to make up much of the post Gaddfi government.
The loss of an operational base with direct access to Libya greatly took much of the teeth out of the NFSL threat to Gaddafi. Their relocation to the U.S., with offices in Chicago, was part of trend in which the old generation of Gaddafi opposition was giving way to a younger, more extreme movement with Islamic tendencies.24 From the mid-1990s until the fall of Gaddafi in 2011, Islamic groups formed the majority, if not whole, of active attacks against the regime from within the country. In 1985, a group spliced itself from the NFSL and began to pursue a more radicalized, Islamic identity in its opposition to Gadhafi25. This group would form the basis of further divisions, most notably in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Fighting Group of Libya. It would be these groups that would pose the greatest threats to the Gaddafi Regime and, upon the Feb.17, 2011 Revolution, would compose some of the most fierce and effective Rebel Army Brigades.
The Islamic opposition grew rapidly during the late 1990s until 2011 in part out of the frustration within the country and abroad among opposition groups who felt helpless as the West began to open up to Gaddafi, both diplomatically, financially, and eventually militarily. The incremental lifting of sanctions and the cooperation between the West and Gaddafi in the war on terror seemed to put the final nail in the coffin of Gaddafi opposition. The absence of sanctions provided the means and markets to acquire updated military technology to better track and silence his opposition. Far worse, Gaddafi could now label those who opposed him as “terrorists” and thus, have the entire Western military machine at his disposal.26 Countless opponents to the regime became lost in intelligence webs that secretly spirited them from one clandestine prison to the next, ultimately into the waiting arms of the Libyan secret security apparatus.27 Thus, the NFSL and its Islamic counterparts found themselves contending with not only with the threat from Gaddafi, but also from the same governments who had previously supported the opposition.
In addition, the U.S. intelligence element which had historically aided the NFSL was hugely controversial within the organization. This association with America would contribute to a fatal split in the early 1990s which greatly diminished its strength and influence.28 Other factors within the NFSL membership would lead to increased disaffection with the leadership structure. From this period on, the NFSL primarily abandoned its focus on clandestine military operations in favor of a more activist role. It served the Libyan people by highlighting the international crimes of Gaddafi, with an emphasis on human rights violations and governmental corruption. The NFSL was central in exposing the 1996 Abu Salim Prison Massacre of 1,200 political prisoners as well as keeping news from inside Libya relevant to the public sphere.29 It published monthly updates on regional and international news relating to Libya in its role of advocating for the voiceless Libyan people. In June of 2005, the NFSL met with other leading Libyan opposition groups in London to formulate a government in exile in preparation for a hopeful anticipation of a future without Gaddafi. This anticipation was exacerbated by a perceived series of concessions by Gaddafi in confronting Islamic opposition inside the country. Deals made between the regime and Islamist groups to release hundreds of its imprisoned members not only displayed weakness within the regime, but gave the NFSL and its alliance future credibility in a free Libya. The secular National Front Party was able to garnish support in 2012 due in part from its unwavering stance of non-negotiation with the Gaddafi regime. Despite Islamic party landslides in Egypt and Tunisia, in Libya it was the secular technocrats who offered a clean break from Gaddafi and those who had negotiate with him while the people at large suffered.30 The Islamists failed see the potential of their own threat to Gaddafi and were neutralized through concessions which included the release of hundreds of “rehabilitated jihadists” from jails in 2006 initiated by Seif al-Islam Gaddafi.31
It would be through these organizational movements and bureaucratic connections that the NFSL would advance the Libyan cause throughout the Arab Spring and Feb. 17, 2011 Libyan Revolution. It was the NFSL that called for the Feb. 15 demonstrations against the arrest of a Benghazi human rights activist, which upon being violently put down, led to the Feb. 17 “Day of Rage” to be announced via Facebook. It was via four Internet servers smuggled into Libya by NFSL members that much of the violent footage of government attacks on civilians made its way to YouTube and Western media outlets.32 The NFSL worked closely with NATO to establish credibility for the National Transitional Council which had formed as the opposition government in Benghazi. The NSFL worked on the ground in Libya during the revolution to organize both humanitarian and military aid, as well as ensuring avenues of dialogue for the steady stream of world leaders who sought to vet out anti-Gaddafi forces.33
Upon the liberation of Tripoli and the following “National Day of Liberation”, the official end of the Gaddafi regime, Libyans began to prepare for the first democratic elections in their nation’s history. On May 8 2011, the Nation Front for the Salvation of Libya, declaring that its mission had been accomplished, was dissolved during a press conference in Benghazi. The following day, on May 9, its former members gathered at the Benghazi Tebesti Hotel to announce the establishment of the National Front Party of Libya (NFP) as a progressive, secular, and Western friendly platform in the June 2012 general elections. The NFP committee announced Dr. Mohammed Yousef al-Magariaf as their elected chairman. Encouraging a parliamentary system opposed to federalism, the NFP ran on a platform of national reconciliation, justice, and a responsible government with respect for women’s rights and equality. As the sixth largest party, their candidate, Dr. Magariaf, had the advantage of long history of opposition to the Gaddafi regime which contrasted other parties who were comprised of recent government defectors or religious elements who had negotiated with the regime. President Magariaf was elected on August 9, 2012 and would be the first of many former NFSL members, under various parties, to make up the new government. Prime Minister Ali Zidan was a NSFL cofounder, as was the man whom he replaced in a no confidence vote, Abu Shakour..
