War in Ukraine: airstrikes, drones and a looming counteroffensive
This week saw heightened tensions in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A wave of drone strikes hit the Russian capital Tuesday morning, bringing the war to Moscow for the first…
Libya’s National Transitional Council says former President Muammar Gadhafi has been captured or killed. What it means for the eight months old uprising and the country’s political future.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Eight months of fighting to overthrow Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi could be over. Rebel leaders said their former president is dead. The White House has yet to confirm the reports, but Libyans are celebrating in the streets. Joining me in the studio to bring the latest and to talk about challenges that lie ahead, Nadia Bilbassy of MBC TV.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone, two guests: Amb. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and James Kitfield of National Journal. Of course, we'll take your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Nadia Bilbassy, do we know at this point whether Col. Qaddafi is alive or dead?
MS. NADIA BILBASSYWell, Diane, it looks like he is dead. The reason, pictures -- not just the still photo that has been released in the last hour, but now there is an actual video of him lying in a morgue in Misrata. And this video has been circulating among Arab media. Of course, we have to be cautious about this because we have heard before from the TNC that Saif al-Islam was arrested and he wasn't, and his other son, Moatessem, was arrested and he wasn't.
MS. NADIA BILBASSYBut I think today, all evidence indicating that, actually -- that Qaddafi was killed, and yet we need to know the actual circumstances of his death.
REHMJames Kitfield, some reports said Qaddafi was captured, wounded in both legs. What have you heard?
MR. JAMES KITFIELDWell, you know, and, again, some of these reports, we should mention, are very preliminary. And, frequently, those change. But he, apparently, was caught in a car, and there was a gun battle. He was wounded badly and, apparently, died shortly thereafter. You know, I've looked at the picture, too. It certainly looks like him, but -- and we're having confirmation by the transitional council.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDSo, you know, all signs point to this being him, but, again, I would just caution that these preliminary reports, you have to put a little bit of grain of salt with them.
REHMAnd to you, Amb. Haass, what was the U.S. and NATO role in all this?
AMB. RICHARD HAASSYou could almost deconstruct the phrase, all this, Diane. If you look at the last six, seven months, the U.S. and NATO role, more broadly, was central. The Libyan rebels, on their own, never could have overthrown the regime. They required a considerable -- we're talking, you know, tens of thousands of air sorties and so forth. They required considerable external help. It also appears that air forces had something of a central role in the specific operation that may have well killed Qaddafi.
AMB. RICHARD HAASSAnd I think, again, what this highlights is the fact of how dependent those Libyans who have now -- who are in part of this transitional government authority, how dependent they are on outsiders, that they're essentially taking over a country that lacks central national institutions. And assuming that Qaddafi is, in fact, dead, ironically enough, now the hard part really starts.
REHMAmb. Haass, why was Sirte was so difficult to capture?
HAASSI think it was simply the place were Qaddafi forces knew the terrain best. They had the most local support. This was, essentially, their Alamo. This was going to be their last stand, and it was very hard for outsiders to defeat them there.
REHMNadia Bilbassy, the ambassador just said, now the hard work really begins. What does -- if Qaddafi is dead, what does it mean for the eight-month-old uprising?
BILBASSYWell, it means, now, the real work has to start. Qaddafi held the country with an iron fist for the last 40 years. He created the Jamahiriya, which is basically what you call people's rule, committees all over the country. But, in effect, he counseled any building of an institution. There is no judiciary. There is no -- anybody, really, government in structure to accountable to the people. It's only him, his immediate family that he put them in power.
BILBASSYHis son Khamis was in charge of the army. His son Saif (word?) was groomed to take over from him. So now it's a huge task of rebuilding the country. Libya is a tribal society. You have 140 tribes. Most of the people who fought actually, despite the fact that, of course, no military success could have happened without NATO help, but the fact on the ground that the people who fought were Libyans themselves, and this is a credit to them.
BILBASSYBut they are consortium of different people: fighters, Islamists, liberal, people from outside, students. We don't know who they are. And there is a division between the political wing and the military wing, and this is a vital point of how you're going to bring the country together under one leadership and how you're going to rebuild the country from zero, basically.
REHMSo, James Kitfield, what happens to all of these loyalist forces? Do they simply concede? What happens?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, what we hope happens -- and, you know, the transitional council knows that they're being watched very closely by, you know, the West -- NATO, the United States -- to, you know, not take retribution, to not sort of create a blood bath situation, which is going to make it very hard for the West to actually give them the kind of help they're going to need to do the institution building that Richard's talking about and that Natalie's talking about.
