Did a former State Department official tell Qaddafi how to manipulate the US?
That's the implication of documents found by Al Jazeera in Tripoli. The documents also suggest that US Rep. Dennis Kucinich tried to help provide legal assistance to the Libyan regime.
A producer for Al Jazeera found documents at the sacked Libyan intelligence headquarters in Tripoli that say former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch met with emissaries of Muammar Qaddafi in early August and advised the regime on the best route for its own survival.
Al Jazeera also found a summary of a conversation between an emissary of Mr. Qaddafi and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) of Ohio. The summary says Mr. Kucinich wanted evidence of Al Qaeda ties or evidence of atrocities carried out by the rebels to use in support of Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam at the International Criminal Court and in filing a lawsuit against NATO.
Kucinich told the Atlantic Wire that all the document mentioning him proves is that "that the Libyans were reading the Washington Post, and read there about my efforts to stop the war." But the Wire notes that the Post article cited in the Libyan summary "doesn't summarize Kucinich's more detailed questions about the intervention" that the summary references. Regardless, Kucinich's opposition to the NATO air campaign against Qaddafi is already in the public record.
But Mr. Welch, who in 2008 helped broker the deal in which Libya promised $1.5 billion in reparations to families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing in exchange for full normalization of ties, has been largely silent in public on Libya.
His principal partner in the Lockerbie negotiations was Saif al-Islam. He also met directly with Qaddafi prior to the deal's signing in August 2008. When the deal was signed, Welch said payment of compensation to the Lockerbie victims "will mark the completion of a process that began in 2001, that has already seen Libya take steps forward as a model among nations to renounce terror and weapons of mass destruction."
Welch is now the senior official in North Africa and the Middle East for the Bechtel Corporation, a job he took almost immediately after retiring from the State Department in December 2008. He's spent much of the past three years seeking to expand the construction company's extensive business interests in Libya. Such "revolving door" jobs, in which US government officials get private sector jobs that benefit from the contacts and relationships they developed while in service of the state, are common in Washington.
Before war broke out, Bechtel was building a 1,400 megawatt power plant for the government near Qaddafi's hometown of Sirte. In 2009, it opened its first representative office in Tripoli since the 1960s. Bechtel's press release on the new office referred to a Libyan "construction frenzy" and said that "business was booming" in Libya since international sanctions were lifted in 2003.
According to minutes, written in Arabic, that Al Jazeera found this week in the Tripoli compound, Welch met with senior Qaddafi officials Abubakr Alzleitny and Mohammed Ahmed Ismail on Aug. 2, 2011, in Cairo's Four Seasons hotel, not far from the US embassy where he once served as ambassador. He was there to advise them on how the Qaddafi regime could survive.
According to the minutes, Welch pointed out what he saw as disagreements within the Obama administration that Libya might be able to exploit, made suggestions about which Libyan diplomats would be best at swaying the Obama administration, and praised Qaddafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim for making points that "embarrass" the United States.
One Libyan sent to the US as an emissary was Mustafa al-Zaidi, a key Qaddafi aide who served in the Libyan embassy in Germany in the 1980s, when Qaddafi was blamed for a terrorist attack on a bar popular with US soldiers, and was allegedly present at the Abu Salim prison massacre in 1996, in which over 1,000 people were murdered. Welch told the Libyans that sending Mr. Zaidi was a mistake, and recommended a more acceptable diplomat for future contacts.
Welch also suggested that "confidence building measures" be made by the Libyans to improve their standing with the US government, and mentioned reports that shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missiles had gone missing form Qaddafi's arsenal. He recommended they disclose how many were missing and say "how Libya is concerned about the missiles falling into the hands of extremist or religious organizations," according to the document. He also recommended that "any information related to Al Qaeda or other terrorist fanatic organizations should be found and given to the American side via the intelligence agencies of either Israel, Egypt, Morroco, or Jordan."
If true, this amounts to giving advice to a de facto adversary on how best to sway US government opinion.
The Qaddafi regime has repeatedly sought to paint Libya's rebels as the result of an alliance between Al Qaeda and NATO. Before the start of the uprising in February, Libya was an intelligence partner of the US on Islamist militants. The US transferred alleged militants in its custody to Libya and was sometimes given access to detainees in Libyan custody.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday that "this was a private trip" and that Welch was acting as a private citizen. Welch did not respond to a request for comment from Al Jazeera.
The meeting occurred weeks before Tripoli fell, while the Obama administration and Libya's own rebels were insisting that the only possible end to the conflict would include Qaddafi, wanted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court, stepping down.