Saif Qaddafi, Stuck in International Legal Limbo, Heads to Court in Libya

Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of the former Libyan dictator, appeared in a court today. One of the last remaining symbols of his father's regime, Qaddafi is caught in a weird legal nexus between the country's new government and the international criminal court.

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Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the London-educated son of the former dictator, appeared in a Libyan court today where he is caught in a weird legal nexus between the country's new government and the international criminal court.

Qaddafi is being charged with harming state security, according to the Associated Press. Before the 2011 rebellion that overthrew his father's regime, Saif was generally seen as the person most likely to inherit leadership from his father. Qaddafi defended his father through the war, until his arrest in southern Libya that November, only a few weeks after the war's formal end. He and a small group of aides were attempting to flee to Niger, hiring a guide who apparently turned them in. The news was treated with skepticism at first. After the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest that June, there were repeated rumors that he'd been captured. His captors quickly released this video:

Qaddafi was flown to Zintan, a small city in the northwest corner of Libya. He's been held there since, awaiting a trial that finally began in January. At today's hearing — for which, according to the AP, Qaddafi wore a "sky blue safari suit and a pair of sandals" — Qaddafi was assigned two new attorneys, and postponed until September so they can review the evidence.

However, this isn't the trial the ICC wants to see. At the time of his arrest, the Court claimed jurisdiction, hoping to try Qaddafi on charges of murder and persecution. The BBC reported at the time:

ICC spokesman Fadi el-Abdallah told the BBC that Libya had a legal obligation to hand Saif al-Islam over to the court, and that the final decision on a trial venue was up to ICC judges after consultations with Tripoli.

That hand-off didn't happen. Instead, Libyan authorities began their own process, charging Qaddafi with harming state security, attempting to escape prison, and insulting the new Libyan flag. The state security charge, according to Reuters, is apparently based on claims that Qaddafi "gave information to an ICC lawyer last year that could endanger national security." The lawyer — who was herself detained for several weeks — has argued that the charge demonstrates Qaddafi won't receive a fair trial in Libya.

Another reason the ICC is eager to have jurisdiction is because of the possible penalties. As Reuters notes, Qaddafi faces the death penalty in Libya — a punishment that is barred by the ICC. And, naturally, to Qaddafi.

"There will certainly be no justice in the case if the prosecution is based on evidence from torture," he said [in a filing presented to the ICC]. "I am not afraid to die but if you execute me after such a trial you should just call it murder," he added.

Like many high-profile criminal suspects, Qaddafi has his advocates. There are Facebook groups advocating his cause and a surprisingly generous entry on Wikipedia. None of which will make any difference in how Qaddafi's case unfolds. If the ICC can't have the outcome it wants, it's unlikely Facebook fans will either.

Photo: Qaddafi during the rebellion. (AP)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.