Duly Noted: Swiss Hostages Disappear in Libya

George Handlery about the week that was. The dictator’s tantrum: a chronic obsession. Making and not keeping agreements. Strange bedfellows and odd mutations. Language laws and their insanity. When aid fuels dictatorship.

1. Months ago, the writer began to pen episodes that were presented as “The Dictator’s Tantrum.” Originally, the topic was a vehicle to share something funny and bizarre with the reader. Recently the laugh stopped and the matter got serious. With that the conflict turned into a lesson about dealing with dictatorships and their “Leaders-in-need-of-treatment.” As it unfolds, the story is also a warning to potential hostages about going to work in dictatorships or visiting there.

Long ago, Geneva’s police arrested Gaddafi’s son Hannibal in a luxury hotel for beating his imported personal servants. Once Hannibal returned home Dad Gaddafi had two Swiss working in Libya arrested for violations of immigration rules.

In August, the acting President of Switzerland went to Tripoli to settle the matter. There he gave the Gaddafi family the factually unwarranted apology they demanded in their tantrum. He did so even though, “Mr. Son” has been handled according to the laws of the realm. Naïve Mr. Merz returned without the hostages but with promises. He guessed that the Libyans did not want a high publicity welcome for the returned hostages. A government plane and the head of state would have had that effect. The idea was that the hero’s welcome, such as the one given to the Lockerbie bomber by with which Libya’s violated its promise to Britain, had to be avoided. He did, however, have the commitment of the ranting dictator that by the end of September the case would be closed in exchange for an “independent” investigation of the arrest in Geneva. Therefore, a government plane was sent to bring the hostages back quietly. After three days, the plain was ordered to return empty. Following some complication, the deadline passed and the hostages stayed. Supposedly, the Leader was insulted because a local paper published a picture showing Hannibal while under arrest. The Libyans now claimed that all that they had promised was to take some action regarding the detainees. That promise was fulfilled by referring the issue to the Ministry of Justice. “Justice” and the “independent judiciary” did not see it fit to ignore the alleged overstaying of visas.

Now the matter gets more serious. The two Swiss who resided in the Embassy were asked to come to a hospital for a pre-exit check-up. Was it the facility in which the “Bulgarian nurses,” that were sentenced to death for infecting children with Aids, used to be working? The insinuation was that this examination is to prove that the detainees were in good health prior to their release. Well, the presumably healthy hostages never returned from their check up. For weeks now, they are being held in an unknown place. Violating several rules, they are not allowed to have contact to either their consulate or to their family.

Late developments. Libya protests the Swiss foreign minister’s recent use of the term “hostage.” We learn that the two non-hostages are free. However, they are kept in a safe place where no one can harm them. (Be sure you are seated as you digest the absurdity that follows!) The secrecy is needed to prevent Swiss commandoes from kidnapping them Entebbe style. Again, the Swiss, presumably having been invited to do so, sent a plane to Tripoli with foreign office staff to resolve the matter diplomatically. The would-be “negotiators” returned empty handed.

Typically, the humiliated Swiss are confused. Should they apply retaliatory sanctions? Those would anger Gaddafi. Whatever they do, the international community will not help them because Libya has oil money. Furthermore, no one wishes to irritate dictators unless they are directly involved. Who cares, unless he has to, about Lockerbie, the “nurses case” or bozo’s recent stand up comic show at the UNO? That being the case, a criminal regime is again “getting away with it.” That eggs on other similar systems to emulate the example. Just think of Iranian and North Korean promises and their ignored, consequence-free disregard that is followed by new demands and delays. The comportment jeopardizes everybody and signifies a crisis of the international order. The global order is being undermined by discrediting, through their misuse, the proven procedures that sustain it. The pattern that emerges promises to lead to more and more substantial violations. For those transgressions the now silent potential victim states and the “international community” (what a misnomer!) is responsible.


2. Elsewhere, too, the tactic of “on again, off again”, but never delivering on the promises made, proves to be an effective approach. This is a profitable recipe for negotiations that amount to warfare by diplomacy. The trick that aims to make political capital out of the credulousness and good will of “the other side” should not function more than once. Nevertheless, as Pyongyang’s and Tehran’s ongoing cases prove, it works even if it is part of a repeated ritual. All one needs to do is to apply the ploy brazenly. Well-intentioned negotiators that are not swayed by negative evidence in their attempt to find a “solution “no “matter what” guarantee a good return.


