The Cable

Romney to new Libya government: Hand over the Lockerbie bomber

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Monday that the first order of business for the new Libya government, after it secures control over the country, should be to hand over the man responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.

"The world is about to be rid of Muammar al-Qaddafi, the brutal tyrant who terrorized the Libyan people. It is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. As a first step, I call on this new government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, so justice can finally be done," Romney said in a statement Monday.

Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the former head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in Scotland in 2001. Qaddafi agreed to pay the Lockerbie victims about $2.7 billion in 2002 as part of a deal that saw Libya's gradual reintegration into the world community, and led to Qaddafi's regime being taken off the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Megrahi was released under compassionate grounds in 2009, under the belief he was dying of cancer, with only months left to live. He is reportedly still alive. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on Megrahi in September 2010 to investigate how the decision to release Megrahi was made, but no British officials agreed to testify.

Last month, Megrahi was spotted on video at a pro-Qaddafi rally in Tripoli.

It's not only Romney who has lamented the decision to release Megrahi, and called on the new Libyan government to transfer him back to international custody.

"The families of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 have suffered so much already, and the images of Megrahi at a pro-Qaddafi rally in Libya only add salt to their wounds," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) on July 27. "Parading one terrorist out to support another is an affront to justice and further affirmation that Megrahi was released from prison on false pretenses. We will continue to fight for justice on behalf of the Pan Am 103 families."

In June, Lautenberg and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder to put the Megrahi issue at the top of the U.S. agenda when dealing with a new Libya government.

"While we recognize there are many critical foreign policy decisions to be made with regard to Libya at this extraordinary time, we ask that justice for the Lockerbie victims and their families remain a top priority and not be overlooked," they wrote.

Romney has been a critic of the Obama administration's approach to Libya, saying that the United States should lead on such international issues rather than playing second fiddle to European countries.

"America has been feared sometimes, has been respected, but today, that America is seen as being weak. We're following the French into Libya," he said in March. "I appreciate the fact that others are participating in this effort, but I think we look to America to be the leader of the world."

Romney supported the military intervention in Libya but criticized Obama for relying too much on multilateral organizations for legitimacy.

"[Obama] calls for the removal of Moammar Gadhafi but then conditions our action on the directions we get from the Arab League and United Nations," Romney said in March. "He's tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced."

In July, when the war appeared to be at a stalemate, Romney further criticized Obama for not explaining the endgame in Libya and for exceeding the mandate provided by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.

"We approved the humanitarian mission as a people," he said. "We did not approve an expanded and muddled mission, which is what we see."

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Perry's campaign issued this statement on today's Libya news:

The crumbling of Muammar Ghadafi's reign, a violent, repressive dictatorship with a history of terrorism, is cause for cautious celebration. The lasting impact of events in Libya will depend on ensuring rebel factions form a unified, civil government that guarantees personal freedoms, and builds a new relationship with the West where we are allies instead of adversaries.

Former Gov. John Huntsman's campaign sent out the following:

The impending fall of Colonel Gaddafi is one chapter in the developing story of a nation in turmoil. Gaddafi has been a longtime opponent of freedom, and I am hopeful -- as the whole world should be -- that his defeat is a step toward openness, democracy and human rights for a people who greatly deserve it.

UPDATE #2: Menendez called for Megrahi to be expedited to the U.S. in a Monday afternoon statement sent to The Cable.

The Qaddafi reign of terror is ending and the TNC, as the legitmate government of Libya, must move quickly to embrace democratic reform.  To that end the, TNC should extradite al-Megrahi to the United States to answer for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103.  There would be no better signal to the world that a new Libya believes in justice and has every intention to adhere to international law.

The Cable

Libyan rebel ambassador: Can we have Qaddafi's money now?

Now that the Libyan rebel movement, led by the Transitional National Council (TNC), appears to be taking over Tripoli, their need for access to the frozen billions of dollars of Qaddafi assets is even more urgent, the TNC's top representative in Washington told The Cable today.

Ali Aujali, the former ambassador for Qaddafi who defected in March and now serves as the charge d'affaires at the rebel-controlled embassy in Washington, said that the TNC's long struggle for control over the funds that were frozen by U.N. Security Council resolutions and U.S. executive orders must be overcome for the rebels to assert control in Tripoli.

"The immediate next step is to get Qaddafi, that's number one. Number two, we need money. The third thing is that TNC will move to Tripoli as soon as it's a secure place," Aujali said. "We need this money, because we need to supply food, we need medical treatment for our injured, we need to pay salaries, we need to run facilities."

For more than three weeks, the U.N. sanctions committee has been considering whether to unfreeze some of the estimated tens of billions of dollars in frozen Libya assets. But Aujali said it is the position of the TNC that it does not need the approval of the sanctions committee to access the funds.

"I don't think we need sanctions committee authorization because the TNC will inherit the regime," he said. The U.N. has not officially recognized the TNC as the government of Libya.

But don't expect the TNC to keep the institutions of the Qaddafi regime intact. Aujali said that the institutions of the Libya state were so corrupted and so controlled by the Qaddafi family that they are of little use in the new Libya.

"All the institutions are to serve Qaddafi and his Green Book. We need to build everything from zero: democratic institutions, civil society, government organizations. Everything was controlled by Qaddafi and his sons," he said.

While the exact schedule has not been set, Aujali's understanding is that, after the TNC moves to Tripoli, it will set up a conference to draft a new constitution, which will then be approved or rejected by the Libyan people in a referendum. He said the TNC would then start to organize elections, a process he predicted could take about eight months.

Aujali said the TNC was committed to preventing retribution on the ground in Tripoli and upholding the ideals of inclusiveness and respect for the rule of law. He implored the U.S. government to increase its coordination and support for the rebels.

"I want the administration to unfreeze the frozen money, to commit to support the Libyan people, to interact with the TNC as much as they can, and to keep the NATO mission action until the threat of Qaddafi is no more," he said.

Aujali said that he hasn't been in regular contact with the State Department over the weekend, because he's been focusing on following the events on the ground in Tripoli. But CNN reported that Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who is in Cairo and was recently in Benghazi, was contacted by Qaddafi regime officials as recently as Saturday.

"I think they were looking for a way to find a lifeline, buy time, to prevent what was then becoming inevitable, which was the uprising in Tripoli," he said.

In an interview with ABC News Monday morning, Feltman said that it was clear the rebels were winning that that he didn't think a violent unraveling of the security situation was likely in Libya, as happened in Baghdad when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein fell.

"A lot of that sectarian mix that existed in Saddam Hussein's Iraq doesn't exist here in Libya," Feltman said. He also said that "the overwhelming vision that we are hearing" from people across Libya is that "they want a Libya that is moderate, that is secular."

Anthony Cordesman, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said on Monday that the Obama administration needs to develop an aggressive yet nuanced plan to increase U.S. involvement and aid in Libya to support the TNC, while at the same time not giving the impression that Western ideas were being imposed there.

"Bad as our current economic problems are, it would be incredibly foolish not to offer aid to Libya (and Egypt, Tunisia, and any other states caught up in this wave of change.)," he said. "Failing to provide that aid will not simply be penny wise and pound foolish; the price of such a U.S failure will eventually be paid in U.S. and allied blood."