KITFIELDSo I think that, you know, what, you know, the advantages -- we have some influence with this group now to try to, you know, make this very difficult transition now that he's out of the way. You know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was there recently, which shows that we are invested in this transition that they're going through. I mean, there is a bit of the Powell doctrine, and, you know, NATO -- Richard's right, without NATO and U.S. involvement, this couldn't have happened.
KITFIELDSo we have a stake in this, but we also have responsibilities in this. I think Clinton's trip made that point. And we're going to be, you know, very engaged, not troops on the ground but certainly advisers on the ground, lots of money to try to help them make this very tricky transition to a democratic pluralistic society in a country that has been said it has very few institutions because that's the way that Qaddafi liked it. He didn't like any institutions that might threaten his total power.
REHMAmb. Haass, how do you see the U.S. role going forward?
HAASSActually, I think the most important thing at this point is probably advice and training. You have to try to make sure that these armed units, to put it gently, morph into something of a national police and military that is under responsible control. But also, you've really got to help the Libyan stand up the most basic aspects of a government. We're not talking about elections and democracy. We're simply talking about functional -- functioning national services at the political and economic and social end of the spectrum.
HAASSAnd I think it's not so much money that they need. Ultimately, this is a fairly well-endowed country, as you know, Diane. What they really need is basic logistical and management sort of help on the ground, so we're looking not just at CIA and military trainers. Actually, I think we're looking at much more the civilian side of making the country function.
REHMWould you expect to see a full interim government named now, Amb. Haass?
HAASSI think you will have the Transitional National Authority, you know, essentially declare itself to be that. And they will say that they are some sort of an interim authority. There has to be a political event, some sort of an election or referendum, ultimately, to make them the standing authority. But the real question is, even if they declare it, whether they can actually be it. And that, to me, is the real issue here, and everyone is saying it exactly right.
HAASSThis is a country without a tradition now for four-plus decades of anything that functioned at a national level. Qaddafi made sure that wouldn't happen. Anything strong enough to run the country after him was strong enough to threaten him. So I just think it's going to be easier said than done, to put into play something, in fact, rather than just name that really is a national governing institution.
REHMFor many of the last months, we have seen this so-called rising of the Arab Spring. I wonder how -- what's happening in Libya now is going to affect other countries, Amb. Haass?
HAASSIt's a good question. I've been thinking about it myself this morning. I think, on one hand, Diane, I think there'll be people in the streets in some places like Syria who may say this shows political change can come. But they would -- if they do say that, they'd be ignoring the central role played by external military forces. I think the bigger reaction will be on the part of people like Bashar al-Assad, the ruler of Syria, or the Al Khalifa family ruling Bahrain.
HAASSThey're going to watch events like this, and they're going to -- only going to have one conclusion, we have got to dig in. There is no compromise. This is a winner-take-all political culture. So, actually, I think it will polarize even more the politics in places like Syria and Bahrain and, conceivably enough, even Egypt. I think that will be the message the rulers will take.
REHMThe Associated Press is reporting that a U.S. official has said that Libyan leaders have informed the U.S. that Qaddafi is dead. Nadia Bilbassy, do you think that that is a definitive report?
BILBASSYOh, I'm sure because, since the morning, we've been monitoring all the news coming. And I think that the evidence was mounting that Qaddafi is dead. Apparently, he was found in a tunnel in Sirte, and then he tried to escape. And then he was chased, and there was gun fire. And, apparently, he was caught alive saying, what is going on in Arabic to the people -- to the rebels. And, eventually, he was hit -- said, in the beginning, they said in the legs, later in the head, and the injury was too severe for him to survive.
BILBASSYThey took him to Misrata, which is funny enough, the city that probably suffered the most under Qaddafi himself. Ironically, he's dying there. This is an end of an era, for sure. Most likely, you might have some people who are loyalists to him. You might have Tawariq tribes in the south that might get together. But, I think, just like the case in most dictatorship, once you cut the head off of that system, the body doesn't survive. I think that might be the case.
BILBASSYWe still don't know where is Saif al-Qaddafi, his son, who also supposed to -- could play a role there. We don't where he is. But the fact that now we got a confirmation from the U.S. that Qaddafi is dead, I think, it is most likely that he is dead. And we have to look forward to Libya after Qaddafi.
