The “Tug” of War

Terrorism is the word that dominates the International scene since the September 11th attacks on the United States. The War on Terror, Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and various attacks on Western democracies after 9/11 are topics most international citizens are aware of. The biggest part of global fight on terror is what to do with suspected terrorists that are caught. It is a very contentious issue between civil and human rights advocates and Governments. Usually, when a terror suspect is rounded up by either U.S. forces or the forces of U.S allies, they are taken into U.S. custody and not the custody of the nation in which they are captured.

The question now is should the U.S. always get first priority on terror suspects taking into custody in other nations even when that nation wants them tried under their laws? This is the “tug” of war that will be played out by the United States and Libya after the United States carried out an operation and captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, or known by his alias, Anas al-Libi.

Al-Ruqai is a Libyan citizen and according to Libyan officials, they were not consulted by the United States before they carried out the operation in the capital of Tripoli. The citizens of Libya were particularly angry that the United States violated Libyan sovereignty and at their government for at the very least turning a blind eye to the raid. The newly elected government has to walk a line between criticizing the U.S., which assisted in the 2011 revolution against Gaddafi and holding onto the little control they have in the country. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said, “We emphasize that Libyan citizens should be judged in Libya and Libya does not surrender its sons.” –CBS. Other government officials have commented on the raid calling it a “kidnapping”.

The United States has a keen interest in Al-Ruqai. He is alleged to be a senior member of Al-Qaeda and is connected to the twin African bombings in 1998 that killed a total of 223 people and injured more than 4,000 in simultaneous attacks on U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. He was indicted in New York for these crimes in 2000. The United States had a 5 million dollar bounty on Al-Ruqai ever since then.

Libya and the United States have a strategic partnership in which the U.S. is helping the Libyan Government increase its power to deal with terrorists. However, since the death of Moammar Gaddafi in the 2011 revolution, the Libyan Governments has little centralized power creating vacuums for armed militias. The U.S. is holding Al-Ruqai on a Naval warship and most likely wants to try him in the U.S. for violating federal law in the ’98 attacks but also could perceive the little power the Libyan Government has as a liability for not getting fully prosecuted. An example of this worry would be the attack on the U.S. Embassy on September 11th, 2012 in Benghazi.  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said of complaints, “the suspect was a “legal and appropriate target” for the U.S. military and will face justice in a court of law.”

For Libyans there could be some hope in this situation. In July, a Dutch court blocked the extradition of a Dutch-Pakistani terror suspect to the United States, proving that there can be limits on the United States’ reach into other nations. However, this was a situation where a U.S. ally (Pakistan) arrested the suspect and was not captured as a result of a U.S. raid.

Should the U.S. policies continue that allows military operations in nations for high profile terrorists like Al-Ruqai? Or should he be tried in Libya as a Libyan citizen as a way to show that the Libyan Government has some control and authority post-Gaddafi? Is there a threat to the concept of sovereignty in the post 9/11 world or can there be a practical solution that severs all parties’ interests?


American Bar Association

CBS News


Image: U.S. Embassy of Tripoli

The New York Times

PBS Online News Hour

Voice of America

Washington Post



  1. This article seems to raise important questions about the conflict of laws between both the United States and Libya. While both States obviously quite legitimate interests in this particular case; specifically, the United States and its concern and obligation to protect its own citizens pursuant to its powers under the Federal Constitution, and Libya because the alleged terrorist is their citizen.

    The initial problem with the U.S. claiming priority over the prosecution of Al-Ruqai is that – at least as far as this article provides – none of these attacks happened on American soil; and while some of the attacks involved U.S. embassies, we are not sure how many Americans were killed in such attacks. While I am not attempting to minimize our country’s interests in this particular matter, these considerations become important in modern approaches to conflict of laws analysis.

    In contrast, Libya has an obvious interest in protecting its own citizens and providing a legal system that punishes and deters its citizens according to its own concept of “justice.” The Libyans have every right to cry foul – especially if the U.S. really did engage in a covert raid within Libya’s territory without even knocking on the door first. I think an international court might reach the same result as the Dutch court mentioned in this article. There are limits to U.S. sovereignty – and going into other country’s to abduct citizens to be tried according to our laws seems to stretch those limits quite far.

  2. I would argue that the United States does have a right to prosecute al-Ruqai under its own laws. I have to disagree with Chris on his point that “none of these attacks happened on American soil.” The attacks concerned U.S. embassies, which I would argue, effectively constitute “American soil.” I am sure that at least a few of the victims must have been American citizens. Al Ruqai’s actions were effectively an act of war upon the United States, and thus he should have to answer to American courts.

    I do recognize that the United States taking him into custody does present national sovereignty issues. However, Al Ruqai crime’s are unique in that the targets were U.S. embassies. It is unclear post-Gaddaffi how effective the Libyan government is, as so, from a practical stand point, I believe the interests of justice are best served if al-Ruqai is tried under U.S. law.

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