The Unasked Question in Libya: Where Are the "Reformed" Members of LIFG?


Because I can only secure resources for travel to Tripoli when the country's foul dictator is footing the bill, it's impossible to pursue the one Libya War story that really deserves pursuing. So I offer this to all of those brave journalists in the field, both in Benghazi and Tripoli, who seem to be ignoring a rather important issue. And while it's important to cover this or that military strike, to note the lack of movement from the inexperienced anti-Qaddafi forces, to give on-the-ground battle updates (though there doesn't appear to be much of this yet), shouldn't we be hearing more about those emerging as leaders of the anti-Qaddafi forces?

For those of us skeptical of the intervention in Libya (but will nevertheless cheer if Qaddafi, veteran scumbag and funder of scumbags, disappears from the world stage), one of the many unanswered questions is: "Who is it that these strikes are supporting?" When I visited Libya, the purpose of the trip was to demonstrate the successful government campaign against the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an al-Qaeda farm team that worked with bin Laden in Sudan and Afghanistan and whose stated goal was the overthrow of the "secular" (by LIFG standards) Qaddafi regime. Through a series of prison initiatives ultimately called "corrective studies," the government released almost all of its "rehabilitated" LIFG prisoners who, it claimed, had renounced terrorism. And when the regime was teetering last month, as a sop to the more extreme elements in the protest movement, the government released its remaining LIFG prisoners.

When I met a handful of these guys last year, as security officials loomed, scribbling in notepads, they unconvincingly claimed that they had seen the light, denied that they had been tortured, and said, without emotion or inflection—that tone that one heard in Stalinist show trials, when poets and ex-party officials confessed to being "wreckers" and Trotskyite saboteurs—that they were adherents of the Green Book and terribly sorry for their past offenses. It was a thoroughly unconvincing performance (though some of the other Western visitors were very much convinced). Soon after my visit, CNN's Nic Robertson did a few reports, coordinated by the Qaddafi Foundation, that detailed the "new jihad code that threatens al-Qaeda"—the LIFG's "corrective studies" program.

Robertson's credulous report (and I don't mean "credulous" as a pejorative adjective; his belief in the efficacy of "corrective studies" could be vindicated by events) ends on a rather optimistic note: "Given its credibility and the fact that several other prominent Jihadists in the Middle East have turned against al Qaeda, the LIFG's about face may be an important step toward staunching al Qaeda's recruitment." The good old days, when everyone in the media loved Saif. 

So to Nic Robertson, who is on the ground in Libya, and the others milling about with rebels and anti-Qaddafi forces: Where are the released LIFG soldiers now? And if they are in Benghazi, without Libyan intelligence officials looming over them, are they still sticking to the "corrective studies" script?