On behalf of UK Prime Minister David Cameron, senior Tories have accused Labour Party leader Ed Miliband of being ‘shameful’ and ‘provocative’ because he (Miliband) stated that the current Mediterranean refugee crisis was largely caused by the UK and its NATO partners by leaving Libya high and dry after the 2011 bombing of the Gaddafi forces. But both the Tories and Labour share blame in UK interference in Libya. A timeline of what happened, which includes details of UK intelligence operations that helped neuter some of Gadaffi’s unofficial opposition leaders at a crucial point in time, is given below. The war against Gaddafi and the subsequent civil war have seen thousands of refugees trying to escape the conflict and Libya become a staging post for refugees fleeing other conflicts to seek a better life in Europe. Morally, it can be argued that NATO (including the UK) now has a duty to either directly assist these refugees or at least help end the war in Libya.
(Meanwhile, here is a list of all the pledges by EU countries re military equipment and support facilities to stop the refugees leaving north Africa. The UK contribution is 30 experts, one helicopter carrier and 2 border patrol ships.)
A. Under Blair (UK Labour) Government
1999 Gaddafi hands over two Lockerbie bombing suspects for a Scottish trial and specially convened court in the Netherlands. Abdelbasset al-Megrahi is convicted at the trial the following year. A letter (see first item) from MI6 to Libyan Intelligence reiterates agreement on co-operation and rendition of unofficial opposition leaders.
2003 The overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq forces strategic rethink for Gaddafi, who begins a policy of rapprochement with the West. Britain supports a resolution to lift sanctions against Libya. Gaddafi is one of the first to issue an arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden. Gaddafi accepts Libyan responsibility for Lockerbie.
2004 Tony Blair meets Gaddafi in the Libyan leader’s desert tent. George Bush also restores diplomatic relations with Tripoli.
A letter from Sir Mark Allen, the former head of counterterrorism at MI6, to Moussa Koussa (Libyan intelligence) congratulated him on the “safe arrival of Abu ‘Abd Allah Sadiq” (aka Abdel Hakim Belhadji) and takes credit for Britain’s role in the rendition, which “was the least we could do for you and Libya.” He added “Most importantly, I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abd Allah Sadiq. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years. I am so glad. I was grateful to you for helping the officer we sent out last week…Amusingly, we got a request from the Americans to channel requests for information from Abu ‘Abd Allah through the Americans. I have no intention of doing any such thing. The intelligence on Abu ‘Abd Allah was British. I know I did not pay for the air cargo. But I feel I have the right to deal with you direct on this and am very grateful for the help you are giving us.”
Note: Mr. Belhaj was a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (‘LIFG’) and later became Head of the Tripoli Military Council during the Libyan revolution of 2011.
In early 2004 he and Fatima Boudchar tried to travel from China to the UK, where they planned to seek asylum. However, when attempting to leave China they were deported to Malaysia, where they were detained and then forced on to a flight to Bangkok. In Bangkok, the couple were handed over to US authorities and taken to a US secret prison, where they were subjected to barbaric treatment. They were then rendered from Diego Garcia to Libya. Top secret documents found in Libya in November 2011 showed that Diego Garcia was listed on a CIA rendition flight plan for Belhadj and his wife Fatima Boudchar by the US to Libya, where Mr Belhaj was detained for six years in two of the country’s most brutal jails. Belhaj was savagely beaten, hung from walls, cut-off from human contact and daylight and sentenced to death. During his detention he was interrogated by UK agents, among others. He was eventually released in March 2010 under an amnesty.
2005 A Memorandum of Understanding between HMG and the Government of Libya was agreed and signed by Anthony Layden, HM Ambassador, British Embassy, Tripoli, and Abdulati Ibrahim al-Obidi, Acting Secretary for European Affairs, Secretariat for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation, For the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
2008 Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, meets Gaddafi and apparently enraptures the Libyan leader (an album of photographs of her will be later found in his Tripoli compound after the regime’s fall in 2011). Gaddafi agrees to pay $2.7bn compensation to relatives of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing.
2009 Megrahi, the only person convicted over the Lockerbie bombing, is repatriated by the Scottish authorities, apparently suffering from final stages of cancer
2010 Libya agrees to pay $3.5bn compensation to victims of the IRA.
B. Under Cameron (Conservative) Government
February 2011 Libyans in Benghazi begin to rise up against Gaddafi’s regime. This is known as the First Libyan Civil War. Gaddafi threatens opponents with death and advances on a rebel stronghold, triggering intervention from NATO (led by US, UK and France).
June 2011 The international criminal court at The Hague indicts Gaddafi, his son Saif Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and his brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi for crimes against humanity.
August 2011 US-led NATO forces to support anti-Gaddafi rebels by bombing pro-Gadaffi forces. UK and France deploy warships. Britain funds the war to $15000 million (more than any other country). Cameron and Sarkozy pose with rebel leaders, victorious.
October 2011 Eventually Tripoli falls to the rebels. Once Gaddafi is killed, Britain and its coalition partners leave the rebel forces to their fate, with no further logistical or other post-conflict support. The new interim government is faced with several rebellions.
2014 onwards The civil war in Libya escalates and – now known as the ‘Second Libyan Civil war’ – continues to this day.
2015: Refugees flee across the Mediterranean. Thousands die en-route. European countries prefer to adopt a policy of containment: stop the refugees from getting to Europe, destroy their boats, etc.