President Magariaf had made governmental transparency a priority, not only since taking office but also for the past three decades from exile. The contradicting versions of events surrounding the Sept. 11, 20012 U.S. Consulate attack in Benghazi seem to prove that this is a new policy not only for Libya, but for the U.S. as well
As the United States of America refuses to accept that President Magariaf was forced out of office by a foreign backed coup, America has allowed Islamist dictactors and their proxies to rule Libya via militia, or mercenaries, who are now forcing the new weak Libyan government to it’s knees.
1 CBS News Face the Nation, 11/16/12 transcript
2 CBS News Face the Nation, 11/16/12 transcript
3 National Front Party of Libya Website http://www.jabha.ly/
4 Libya and the NSFL Challenge, 1992
5 Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, Bob Woodward, 1987 p.129
6 Qaddafi and the Libyan Revolution, Blundy & Lycett, 1987 p117
7 Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, Bob Woodward, 1987 p.304
8 Political and Society in Contemporary North Africa, Zartman, Habeeb, Tessler 1993 p.99
9 Qaddafi and the Libyan Revolution, Blundy & Lycett, 1987 p200
10 The Making of a Pariah State, Martin Sicker, 1987, p.37
11 A History of Modern Libya, Dirk Vandewalle, 2006 p.128
12 Libyan Sandstorm, John K. Cooley, 1982
13 Libya The Struggle for Survival, Geoff Simmons, 1993 p.309
14 El Dorado Canyon, Joseph T. Stanik, 2003 p. 41
15 Libya’s Qaddafi , Mansour O. El-Kikha, 1997 p.140
16 Gaddafi The Desert Mystic, George Tremlett, 1993 p.273-274
17 Libya’s Qaddafi, Mansour O. El-Kikha, 1997 p.121
18 Qaddafi and the Libyan Revolution, Blundy & Lycett, 1987 p.178
19 EL Dorado Canyon, Joseph T. Stanik, 2003 p.85
20 Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution, Lindsey Hilsum, 2012 p.86-87
21 Libya: Qadhafi’s Revolution and the Modern State, Lillian Craig Harris, 1986 p.130
22 Gaddafi The Desert Mystic, George Tremlett, 1993 p.18-19
23 Qaddafi’s Libya in World Politics, Yehudit Ronen, 2008, p.171
24 Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution, Lindsey Hilsum, 2012 p.89
25 Libya: Qadhafi’s Revolution and the Modern State, Lillian Craig Harris, 1986 p.78-79
26 Exit the Colonel: The hidden history of the Libyan Revolution, Ethan Chorin, 2012 p.140
27 Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution, Lindsey Hilsum, 2012 p. 189
28 Qadhafi’s Libya: 1969 to 1994, Dirk Vandewalle, 1995, p.235
29 Libya and the West, Geoff Simmons, 2003 p.102
30 Exit the Colonel: The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution, Ethan Chorin, 2012 p.270-271
31 Libya Since 1969: Qadhafi’s Revolution Revisited, Dirk Vandewalle, 2008 p.100-102
32 Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution, Lindsey Hilsum, 2012 p.237-278
33 Exit the Colonel: The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution, Ethan Chorin, 2012 p.190-191