REHMNadia Bilbassy, she's senior U.S. correspondent for the Middle East Broadcast Center. When we come back, we'll take your calls, your comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com.
REHMAnd as we talk about events unfolding in Libya, reports now from a U.S. official that he (sic) -- or she has been informed by Libyan leaders that Muammar Qaddafi has died. Here in the studio, Nadia Bilbassy. She is senior correspondent for the Middle East Broadcast Center. Joining us by phone, James Kitfield of National Journal. Earlier, you heard from Amb. Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of, "A War of Necessity, War of Choice."
REHMIf you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Apparently, President Obama is now saying that the world is standing with a post-Qaddafi Libya. I would assume, James Kitfield, that, if the president is speaking, we can assume that Qaddafi is, in fact, dead.
KITFIELDI think that's right. It means all of the signals, as Natalie said is -- as Nadia said is -- look like this is the real deal. You know, again, we have photographic proof. We have, you know, officials actually going out on a limb and saying it looks like it's him. So I think we can go at a safe assumption that it looks like the Qaddafi era is over.
KITFIELDAnd I think that we can look forward now to, again, this very tricky transition that we're seeing in other Mideast states, where we have to help them sort of get over what was really a sort of one-man rule for decades and look to the future.
REHMIt was a one-man rule for decades, some 42 years. James, give us a little of the background on Qaddafi, how he kept that rule, how he managed to control that country.
KITFIELDIt was kind of interesting because he, you know, kind of went from one of our chief bogeymen of the United States back in the '80s, if you recall, when there was a lot of terrorists emanating out of the Middle East. We were being attacked, armoring barracks from Bombay, Hezbollah. He got into the act, bombed a U.S. -- you know, his forces bombed -- his intelligence forces bombed a U.S. disco in Germany, where U.S. service members, you know, congregated, killing some.
KITFIELDRonald Reagan sent bombers to Tripoli, bombed his compound, killed his adopted daughter. I mean, he was really one of the -- sort of the rogues that we held up as being sort of the face of state-sponsored terror for a long time.
KITFIELDAfter we invaded Iraq, and the Bush administration proclaimed that, you know, anyone who -- any state that consorted with terrorists and had weapons of mass destruction might be on our hit list -- he had a weapons of mass destruction program -- he decided at that point to make a strategic pivot, gave up those weapons in 2004 -- 2003, 2004, made reparations for the Pan Am terror bombing that killed hundreds over Scotland, Lockerbie, Scotland.
KITFIELDSo he kind of -- was kind of trying to, you know, refurbish his image and get, you know, back, accepted in the international order. And we were allowing that, so it was kind of an interesting case. In recent years, he's been sort of playing ball with us in the war on terror, and he did, and as I said, gave up his weapons of mass destruction. But he was never -- I mean, he was never -- it was more a sort of alliance of convenience.
KITFIELDHe was certainly never really a friend of the West or of the United States. But he was very cagey in knowing which way the, you know, political winds were blowing and getting on the right side of that.
REHMAnd, Nadia, cagey seems like a good word to describe him.
BILBASSYAbsolutely. I mean, he is seen as a maniac. He's a -- I mean, psychologists will have a (word?) of trying to describe the mentality of Qaddafi. There is no doubt that he held the country with a sheer brutality. Human rights situation is atrocious for the last 40 years. Political prisoners were left to die in their cells. He played tribes against one another. He made sure that the army is very weak.
BILBASSYAs we know, most of the countries in the Middle East who took as -- in a military coup d'etat, they know the game because they know that somebody else who is stronger might overthrow them. So he played very well that fact that nobody's going to overthrow him.
REHMBut, you know, it's so interesting that, as recently as 2009, as one of our listeners, Tom, reports on Facebook, "A high-level bipartisan U.S. delegation traveled to Tripoli when Qaddafi was still in America's good graces. In fact," he goes on to say, "a leaked American diplomatic cable concluded the regime was a valuable ally that should receive even more U.S. military support."
BILBASSYNot surprising. I mean, number one, the fact that James talked about that this guy was seen as clever, in a way, and engineered by his son Saif al-Din (sp?) of trying to rehabilitate his image by giving his so-called weapon of mass destruction, and therefore, in a Middle East that's so volatile and unpredictable, with Iran trying to aspire these weapons, we have other countries that have it.