3. Politics’ real or imagined necessities produce more than only strange bedfellows. A fall-out of the pairing can be classed under “odd mutations.” Some of the virtual prostitutions – see above – actually reflect an inner inclination that is in need of a public saving justification. The view has little merit that “realism” should keep one from setting moral norms when negotiating with eccentrics. Those supportive of that proposition also hold that, one sidedly, we need to be content with the politics of the possible. Therefore, we are to accept the truncated success that is a consequence of self-limiting principles.


4. Slovakia’s new language law imposes a maximal fine of €5,000 ($7,500) for violating the primacy of Slovak. The matter has now been raised in the rather reluctant-to-hear-it European Parliament. Members of state organs (administration, police, hospitals) are now under orders that they may only speak Slovak when on duty. If therefore, in a Hungarian-speaking region one addresses a police officer in Magyar then, even if the cop is also a native speaker of it, he may only respond in Slovak. Even if the client does not understand, what he is told. One wonders whether the regulation also applies to English and German. (No. It is possible that in a Magyar speaking town the railroad station’s signs are in Slovak, German, English but not the idiom of the residents.) There has been an extended period during which “Europe” tried to ignore the situation in the pious hope that the problem will resolve itself. The consistent jacking up of the issues having a background in bizarre practices such as described above, forces reluctantly extended international attention to arise. Even the US’ Bratislava representatives are reported to have claimed they have taken notice of Europe’s minority commissar’s, Kurt Vollebaek’s concerns.


5. The following gem further illustrates the general insanity that can be the consequence of running a state whose theory makes it want to be unitary while in reality it is multi-ethnic. This wish tries to ignore reality created by the disturbing, centuries or millennia-old presence of minorities that are local majorities. When this happens, the result is what would be a joke if the implication would not be serious. Take a village. It has 1,500 inhabitants. Five of these are natives to the official and protected language of the state. The village elder has always made announcements on the public address system in the majority’s language. He is now accused of violating Slovakia’s language law. Comparable is the case of a local paper that appears in Hungarian/Magyar. Absurdly, it is now asked to publish the ads it carries in Slovak.


6. A problem arises with the expanding size and the resulting ethnic complexity of state territories. Unless a federal system able to accommodate local peculiarities is accepted, the central power will tend to secure the land by extending its purvey. This authority claimed by the center of power creates a political context in which dictatorship flourishes. First, it functions in the name of the majority over the allegedly separatist minority. Ultimately, it subjugates the originally consenting but shortsighted majority, too.



Less can be more # 2

@ Dear Capo

1) Fortunately, I cannot "decide" anything on TBJ, semantic points or otherwise. I can only 'advocate'.

2) Obviously, your "sentiments" are stronger than mine, but we are both 'disappointed' about GW.  I know, it may seem presumptious, but I already 'knew' (in 2000) that I would be.  But, that is never a good reason for not hoping. I also knew, in 2000, that Al Gore would be worse, and that Khadafi is much...much worse.

3) We agree that both 'clan culture' and 'rule of law' can co-exist. But one should never confuse the 'norm' with aberrations and exceptions or, worse, turn the aberration into the norm (which is pretty much the Libyan and Arab predicament).

4) "The call of 9/11" is a cryptic statement. There can be disagreement about appropriate responses, and patriotism did not begin - nor end - with 9/11.

5) Teddy's funeral at Arlington was, indeed, full of irony, and I share some of your dismay. Nevertheless, he was your fellow citizen, and possibly he was as certain as you seem to be about being 'in the right' (in the end). Let's take from it the lesson that "Princes of the American Catholic Church" are not less susceptable to hypocrisy than other 'princes' anywhere. At the same time, put yourself in his shoes and ask yourself how you would have handled the situation (and saying "I would have refused to officiate" would be a cop-out).

More of the same

From the shrill on the hill.

Thank you Atheling. You have fine-tuned a very effective debating style here on TBJ : scream and retreat, scream and retreat.


Hatred, no. Contempt, yes. A contempt which is a return in-kind for the contempt the Bush clan has had for the conservative movement for years.


Semantic Punditry

@ Rich Marcfrans

Readily acknowledging your prolific/prolix work in deciding all semantic points of contention on TBJ,  I would like a ruling as to whether "understanding" and "acceptable" are synonomous?

Anti-Bush Manifesto? Not at all, simply a manifestation of sentiment that is easy to find among those who did respond to the call of 9/11 only to see the Bushies continually run by them going in the opposite direction.


Clan culture or rule of law? It's not an "either," "or" proposition, they both exist. I thought I stated the position clearly enough in my previous comments, I apologize if I wasn't clear on the point.


