Giving Qaddafi the Benefit of the Doubt

Maybe Sarah Leah Whitson should work for Vogue. Whitson who runs the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch (and who raised funds for the group in Saudi Arabia -- perhaps the least free country on the planet -- by bragging about her group's work excoriating Israel), had something of a soft spot for the lunatic Libyan and his dangerous son, it seems. Less than two years ago, she wrote this intermittently starry-eyed portrayal of life in Libya (h/t NGO Monitor) :

The brittle atmosphere of repression has started to fracture, giving way to expanded space for discussion and debate, proposals for legislative reform, and even financial compensation for families of the hundreds of men killed in a prison riot a decade ago. And while the reform initiatives, if we dare call them that, are fragile and tenuous (skirmishes are common between the would-be reformers and a security establishment quite comfortable using its untrammeled authority), political dynamism and vibrancy are appearing in a country that was closed in every way for decades.

She seems to heart Saif al-Islam, in fact:

But the real impetus for the transformation rests squarely with a quasi-governmental organization, the Qaddafi Foundation for International Charities and Development. With Saif al-Islam, one of Qaddafi's sons, as its chairman, and university professor Yousef Sawani as its director, the organization has been outspoken on the need to improve the country's human rights record. It has had a number of showdowns with the Internal Security Ministry, with whom relations remain frosty. Saif al-Islam is also responsible for the establishment of the country's two semi private newspapers, Oea and Quryna.

Some say that Saif al-Islam's efforts are nothing more than a bid to enhance his popularity before moving to inherit rule from his father. No surprise then, that he is pushing a softer image of Libya on the international stage. Even if that's the case, it is impossible to underestimate the importance of the efforts made so far. Let's hope this spring will last.

No, I think it would have been possible to underestimate the Qaddafi's family's efforts.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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