BILBASSYSo having another country like Libya and after the lesson in Iraq, then it was -- he was seen as, like, the bad guy that could be on our side. And, second, he's also being seen as the good guy in the fight against terrorism. So this is two important points, and the U.S. sometimes look at very short-term policy and instead of seeing the bigger picture in the Middle East.
REHMAll right. We're going to open the phones now to hear your comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. First to Detroit, Mich. Good morning, Khaled. (sp?) You're on the air.
KHALEDGood morning. How are you doing, Diane?
REHMFine, thank you.
KHALEDI want just to kind of give you guys a picture on how the Syrians treat -- received the news of the death of Qaddafi (word?), Syrian National Council that was just announced about three weeks ago to kind of mirror the transitional council that exists in Libya. I think there's just a huge amount of jubilation among Syrians to see this dictator fall down and end up the way he ended up.
KHALEDThere was -- you know, the situation in Syria has been really desperate and, I think, just gives the protesters a huge morale boost. When the TNC forces went to Tripoli at the end of Ramadan, there was a huge celebration in Syria. And now, this news was just another piece of news that the protesters also needed in Syria. So we hope to see something similar in Syria when we -- when we get rid of Bashar and his brother.
REHMThanks for your call. James Kitfield, do you want to comment?
KITFIELDYeah, I mean, I actually think Syria is the interesting case here now after, you know, Libya has conclusively, you know, moved post-Qaddafi era. I take Richard's point. It could not have happened without -- in Libya without NATO help, and that NATO help is not likely to come in Syria, even though the Syrian opposition for the first time in the last couple of weeks have started to request, you know, Western intervention to protect the protesters because they're being slaughtered so wantonly by Assad in Syria.
KITFIELDI still think that is very, very unlikely. The Arab League has not acted asking for intervention in Syria like they did for Libya. The United States has many things on its plate and has no interest in opening yet another violent front in the Middle East. Having said that, I think Assad must be sitting very, very uncomfortably on his throne. At this point, he is seeing, you know, this situation develop that looks very similar to the dynamic in his own country in terms of these protests.
KITFIELDAnd, you know, at one point, Qaddafi could've cut a deal and gone into exile, and he could be sitting pretty right now. And I think that -- and I would hope, actually, that that would be a thought that goes through Assad's head, that maybe it's not too late to cut some sort of a deal because, if he doesn't, this could happen to him.
BILBASSYYes, it's true. But, I mean, we're not talking about one man. These men, they create a mafia style around them that they're a beneficiary from the regime, so it's family business. So it's not even probably him who is going to take the decision. If you look at the Arab world -- we've seen it in Tunisia. One dictator fell overnight.
BILBASSYHe decided to take the short route and leave basically overnight, which is Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, avoiding the bloody scene that we have seen now in Libya. Mubarak in Egypt, whether it was the military who took the decision, we don't know, but he's out of power. And now we have in -- Muammar Qaddafi out, at a huge cost. It could be 50,000 dead in Libya. We don't know. Yes, it's true that in Libya it's a different case, that the Security Council got together, the Arab Leagues were involved.
BILBASSYQatar and United Arab Emirates were giving even military support to the rebels. And it was a consensus of -- because there was a fear that Qaddafi might launch an attack on Benghazi at the time, and we had massive civilian casualties. In Syria, it is true it is different, but I cannot see Bashar al-Assad surviving for so long because even now that we haven't seen the massive demonstrations in Damascus and in Aleppo, as everybody predicted, but I cannot see it surviving. He has to make a decision at one stage.
BILBASSYNow, the last few weeks, the Security Council, led by China and Russia, blocked the condemnation of Syria. And that was a great disappointment to the opposition. And one of the opposition leaders said that I'm afraid now that we are left with nothing else -- now the international community abandoned us -- but to resort to violence. So far, it's been peaceful, but they might resort to violence. We might see civil war in Syria that ultimately will topple the regime.
BILBASSYBut something will happen, whether with the West or without the West, internally, that will end the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
REHMJames Kitfield, do you think there is any possibility -- pardon me -- seeing what's happened in Libya, that NATO could, in fact, begin to work in Syria as well?
KITFIELDI really do not see that is likely for a couple of reasons, one of which is NATO, you know, will claim this is a big victory. But the fact is, it took much longer, and it was much more tense. It took many months when they thought it would take weeks to topple Qaddafi's loyalists. Syria is a bigger kettle of fish. He has -- he does have a strong military, at least relative to his population. They are -- they see themselves in the same boat as Assad.