In the West, 'clan culture' might not conform to  classical anthropological categories, but it does exist and it is extremely powerful. Did you miss Ted Kennedy's funeral at Arlington? The lovely words and farewell offered by a prince of the American Catholic Church? How often was death of a Patriarch mentioned during those 'sad' days?


Less can be more

@ Capodistrias

1) My purpose is not to defend any specific actions of GWBush, but rather help to expose the 'unreason' of much of Bush-hatred on the political left as well as on the political right. I agree with you that GW, on balance, has not been 'good' for conservatism as a Western political movement, and that the latter is now slowly emerging from the damage.  However, I am convinced that this problem has NOT been caused by 'bad' intentions, but rather by GW's poor communication skills in combination with a lack of 'consistency' on the part of much of the American (and any other) public.

2)  Obamamania, temporary or not, is not the result of "the conservative core of the American electorate" being in shambles (which it manifestly is not), but rather a fruit of the shallow understandings and the naivete of much of the American electorate (in particular the 'great' center of the political spectrum). Do NOT blame GW as an individual for the failings of millions of others! It is certainly ludicrous to blame the 'Bush clan' for half a century of liberalism (in the American sense), and thus for "education, immigration..." and other signs of cultural dysfunction. They have lived in the past century just like everybody else.

3) As to "blood and treasure" that clan has nothing to be ashamed of. GW's father was a fighter pilot in ww2, was shot down in the Pacific and picked up (much later after the incident) from the sea. No doubt, the 60's generation and the subsequent 'frat boy' generation are not in the same league as the 'greatest generation' was, but that applies as much to you and me as to GW.

4) Atheling is right about the "etiquette and protocol" about ex-presidents, and it is indicative of the difference between liberals and conservatives that only Carter and Obama have broken it. Other past Democratic presidents (even the recent fratboy centrist Clinton) were made of sterner stuff and suffered from less cultural self-hatred than Carter and Obama. But, the words "etiquette" and "protocol" do not fully capture the importance of the past custom of ex-presidents not criticising their successors under 'normal' circumstances. That custom was rooted in 2 old 'conservative' and very 'democratic' (small d) ideas:

- First, the idea that the elected head of a democratic polity, like the great American Republic, deserves a priori 'respect', because the electorate deserves respect and because the job is immensely difficult. An ex-President therefore does not burden his successor by sniping from the sidelines from the very beginning.

- Second, the idea that country comes before party, and that power therefore needs to be shared and alternating. It is not good for the Republic for any president to 'fail' in terms of his foreign endeavors, especiallly when he ensures to obtain the approval of the Senate in accordance with its Constitutional prerogatives. That imposes a duty of deference on the part of a predecessor President, at least an 'initial' duty which of course must have its limits. Whether, and when, GW or any other predecessor should speak out is a delicate decision.

5) Hatred is not a good source of 'inspiration', especially hatred visavis someone who manifestly does not wish you harm. I know that hatred is very human - and the Bush-derangement-syndrome of much of the political left and hypocrites around the world - is strong proof of it, but I recommend that you try to 'manage' your hatred better.

More is Less


No atheling I have never heard that political platitude at all, give us a break.

W is a very small man who had pretensions of Churchillian granduer. He left the conservative core of the American electorate in shambles, because he and his minions put themselves and their mediocre little minds above the Judeo-Christian principles they so ostentatiously claimed to champion.

In the end, he betrayed all the universal values he claimed to swear allegiance to, but he kept faith with his identity as one of the Bushes, a great family success story in American history.


Unfortunately for that narrative, it is not their blood and treasure that was spilt and strewn all over the globe that was sacrificed to write that great new chapter in their grand family history.

Education, Immigration, Iraq, and Terry Schiavo equals Children, Families, Soldiers, and Culture of Life. a simple little equation that veiwed from this Catholic's perspective translates into a family clan run amuck and trophy collecting thru the most sacred values of America's political culture.

By all means, let's all respect George W. Bush's right to follow the etiquette and protocol of an ex-president. After all, he paid for that right with our blood and treasure. 


Pedantic Punditry # 4

@ Capo

1) I am not "poor", neither in money terms nor 'in spirit' (and most likely fail the peculiar biblical test of 'poor in spirit' as well).

2) I am also at a loss.  Your anti-Bush manifesto is one long attack on 'clan culture' (and I am not going to get into its inaccuracies and, I think, mistaken 'projections', for I have too many Bush-related frustrations myself). At the same time, you show a remarkable 'tolerance' of Khadafi's atrocious 'clan culture' behavior vis-a-vis the Swiss.  You even scold Westerners" for not "understanding" it, perhaps even implying that it is acceptable behavior. So, what is it? Is it a good thing, or a bad thing? What do we want, rule of law or clan culture?

