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The Case of Sami Al-Saadi

Snowden, Hong Kong Extradition, and a Good Old Fashioned Ratfucking

by PETER LEE

Further my speculation that Edward Snowden, as a CIA guy, may have chosen Hong Kong because the PRC would be less eager than most jurisdictions to assist the CIA in whatever derring-do it might try to practice on Snowden in Hong Kong, Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch seemed to call that idea into question by invoking the case of Sami al-Saadi, a leader of the anti-Gaddafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group:

“There’s little doubt [reason] to believe that the Hong Kong authorities would not co-operate with the CIA in this case,” said Peter Bouckaert, who after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi found faxes in Tripoli indicating that the Hong Kong authorities had co-operated with the CIA in rendering an anti-Gaddafi Islamist to Libya.

The details are quite interesting, especially since the UK recently agreed to duck Saadi’s lawsuit and give him an EP 2.3 million out of court settlement, presumably so that additional interesting and embarrassing details would not be raised in court (in recent UK news coverage, Saadi, who is a big wheel in the new Libya, received the courtesy of being referred to as a “dissent” rather than the perhaps more accurate “militant” or, for that matter, “terrorist”, which is what the Qaddafi government called him).

As the Guardian reported in 2011, the UK administered a good old-fashioned ratfucking to Saadi—who had lived in the UK under asylum for three years—when it came time to offer him up as a sacrifice to rapprochement with Muammar Qaddafi in 2004.

Saadi says he was tricked by the British authorities into travelling to Hong Kong. While in exile in China in March 2004 he approached British intelligence officers via an intermediary in the UK, he says, and was told that he would be permitted to return to London, where he had lived for three years after seeking asylum in 1993. First, however, he would have to be interviewed at the British consulate in Hong Kong, and would be met by British diplomats on his arrival.

Saadi flew to Hong Kong with his wife, two sons aged 12 and nine, and two daughters aged 14 and six. They were not met by any British officials but were detained by Chinese border guards over alleged passport irregularities, held for a week and then despatched to Tripoli.

Saadi says he always assumed the British were behind his rendition, “working behind the curtain”. Confirmation came when Human Rights Watch, the New York-based NGO, discovered a cache of papers in Moussa Koussa’s abandoned office.

Seven years later, the UK helped administer a similar ratfucking to Qaddafi, leading the “humanitarian intervention” pack baying for his blood.  It is interesting to remember that Qaddafi had dismantled his WMD programs and paid out billions of dollars to the West to normalize relations; indeed, Qaddafi’s actions were touted as “the Libyan Model” for voluntary denuclearization.

I hope Kim Jung-un was taking notes (don’t worry; he was).

In the context of the Edward Snowden case, the most interesting question is: why was Saadi renditioned?

This was not a case of the US secretly snatching some friendless nobody from a cooperative jurisdiction for some extralegal prison and pummeling beyond the reach of habeas corpus.

The Saadi case was packaged as an Interpol “Red Notice” request from the relevant Libyan authorities to detain Saadi, who was allegedly travelling under a forged passport under an alias, for return to Libya for legal proceedings.

The Hong Kong authorities duly detained Saadi—which is what they are supposed to do, as members of Interpol (Interpol Red Notices are only challenged by Interpol HQ if they are deemed blatantly political; certainly that wasn’t going to happen in this case, since Interpol is very much a US show), and the logical next step would have been a legal proceeding either to deport him, or arrange his extradition to the jurisdiction in which his crime was allegedly committed.

So why rendition?  Was it because the Libyan government did not have an extradition treaty with Hong Kong? (haven’t been able to confirm this, by the way).

Or was it because time was of the essence?

Saadi was delivered back to Libya (where he was not put on trial and was treated very badly in detention for over five years) at the time of Tony Blair’s trip to Libya a.k.a. the notorious “Deal in the Desert” that welcomed Libya back into the family of civilized nations.

Maybe Qaddafi had demanded the return of Saadi as a precondition for Blair’s trip.

A pretty safe assumption, as the Guardian reported in 2011:

The operation coincided exactly with Tony Blair’s first visit to Libya. Two days after the fax [from the CIA re mechanics of the rendition] was sent, Blair arrived to shake hands with Gaddafi, and said the two nations wanted to make “common cause” in counter-terrorism operations. It was also announced that Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell had signed a £550m gas exploration deal. Three days later Saadi and his family were put aboard a private Egyptian-registered jet and flown to Tripoli.

Associates of Saadi cannot understand why his capture and interrogation would hold any great intelligence value for the British authorities, and are speculating that he may have been a “gift” from the British to the Gaddafi regime.

Incidentally another anti-Qaddafi Libyan—and another heavyweight in the post-Qaddafi regime, Abdul Hakim Belhaj—was renditioned to Libya at the same time.

Maybe the Brits, instead of waiting for the wheels of Hong Kong justice to grind (and maybe worried that a spirited legal defense of Saadi in open court–a guy who had actually received asylum and resided in England for three years as a respected guest—might fatally delay or even prevent his extradition), arranged for Saadi to be released from HK custody and bundled on a plane with his wife and children.

Since the Libyan security organs liaised with Hong Kong’s principle secretary for security (per the introduction of the CIA) on the matter of Saadi’s rendition, I assume the Chinese government knew about this, and acquiesced as a brother in arms in the War on Terror (and as an eager beneficiary of the lucrative business deals Qaddafi was showering on his foreign friends).

As for Edward Snowden …

I think “judicial rendition”, as the British courts politely characterized Saadi’s treatment, might work in the case of the unreported detention of an anonymous Libyan detainee for the sake of a big geopolitical win; but I don’t think that the PRC would choose to taint Hong Kong’s legal reputation before the entire world in order to short circuit deportation or extradition due process in order to satisfy an Obama administration request for the early return of Edward Snowden unless the payoff was enormous.

