THE SECRET WAR AGAINST LIBYA
Masses of information from the media constantly bombard us. Yet paradoxically often what is most significant goes unreported. Take for instance Tony Blair’s recent visit to Africa. Suddenly countries such as Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Ghana come under the spotlight. But one country which forever remains off the UK/US media map is Chad, lying just to the south of Libya and "over three times the size of California", according to the CIA’s official website.
Formerly part of French Equatorial Africa, it gained independence in 1960 and since then has been gripped by civil war. In a rare case of coverage, on May 21 1992, the Guardian carried four short paragraphs: 40,000 people were estimated to have died in detention or been executed during the tyranny of Chadian president Hissene Habre (1982-1990). A report of the justice ministry committee concluded that Habre had committed genocide against the Chadian people.
Unreported in Britain, two years ago, in a case inspired by the one against General Pinochet of Chile, several human rights organisations, led by Human Rights Watch, filed a suit against Habre in Senegal (his refuge since 1990) arguing that he could be tried anywhere for crimes against humanity and that former heads of state were not immune.
However, on 20 March 2001, the Senegal Court of Cassation threw out the case. Human rights groups are now aiming to secure an arrest warrant and extradition request from Belgium (where one of the victims of Habre’s torture now lives) and put him on trial there.
So behind the wall of silence, what precisely has been going on in Chad? In fact, the US and UK have been conducting over the last three decades a massive, secret war against Libya – often using Chad as its base. UK involvement in a 1996 plot to assassinate the Libya leader, President Col Mu’ammar Gadafi, as currently alleged by the maverick M15 officer David Shayler, has been reported as an isolated event. Yet the 1996 plot is best seen as part of a wide-ranging and long-standing strategy by the US/UK secret states to dislodge Gadafi.
Seizing power in Libya by ousting King Idris in a 1969 coup, Gadafi (who intriguingly had undertaken a military training course in England in 1966) quickly became the target of massive covert operations by the French, US, Israeli and British. Stephen Dorril, in his recently published book on MI6, records how in 1971 a British plan to invade the country, release political prisoners and restore the monarchy ended in a complete flop. In 1980, the head of the French secret service, Col Alain de Gaigneronde de Marolles, resigned after a French-led plan ended in disaster when a rebellion by Libyan troops in Tobruk was rapidly suppressed.
Then in 1982, away from the glare of the media, Hissene Habre, with the backing of the CIA and French troops, overthrew the Chadian government of Goukouni Wedeye. Human Rights Watch records: "Under President Reagan, the United States gave covert CIA paramilitary support to help install Habre in order, according to secretary of state Alexander Haig, to ‘bloody Gadafi’s nose’." Bob Woodward, in his semi-official history of the CIA reveals that the Chad covert operation was the first undertaken by the new CIA chief William Casey and that throughout the decade Libya ranked almost as high as the Soviet Union as the "b