3) I hope that I have no illusions about the imperfections of 'rule of law', anywhere in the world. But, I do know (with reasonable certainty) that neither Bush nor the Swiss authorities would grab some innocent Libyans on the street (in New York or Zurich) as 'hostages' in order to bargain and get something from the Libyan dictator. There is a significant qualitative difference between the 'rule of law' in Libya and in Switzerland/USA, and in fact in the latter case the political leader of the country has almost nothing to do with it.

4) I do agree with you, though, that rule of law in the West is presently "afloat", in the sense of 'at risk'. The loss of freedom of political speech in Europe is already a reality, which means that elections there can no longer be genuinely 'free'. And the radical-lefties of the Obama Administration are trying the get the USA to follow the same road. So these are genuinely dangerous times, and the US Supreme Court is presently the SINGLE real obstacle to potential loss of (Constitutional) 'rule of law'. Next Tuesday's partial elections in the US will confirm whether the backlash is really underway, or not, and it will thus give an indication of the likely length of this 'dangerous time'.

@B. English

Reason? Many. Here are but a few.

The Bushes are a fine family who place great importance on personal relationships and loyalty. However, they do have a "vision" deficit.

The most obvious is that when it comes to putting in practice and implementing the conservative principles they claim to champion, they see the political landscape through the prism of their family and friends' plan not a general, universal conception or understanding of what the American family represents, and/or requires to be championed or protected in the political gang/clan wars of American politics.

Four areas where this was clearly evident in the Bush administration: Education, Immigration, Iraq, the Terry Schiavo tragedy. In each area, the limited, parochial vision of the Bushies were disastrous for those who had to deal with the life and death consequences of the administration's policies and decisions.

Two individuals in which one can see just how frankensteinish this vision deficit plays out in Bush admin figures are Karl Rove and Andy Card. Two individuals who give henchmen a bad name, they are individuals who will, and did sell out their fellow countrymen in a heart beat rather than jeopardize/taint their standing within the Bush clan of honored lackeys.

The truth of what I am saying has been in evidence for several months now, as W has kept a remarkable public silence in the face of Obama's administration's national security policies. (Compare to Cheney.)


It is painfully obvious that W places a higher importance on his personal, and POTUS alumni relationship with Barack Obama than he does on the moral, absolute obligation he has to the men and women and their families that he placed into harm's way in HIS war on Terror. And yes, it becomes HIS when he places himself and his family above his fellow Americans. A leader who can not think of himself as: no better or worse than the lowliest among whom he presumes to command in life and death battles is not much of a leader.

Bush was a clan leader posing as a national and world leader. The difference between him and many other similiar leaders on the world stage was that at least other leaders implicitly understood and admited to themselves and those they presumed to lead that first and foremost they were a clan leader, as well as national and international leaders. Bush never extended the courtesy to his fellow countrymen nor his fellow human beings, he was overwhelmed , much like a current US president, by his over inflated vision of himself and what he proposed bestowing on the rest of mankind.

More Pedantry

The truth of what I am saying has been in evidence for several months now, as W has kept a remarkable public silence in the face of Obama's administration's national security policies. (Compare to Cheney.)

I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but it is traditional protocol that a former US president does not criticize a sitting president. This has been broken more frequently, of late, by Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. George Bush is adhering to that tradition, while Cheney is acting as attack dog.

It is painfully obvious that W places a higher importance on his personal, and POTUS alumni relationship with Barack Obama than he does on the moral, absolute obligation he has to the men and women and their families that he placed into harm's way in HIS war on Terror. And yes, it becomes HIS when he places himself and his family above his fellow Americans. A leader who can not think of himself as: no better or worse than the lowliest among whom he presumes to command in life and death battles is not much of a leader.

In light of my first paragraph, therefore, this analysis is incorrect.

Explain Bush administration's 'clan culture'

Capo' please explain your observation "the Bush administration being a wonderful example of 'clan culture' having a devastating impact not only on the US, but the world." I am interested to hear your reason for the comment.

Pedantic Punditry #3

Poor Marcfrans, but the rich are very different than you and me.


Clan culture did not disappear with the signing of the magna carta, nor did the social and wealth entaglements and obligations that go with them. They remain very much with us in all sorts of permutations and frankenstein like manifestations, the Bush administration being a wonderful example of 'clan culture' having a devastating impact not only on the US, but the world.


