The International Criminal Court opened a hearing Tuesday over the fate of the son of the late Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, who stands accused of crimes against humanity. Yet the question before the international court was not his guilt or innocence –- but where to try him.
The international court is supposed to be a court of last resort, used only when countries are unwilling or unable to fairly try the alleged perpetrators of grave crimes themselves. Libya wants to try Seif Islam Kadafi in its own courts, rather than handing him over to be tried in The Hague.
Where he is tried could mean the difference between life and death. If Kadafi is tried in Libya, he is widely expected to face the death penalty, a punishment that isn't handed down by the international court.
Government attorneys have argued the case represents a "historical opportunity to eradicate the long-standing culture of impunity" in Libya after the rule of his father, the Libyan strongman who was toppled and killed last year. The country should be allowed to handle the case itself to further that quest, they say.
"Libya is fully committed to continuing to treat Mr. Kadafi humanely and with full respect to his right to a fair trial," the attorneys wrote in a court submission in September.
Outside experts and court attorneys have questioned in the past whether Libya would be able to do so, worried that the case could be colored by the quest for revenge rather than justice. That question was thrown into even sharper focus this summer when an attorney chosen to defend Seif Islam Kadafi was accused of espionage and detained more than three weeks along with three other court staffers.
After being freed, attorney Melinda Taylor said it was impossible for her client to get a fair trial in Libya, saying his rights had been "irrevocably prejudiced during my visit." Libyan authorities deliberately misled the defense team about whether their visit with Kadafi would be monitored and illegally seized documents that should have been protected, Taylor asserted.
Pressed for more information about how Libya would pursue the case, attorneys said last month they needed more time to arrange the trial as the country rebuilds its institutions from scratch.
International Criminal Court prosecutors who originally indicted Kadafi now say Libya should get a chance to try him, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. The judges could nonetheless defy their advice and decide that Kadafi must be tried by the international court.
Seif Islam Kadafi was the "unspoken successor" to the Libyan strongman, wielding power over the finances and logistics of government operations and serving as a de facto prime minister, according to the court. As a member of the inner circle of Moammar Kadafi, he stands accused of helping devise a plan to crush protests against the government, attacking civilians and killing accused dissidents.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Representatives of Libya, Ahmad Sadeq Al Gehani, left, Payam Akhavan, center, and Phillippe Sands, right, are seen in the International Criminal Court before a public hearing on Libya's challenge to the admissibility of the case against Seif Islam Kadafi in The Hague on Tuesday. Credit: Michael Kooren / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images