As to whether the PRC’s Ministry of Public Security would offer the CIA counterintelligence operations in Hong Kong the courtesy of the trade with respect to Snowden—assistance in locating him, tracking his movements, intercepting his communications, identifying his contacts, hassling them ad infinitum, covertly entering his residence to search it, install a bug or a dead girl or a live boy, drop a eight ton safe on his head a la Wiley Coyote etc.—getting Chinese cooperation is going to be more difficult and costly than just picking up the phone and yanking MI5’s chain,especially since the US has spent the last year on an anti-Chinese espionage jihad.

But with ratfucking, you never know.

The nitty-gritty of Saadi’s case is quite interesting, especially the part where he is able to get a Chinese visa and hang out there for a few weeks.  Have to think the Malaysians told the Chinese when they pitched him over the transom.  But, if Saadi’s account is accurate, the PRC did not shop him to England; the wheels came off when his family in the UK told him to go Hong Kong.

First, Saadi’s recollections, as recorded in the HRW report:

They went to Malaysia, where he hoped to get asylum. He visited a UN office and was given an appointment for a month later. Before then, he was arrested by the Malaysian authorities, who detained him and his family for about 10 days. Saadi asked to be released to go to his UN appointment. The Malaysian authorities said they would, but if he went back to the UN, he would find US officials waiting for him. So he asked to be sent to China, where he had already obtained a visa. “The Chinese visa was so easy for us,” he said. “The Chinese were receiving people from everywhere at the time.” The Malaysians then sent him to China.

From China he attempted to get back to the United Kingdom. Saadi’s friends and family in the UK told him that if he went to the UK embassy in Hong Kong, someone there would be able to help him.[331] When he arrived in Hong Kong, a man he assumed was a UK diplomat was waiting for him when he got off the plane. Instead, he was arrested for purported passport or immigration violations and detained, most of the time with his family. The room was monitored with cameras. During this period he said he overheard two police women arguing: “They were talking in their own language and I didn’t understand everything, but I did hear ‘CIA’ about four or five times, so I expected that something not good was about to happen.” After 13 days of detention, the Hong Kong authorities told him he would be sent back to China.

On or about March 28, 2004, Saadi said he was handcuffed, his legs zip-tied, and he was taken along with his wife and four children onto an empty plane with an Egyptian crew [and renditioned to Libya].

Second, the tale of the documents discovered in an abandoned government building after the fall of Qaddafi:

Saadi’s return appears to have been initiated by the MI6, but once the CIA discovered it was underway, they stepped in to do everything they could to assist. A March 23, 2004 fax from the CIA to Libyan intelligence, found in the folder marked “USA,” states that the CIA has “become aware” that Saadi and his family were being held in detention in Hong Kong and that the Libyans have been working with the British to “effect [his] removal to Tripoli” on a Libyan plane that was in the Maldives.[334]

In the fax, the CIA said that it was aware that the Hong Kong special wing had denied permission for the Libyan airplane to land. It went on to explain, “However, we believe that the reason for the refusal was based on international concerns over having a Libyan-registered aircraft land in Hong Kong. Accordingly, if your government were to charter a foreign aircraft from a third country, the Hong Kong government may be able to coordinate with you to render Abu Munthir [Saadi] and his family into your custody.”[335] The CIA even offered to pay for the non-Libyan-registered charter aircraft. “If payment of a charter aircraft is an issue, our service would be willing to assist financially to help underwrite those costs.”[336]

The CIA requested perfunctory diplomatic assurances that Saadi and his family would not be harmed if they provided assistance: “Please be advised if we pursue that option [providing assistance], we must have assurances from your government that Abu Munthir [Saadi] and his family will be treated humanely and that his human rights will be respected.” [337]

In the same fax, the CIA also provided suggestions as to how the Libyans might expedite the process and convince the Hong Kong authorities to cooperate.[338] “[W]e believe that you will need to provide significant detail on Abu Munthir (e.g. his terrorist/criminal acts, why he is wanted, perhaps proof of citizenship)…. Specifically, the Hong Kong government must have a stipulation … that he will not be subject to the death penalty.”[339]

The next day, on March 24, 2004, the Libyan authorities sent a 32-page fax to Hong Kong authorities containing, among other things, a birth certificate, information on why Saadi was wanted, and details on the “crimes and the terrorist activities that [Saadi] committed.” They also promised that the “maximum penalty” for what he had done was “life imprisonment.”[340] (Though later, after being in Libyan custody for five years without charge, Saadi was sentenced to death).  The United States also provided the name and telephone numbers for Hong Kong’s principal secretary for security.[341]

After the Hong Kong authorities received this information, it appears they agreed to allow the non-Libyan registered charter aircraft to land. Also in the Tripoli Documents, in the folder marked “USA,” a fax sent just two days before Saadi arrived in Libya contains a cover page marked “Hong Kong Landing Requirements” and two pages stamped “confidential.” It states that in order for the “Non-Scheduled Flight to land in Hong Kong,” the Libyan government has to comply with “certain regulations” so that a “Permission to Land” can be issued.[342] It also confirms, “[i]t is agreed that the subject person will be moved together with his whole family (a total of six persons) on board of the same flight” and recommends a “local Aircraft Handling Agent” for the transaction who needs to be paid in “cash (in US dollars).”[343] Saadi was transferred around March 28, 2004, just a few days after Tony Blair’s historic first visit to Libya on March 25. [344]

Peter Lee edits China Matters. His ground-breaking story on North Korea’s nuclear program, Big Bang Theory in North Korea, appears in the March issue of CounterPunch magazine. He can be reached at: chinamatters (at) prlee. org.