Marcfrans you have an excellent spectator knowledge of American politics, but you've never played the game or seen it played on the level I have. The 'clans' never dissappeared in America, or the West, there are simply lulls in the action and moments when all hell breaks loose, we are now in a period in which the latter is very possible. The rule of law is afloat in the West, but it has been adrift since Roe v Wade in the US and whether it ever regains its ability to right itself is still an open question. What does exist is nothing close to the idealized world which looks down its nose at a very wealthy and powerful father protecting his son. Like it or not, Gaddafi doesn't give a flying camel.

Pedantic Punditry # 2

@ Capodistrias & Traveller

As you know, I disagree with your take on this issue. Thank God that the West is no longer dominated by 'clan culture', or otherwise it might/would look very much like Libyia today.  This is not to deny that much of the left in the West (and parts of the right too) appears to be regressing back and fast to a clan culture, and overlooking bad behavior of their 'own'.  It is an oversimplification, for sure, but 'civilising' means rising above clan, and applying broad civic principles equally to all.  'Rule of law' is incompatible with clan culture.

Mr Handlery is accurately describing Khadafi's behavior.  The man has a dispute with the Swiss government - in essence he wants the Swiss to ignore their own law on Swiss soil - and in order to get his way he grabs a bunch of hostages who have nothing to do with the dispute, thereby confirming that 'individual rights' means nothing in Libya.

And what do you mean by "Kennedy rules"? That a Kennedy is above the law? What nonsense! It is not because some local court in Masschussetts (or anywhere) made an imperfect ruling, that the law of the land would be accurately described by "Kennedy rules". With Berlusconi constantly in court, with De Villepin and now Chirac also in court, to name but a few, besides a bunch of recent American Congressmen in jail) how on earth can you make this absurd 'moral equivalence' implied by clan culture?



@ marcfrans

There is definitely a case of 2 measures of justice here.
I am not going to argue the finer points though, I am just going to compare Swiss justice with Swiss justice.
Paul Erdman, an American banker who was director of the first American bank in Switzerland, if I recall correctly the then "Bank of California", worked on the nerves of the Swiss banks, which lost their American customers to that first American bank in Switzerland.
Result: Erdman spent 2 years in a Swiss jail on some technicality about his bank licence. Needless to say the bank closed.
Bernie Cornfeld, an Americam national, of I.O.S. was "bankrupted" by the Swiss authorities because, again, his financial institution took too much money away from the banks, people, mostly US GI's invested their savings with him and there was an enormous following amongst the US middle class.
His assets were seized and his company was declared bankrupt while Bernie was jailed and his health ruined until he finally was released and died after a few years.
The dividends of his "bankrupt" company are still collected today by the "receivers" in Switzerland , even after they let Robert Vesco steal over 200 million dollars out of this "bankrupt" company.
Bernie never got a hearing after his release.

Does this behavior sound like worthy of a modern democracy? Or is it tribal?
The Swiss should be very quiet about "justice", I didn't even start about WW2.

Since a couple

of years the Swiss have lost their touch.

They had the most knowledgeable bureaucrats and diplomats who "handled" things quietly with no fuss.

Since Switzerland turned socialist, yes, and are enamored of the European goodies for politicians in Brussels they are kowtowing to mostly the French.

The Hannibal episode was a gift from the Gods for a certain French faction and served the French interior politics. The involvement of French speaking journalists from Fribourg and Geneva was immediate and targeted.

Mr. Handlery, whom I normally respect highly and read with continuous interest is out of his depth in this confusing issue and I don't really blame him.

The Byzantine shenanigans between French manipulators, naive Swiss babes in the woods and tough tribal Libyans make the game far too complex.

It's time the old Swiss guard wakes up.

Pedantic Punditry

Once again Mr.Handlery demonstrates a remarkable inability to analyze Mr. Gaddafi on his own terms and hence interpret what is likely going on here. I don't know what if any economic or legal concessions the Libyans are trying to get out of the Swiss, but I do recognize this - Gaddafi is saying a very simple thing - You (Western countries) are not going to treat my son , my family , (my elite) any different than you treat your own. Whether we are guilty or not of some crime , you will treat us with same respect and special consideration that you treat you own select elite, e.g."Kennedy Rules." The Libyans will put immediate family, clan and country first, that is not something Westerners understand very well anymore, nor how that might work out in a specific controversy.

Mr Handlery states:

"Supposedly, the Leader was insulted because a local paper published a picture showing Hannibal while under arrest."

"Supposedly"!!! Of course he was insulted, worse it insulted Mr. Gaddafi's honor in front of his own countrymen and those in the international community whom he wants to demonstrate that he is not to be messed with.

Mr. Handlery may not like where Gaddafi is coming from on this , but he could at least accurately describe it.