Aisha Gaddafi, the daughter of the late Libyan dictator, is asking the International Criminal Court to investigate the killing of her father and her brother Mutassim by Libyan opposition forces in October, suggesting that the rebels, together with NATO forces, may be guilty of war crimes.
The petition raises legal questions about the nine-month insurgency that toppled Muammar Gaddafi and, indirectly at least, about the role American troops played as part of NATO.
But it has garnered attention for another reason as well: Aisha’s lawyer is from Israel, a country Muammar Gaddafi refused to recognize and often described as illegitimate.
Aisha Gaddafi fled Libya in August as opposition forces closed in on Tripoli. Two months later, rebels discovered her father and brother in the city of Sirte, where the rebels then appeared to torture and kill them following American and French airstrikes on Gaddafi’s convoy.
According to the petition, the widely broadcast images of Gaddafi, badly wounded and dragged through the streets of the city, caused Aisha “severe emotional distress.”
“They were subsequently murdered in the most horrific fashion with their bodies thereafter displayed and grotesquely abused in complete defiance of Islamic law,” says the petition, signed by attorney Nick Kaufman. The Daily Beast obtained a copy of the letter, which is addressed to chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, along with the ICC’s response.
The petition says the court is obliged to take action.
“The situation in Libya requires you to investigate the commission of alleged crimes by all parties to the conflict. To date, neither Ms. Gaddafi nor any member of her family has been informed, by your office, of the initiation of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the brutal murders of her father Muammar Gaddafi and brother Mo’atassim Gaddafi,” it says.
Aisha is Gaddafi’s only daughter and herself a lawyer who at one point served on the defense team of Saddam Hussein. In better times, the Arabic press described her as the Claudia Schiffer of North Africa for her blonde hair and glamorous clothes. She now lives in Algeria.
Kaufman, who has a practice in Jerusalem, told The Daily Beast that Aisha contacted him several weeks after her father’s killing. He was not particularly surprised to hear from her. Kaufman is a former ICC prosecutor who now represents defendants at the world court. Earlier this month, he got the court to dismiss charges against another of his clients, a Rwandan rebel accused of involvement in the murder, rape, and torture of Congolese villagers by Hutu militiamen.
“It’s got nothing to do with the fact that I’m Israeli,” Kaufman said in a phone interview. “When it comes to practicing at the ICC, I’m one of the few lawyers with substantial experience.”
He said Aisha had also asked him for help in establishing contact with another of her brothers, Saif al-Islam, who was caught by a rebel militia last month and is being held outside Tripoli. Kaufman said he tried to contact authorities in Tripoli but the deputy prosecutor refused to take his call.
The ICC is a permanent tribunal in The Hague that investigates war crimes and other grave offenses. But it launches investigations only if the countries involved are unwilling or unable to prosecute their own nationals.
In response to Aisha Gaddafi’s petition, the ICC said it would wait until May to see how Libya’s new governing body handles the case.
“Libyan authorities promised to investigate the circumstances of Muammar Gaddafi’s death. The new government has also informed the Prosecutor that they are preparing a general strategy to deal with all crimes committed in Libya,” wrote the director of the court’s Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, Phakiso Mochochoko, in a letter addressed to Kaufman.
Kaufman said in response that the lag time would reduce the chances of obtaining accurate “ballistic and forensic analysis of the crime scene” and would hamper the investigation.
Asked whether Muammar Gaddafi deserved an ICC investigation given his abysmal human-rights record, Kaufman said:
“There’s a principle in international law that no matter how badly one acts to one party, it doesn’t justify outrageous behavior in return. What justice Gaddafi dispensed in the past is irrelevant.”