KITFIELDSo I don't think that NATO has the appetite for this. I don't think that United States has the appetite for this at this time. They won't -- I don't think you will get, you know -- even if you had the appetite for it, NATO will not go along without a U.N. resolution. You cannot get a U.N. resolution without China and Russia, and they are going to block Syria. They've shown no wavering on that.
KITFIELDI mean, Qaddafi, we have to remember, have very few friends internationally. He was a sort of rogue, maniacal, you know, guy who really had not built up any friends.
KITFIELDThat's not really the case with Syria. Syria still has friends...
KITFIELD...still has influence. And I just don't see the same dynamic taking place...
KITFIELD...that would get NATO involved.
REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's now go to Louisville, Ky. Good morning, James. You're on the air.
JAMESGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
JAMESLet me come to you guys for my citizen's view, a citizen of the United States of America, and, please, don't take this wrong. We don't care. We're more concerned about what's going on in our own country, our faltering economy, people out of work, no jobs to be found, political strife. These cats can't even make up their minds about what they want to do up in Washington concerning the citizens.
JAMESWar did not go into Syria because of what you guys say about the Arab League backing Syria as opposed to not backing Qaddafi, threw him under the bus. Now we've committed troops to Africa, 100 troops as, what, trainers or whatever (unintelligible) Vietnam. What happens if we get fired on in Africa to take down a warlord?
REHMI think that James raises some interesting questions. What do you think, James Kitfield?
KITFIELDWell, he does raise an interesting question, which is that we have got a -- you know, job number one is to restore the wellspring of American power, which is our economy, which is in tatters. So, you know -- and any new crisis, the president has to look very carefully at it, whether he wants to spend American precious resources and energy. In this case, he really did not -- I mean, he came -- President Obama came very reluctantly to this operation.
KITFIELDUnited Kingdom and France were very keen to do this because they are much closer. They are -- you know, really, Northern Africa is a neighbor of Southern Europe, and they didn't want a bunch of, you know, refugees coming in swarms. So they were determined to act. And, famously, President Obama, you know, led from behind. He let them take the lead of the operation using enablers from the American military.
KITFIELDSo each new crisis we have to judge with a very hard eye these days about whether this is something that's in the core U.S. interest before we get involved. On the situation in Africa, we sent some troops from AFRICOM to train and assist African forces for hunting down the Lord's Resistance Army. And I think that is very little lifting. I mean, that's -- 100 troops is a drop in the bucket. That is not something that's going to cost a lot of money.
KITFIELDIt's not something we're going to get involved in a direct shooting war. So I don't find that to be too worrisome, but Syria, very different situation. If you want to get involved in trying to topple Assad, it's going to be more heavy lifting even than Libya.
REHMAll right. To Esther in Shiloh, Ill. Good morning to you.
ESTHERHi, Diane. Going to -- just briefly, human rights issues, women -- it's huge. You know, we're in Libya. We're in Iraq. We're in Afghanistan. Those are all places where women are just nothing. They are the bottom. And if we are going to do this -- and I know President Obama's intentions are very good, but we need to see each one of them through completely before starting something new like Syria.
ESTHERAnd we must consider the women's rights and support organizations like RAWA and stop trying to turn our military into diplomats.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Nadia.
BILBASSYYes, I agree. I mean, the role of women is vital. I'll give you an example of the Yemeni activist who just won Nobel for peace, Tawakkul Karman. She's actually said that she's staying in New York until the U.N. Security Council take a decision to condemn the violence in Yemen. So she has taken a leading role. But, of course, if you look at the Arab world, they are different, and -- despite the fact that most of them are conservative societies.
BILBASSYBut, strangely enough, you cannot compare Iraq, even under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, with Afghanistan. Iraq, actually -- the secular regime has given a powerful role for women. Women in Iraq has played an incredible role, even in terms of taking decision when it comes to physicians or nuclear physicists or in politics or -- I doesn't -- it's not actually -- sadly enough, now, the role of women in Iraq, after it's been liberated from dictatorship, has -- went back.
BILBASSYBecause, I think, the religious aspect into it, that you can see now division between the different ethnicity, and it's more of a religious stamp on it that believe that women shouldn't be in the forefront.
