Inside Story
Can ex-spy chief get a fair trial in Libya?
Abdullah al-Senussi is wanted in Libya and by the international community, we ask who should have the right to try him.
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2012 09:50

Libya finally has Abdullah al-Senussi, the former chief of intelligence under Muammar Gaddafi, in its custody.

He was handed over by Mauritania, one of the countries where he had been hiding, following Gaddafi's downfall last year.

"I was in jail [in Abu Salim in 1996] at that time. I saw part of the massacre and I also saw Senussi himself giving orders. On top of that he himself has executed torture on my body in 1984 as electric shocks…so he has a long history in this field with Libyan people before anyone else."

- Mohamed Yonos Toumi, a Libyan legislator

Senussi, 62, was arrested on his arrival in Mauritania in March, after being on the run for months.

He is accused of mass killings and torture during Gaddafi's rule, and is also wanted by France and the international Criminal Court, who want to take him to the Hague.

But just as it did with Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam, the Libyan government has made it clear that Senussi will face trial in Libya, saying it will be fair and will meet international standards.

Libyans were hoping that July's elections would mark a step forward in a country that has been crippled by uncertainty and insecurity. But the new government will have to confront a series of major issues.

The transitional government has failed to break the stranglehold of militias that helped to remove Gaddafi. Many now use their firepower for political advantage. A new government will have to find a way to disband and integrate them into a regular, unified army.

Since Gaddafi's overthrow, tribal, regional and ethnic divisions have paralysed Libya. A new government will have to manage renewed claims for autonomy in the country's eastern province as well as in the south.

"The ICC is claiming the right to try Senussi for crimes against humanity which relate only to the incidents in Benghazi in early 2011… The problem is whether Libya can charge and try him for crimes against humanity which are not part of the Libyan criminal law."

- Philip Alston, a professor of international law

A lack of security is also leading to armed clashes. Libya's new rulers will have to work swiftly to establish the rule of law and build a justice system that will serve as the only recourse for settling disputes in all of Libya.

As the world's fifth-largest producer of oil, many Libyans hope their country would become a magnet for investment. But the collapse of authority has left Libya's economy in tatters.

Inside Story asks: Should Senussi be tried in Libya or at the International Criminal Court in the Hague? Can Libya give him a fair trial? Will this case deepen Libya's standoff with the international community? What impact will it have on Libya's first step toward democracy?

Joining the discussion with presenter James Bays are guests: Mohamed Yonos Toumi, a member of the General National Conference of Libya, the country's legislative body; Philip Alston, a professor of international law at New York University, and a former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions between 2004 and 2010; and Hanan Salah, a researcher on Libya and Mauritania at Human Rights Watch.

"Libya should not be deprived of giving [Senussi] a trial, should not be deprived of justice for all the crimes allegedly committed before this revolution… Libya has to now show what they're planning to do [with him]…to ensure that every prisoner gets his due process rights."

Hanan Salah, a researcher with Human Rights Watch


  • In August 2011, he fled Tripoli when it fell to the rebels, going first to Sirte and then headed southwards – home to his Magarha tribe – before going to ground in Ghat.
  • On October 20, just one day after the killing of Gaddafi, Senussi crossed into Niger with a Tuareg escort. His entry into Niger was confirmed by the country's foreign minister.
  • In November, he was reportedly in Mali, then Mauritania and finally Morocco.
  • On March 16, Senussi was arrested in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, as he tried to enter the country from Morocco on a false passport.


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