REHMBut you don't expect that to happen in Libya?
BILBASSYIt -- I mean, Libya, again, because it's a troubled society, I think is going to be the same, more or less. I mean, these societies, it takes a long time to develop generally. And women's situation will develop with the society. It's not just women, but, of course, they are the receiving end of being less developed than the rest of the society.
REHMNadia Bilbassy, she's senior U.S. correspondent for the Middle East Broadcast Center. Short break. When we come back, more of your calls, your comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd joining us now in the studio is Asma Magariaf. She is a D.C.-based Libyan-American activist. She was born in Libya. Her family fled the country as dissidents, were hunted down by Qaddafi's regime. She has written about human rights and rule of law in Libya. Welcome, Asma. It's good to have you here.
MS. ASMA MAGARIAFThank you, Diane, for having me.
REHMTell me your reaction to the news this morning.
MAGARIAFIt was -- to be honest with you, it was sheer happiness that there's -- this is a sad chapter in the country, in the history of the country that has been closed definitively, hopefully, but, in the same time, sheer happiness and jubilation that, hopefully, we can move beyond this point, and we can have a free, open elections in the country.
MAGARIAFWe can have a better future for our children and that the Libyan people will once again, you know, be able to express themselves, really, on the streets and speak their minds without fear of being hunted down.
REHMDo you believe that the loyalists will come together with the dissidents?
MAGARIAFNot necessarily come together, but, I think, you know, this will definitely send a signal to them that Qaddafi is over. His days are over, and -- the days of his tyranny and brutality against the Libyan people, and that there will be a new Libya. Now, this -- it's up to the NTC and the fighters on the ground to provide assurances and provide the guarantees to all those who sided with Qaddafi in the past that they will -- their life will not be in jeopardy, and that they will enjoy protections under the law. And that's extremely important.
MAGARIAFA few exceptions that have been made are for those who have blood on their hand, who have been, in one way or another, involved in killing of innocent civilian Libyans. And that's a distinction, again, that needs to be made.
REHMAsma, tell me about your own history and your family's history.
MAGARIAFWell, my father was a prominent college professor. He was very active on campus speaking about the need for reform in Libya, and this is back in the 1970s and mid-1970s, before Qaddafi escalated his campaign of terror against the intellectuals in the country. As a way to distance him, he was appointed as Libya's ambassador to India, a post that he only stayed in for two years before resigning and publicly opposing Qaddafi and announcing that he will become a dissident against Qaddafi.
MAGARIAFAs a result, all of my eight uncles were put in prison for about eight years. One of them was actually kidnapped in 1991 from Cairo, taken to Libya, and, until today, we don't know what happened to him. And that's another issue that many Libyans are struggling with, the issue of the missing. We have thousand of Libyans who have been taken, who have been imprisoned. We don't know what happened to them.
MAGARIAFThere's no record that Qaddafi and his men kept of these prisoners. We are finding mass graves every part of the country every day. And this -- there needs to be closure to the families of these victims as well.
REHMAnd joining us now from his office in Reston, Va. is Fadel Lamen. He's president of the American-Libyan Council. Good morning to you, sir. Thanks for joining us.
MR. FADEL LAMENGood morning to you, and thank you for having me.
REHMI gather that you, personally, were once a target of Muammar Qaddafi.
LAMENYes, I was. I was young, and that was me and my other fellow young Libyans who were calling for democracy and for freedom. And we opposed some of his policies. And as any -- like any other dictator, he didn't like that. So we were targeted, and some of my close friends were tortured. Some were hanged. And I was sentenced to death myself.
REHMAnd then you actually met Muammar Qaddafi face to face.
LAMENYes, at his request when he came to Washington, D.C. and to New York. And he requested that he wants to meet me, and I said fine. I have met other leaders in this country. I am in the United States, which is my country. And I'd rather have -- meet him here than meet him in Libya. And my meeting with him was brief. I asked that he should consider changes and reforms. He tried to ask about my family because he knows my family, and we've been, you know, persecuted under his regime for the last 40-some years.
LAMENMy brother was in jail for over 10 years, and he was sentenced to life in prison. So he knows where I came from, and I know where he came from. It wasn't personal. For me, it was about the country. And my question was -- to him was, what are you going to do? Are you going to change? Are you going to reform? Are you going to give people a freedom and democracy? Or are you going to continue in the same path? And…
REHMHe seemed, somehow, to have that chameleon-like personality to respond in a way he saw as serving him best of all.
LAMENWell, it's all about him. It's -- Qaddafi is a very unique character and unique -- was, of course, thank God. He was -- it's all about him. It never has been about the country. Libya, to him, is just a stepping stone to his glory. He never considered Libya or the Libyan people anything but something that's beneath him that will help him, propel him to glory.
LAMENThat's why he never was happy to be a leader of Libya. He wanted to be the leader of the Arab world, of the North Africa, of the Mahgreb, of the -- of Africa, of -- a global leader, of the king of kings. So it was all about him. And that's the end of dictators like him. It's...
REHMAnd I'd be interested in your reaction, Fadel, as well as yours, Asma, as to what the greatest challenges are going forward. Beginning with you, Asma.
MAGARIAFI think the greatest challenge would be for the NTC to realize that the sense of unity that many Libyans displayed, with respect to the NTC as the entity that represents the aspirations of the Libyan people and the aspirations of this great revolution, is to understand that it's not a -- it's not limitless, that the entity needs to decide on when it's a time to have free and open elections and when it is possible for members of civil society in the country to be involved in the process, to open up the process, to write a constitution.
MAGARIAFAll these things need to be implemented as soon as possible. And there has been an implicit understanding that, as soon as we know what happens to Qaddafi, we can move forward. And I think today is definitely a step in the right direction. Same time, it's important to realize the role that Libyan women have played in this revolution from the start.
MAGARIAFAnd I'm talking about years passed when women in Benghazi stood every week, protesting and asking about the fate of their loved ones who were killed in the Abu Salim prison. That opened the door for the revolution that started eight months ago. And because of that, I think we owe it to the Libyan women to involve them in the political process and to get them to be more active.
LAMENI think -- I agree with Asma in many of her points. I think the major point right now is to stabilize the country, make sure that we have security and stability, economy runs, reorganize the military, the armed forces and the police, so we'll have security and stability, rejoining the rest of the revolutionaries, the rebels into civil society. I think these are major things and one of the major elements that we have to do moving forward after the news of today, which is good news.
LAMENI'd rather have him dead than to be persecuted, to tell you the truth, because that will close the chapter. It is the national reconciliation. We need to move forward in a national reconciliation. I think NTC has to come up with a plan. They have to sell it to the people. They have to convince that this is the right thing for the Libyan people to move forward.
LAMENAnd I think they have to close ranks and the Libyan people together and learn from the mistakes and the experience of other countries like Iraq, Iran and some other countries who were plagued in a civil war and conflicts. These are experiences that we should learn from.
REHMFadel Lamen, he is president of the American-Libyan Council. And we have a report from ITN in Tripoli, a tweet from Lindsey Hilsum, a reporter for ITN, that Mahmoud Jibril, who is the currently recognized prime minister, has announced the death of Muammar Qaddafi, and Libyans are all shouting Allahu Akbar. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones. To Francis in Raleigh, N.C., good morning to you.
FRANCISYes, good morning. I was a civilian contractor in Libya and left in 1981 when Reagan called us out. I was at Marsa Brega, (word?) and down in Sultan, and I just wanted to say that, at that time, Qaddafi was extremely popular. He had built beautiful public housing and hospitals and staffed it with European and Filipino nurses and physicians. He brought Elf Aquitaine, Fina and Total back in to export the oil and gas reserves.
FRANCISAnd, you know, for a socialist Islamic republic, from the view from the mess hall and the lunch room, it was pretty good. But having listened to how he has deteriorated and especially seeing him when he came to the U.N., it just gave voice to the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely and...
KITFIELDWell, I'm having the exact same reaction as your listener. Hearing these two Libyans talk, you know, it just reminds you, you hate to rejoice in anyone's death, but good riddance to this guy. You know, here's a person who ruled absolutely ruthlessly. And everything was seen as a way to sort of feed his messianic vision of his own glory, and so good riddance. I think it's probably a hopeful chapter that he's gone, and Libya can look forward to something else.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Tampa, Fla. Good morning, Denise. You're on the air.
DENISEYes. Good morning, Ms. Rehm. I would like to comment -- the gentleman said about compensation for the Lockerbie bombings because Mr. Qaddafi agreed to a U-turn, refreshingly so. A few weeks ago, the BBC interviewed his daughter in Libya. They asked, will there be any compensation for victims of IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland? I assumed he must have admitted that he did support them. So I thought that was very interesting. She said no.
REHMNadia, any comment?
BILBASSYWell, I mean, the Lockerbie compensation was part of the deal of being rehabilitated with the west that he will come up with these billions of dollars to give to the victims. It wasn't a secret that Qaddafi actually teamed up with the IRA and supplied them, whether it just -- not just a moral support, but also probably with weapons as well.
BILBASSYI don't know if you can link the two and say that as -- because he's indirectly involved with that, you can compensate the IRA or not. But I'm sure so many other files will be reopened now after his death. And I just agree with everybody here that the next move is really general reconciliation for Libya to look into a new, bright day. And the most important thing, in my opinion, is how you can get these arms registered.
BILBASSYThere are so many weapons in the streets of every Libyan city, and these weapons being used even in jubilations and expressing happiness that sometimes you have people being killed. It's not just guns and -- but RPGs and heavy...
BILBASSY...exactly, just heavy weapons. So I think the important task now is how can you register all these weapons and how can you unify all these consortium of different people, especially the Islamists, who've been given great tribute of actually liberating Tripoli itself, of how they're going to bring them together to unify them in some kind of agreement that Libya has to go forward into a society that's going to be free and democratic and accountable to the people?
BILBASSYThis is a new experiment in the Middle East. It's going to take a while. It might take even years. We don't know how it's going to end. But whatever is done, it's going to be a better day for everybody in the Middle East with Qaddafi out.
MAGARIAFYou know, Nadia, one of -- I remember when -- in the beginning of the revolution, there was a lot of talk about the divisions in the country and how this was going to be a main obstacle in the face of the success for this revolution. It's not possible and so on.
MAGARIAFBut I think, if anything, the Libyan revolution really proved that in the face of tyranny and brutality of Qaddafi's regime and Qaddafi's legacy -- and we talked about his legacy, supporting terrorist organizations, wreaking havoc regionally and globally, as well as inside his country. And when we say -- when someone says that Qaddafi, at some point, was popular -- very early on, he was popular, but, very early on, I think many Libyans realized that he was up to no good.
MAGARIAFAnd that's the legacy that he will be remembered for. There isn't a Libyan household that hasn't been impacted one way or another by his policies, his brutal policies, whether they had a loved one killed or tortured or imprisoned or missing or sent to Chad or Uganda. I mean, this guy has really wreaked havoc in the country. And that's a legacy, the violent and brutal legacy for which he will be remembered. But I think, at the same time, the divisions that exist in Libya, they are real.
MAGARIAFBut the Libyans have proven, the freedom fighters who have come from different regions of the country -- from Misrata, from Benghazi, from Tripoli -- to fight in Sirte have proven that they could really overlook these divisions and move forward. And that's a lesson that can be learned.
REHMAnd do you believe that that can be done?
MAGARIAFI think that completely can be achieved as long as we also have the legal framework. That's very essential and necessary to protect everyone.
REHMBut how do you create that legal framework?
MAGARIAFBecause we are starting from scratch, absolutely.
MAGARIAFLibya is, I think, is going to be a prime example in the Arab Spring of how do you start from scratch because we don't have any civil society, entities or institutions. We've never had any free elections. We don't have any independent organizations or labor unions or anything. But I think it could be a sort of a learning experience for us. And the important thing is to emphasize that no one should be marginalized because everyone played a crucial role in this revolution.
REHMJames Kitfield, how difficult is it going to be?
KITFIELDIt's going to be very difficult. And to the comment it may even take years, I can assure you it's going to take many years. It's one of the things we've learned in Iraq and we're relearning in Afghanistan, that building these societies into functioning sort of pluralistic democracy is something -- is a generational challenge.
KITFIELDI will also say, on a hopeful note, we have had a lot of experience, both the United States and the international community, the United Nations, in Iraq, in Afghanistan. We're trying to step in here reconciliation efforts as we have in South Africa. So there is an institutional knowledge out there how this can be done and best lessons learned.
REHMAll right. Let's hope for the best. James Kitfield of National Journal, Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Center, Asma Magariaf, D.C.-Libyan-based American activist, and Fadel Lamen, president of the American-Libyan Council, thank you all so much.
MAGARIAFDiane, thank you.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Lisa Dunn and Nikki Jecks. The engineer is Erin Stamper. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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