Monday, January 22, 2007

What made Libya at the end of 2006 similar to Bulgaria at the end of 1944

A month ago, just 3 days before Christmas, the five Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor accused of intentionally infecting Libyan children with HIV were sentenced to death, again. For details see e.g.,Condemned.article.
Too busy to check the news, I heard about it from my father when he visited us at Christmas Eve. With more sadness than anger, he added, “And these crowds shouting “Death”! It was quite like our People’s Court.”
He was referring to the tribunal hastily established at the end of 1944, after the Soviet occupators installed Communist rule at Sept. 9 of the same year. Communists like to call everything “people’s”, their government was “People’s Rule”, even the country itself was soon renamed to “People’s Republic of Bulgaria”. (Here, the adjective “people’s” not only doesn’t match its literal meaning, but also corrupts the noun which follows.)
The official function of the People’s Court was to punish the people responsible for Bulgaria’s participation in World War II as ally of Nazi Germany, for the persecution of the Communist insurgents and for unspecified “crimes of the monarcho-fascist regime”. Today’s Communist historians link our People’s Court to the Nuremberg tribunal, although mere comparison of numbers reveals the disparity (in Bulgaria, only the death sentences were about 2000, exceeding with orders of magnitude the Nuremberg death sentences, as if Bulgaria and not Germany was the leader of the Axis.) The real function of the Court was to behead the Bulgarian nation, to destroy its elite. Bulgarian communists and their Soviet masters knew that Communist rule could be stable only if the ruled nation is degraded to scum. Hence, any important position of the person in the society was enough to get him tried and convicted. So, besides politicians who had worked for the German cause and policemen who had acted against Communist insurgents (as if any government could be required or expected to tolerate armed “opposition”), the victims included many opponents of “fascism”. Vladimir Kurtev, one of the four men who initiated the campaign to save Bulgarian Jews, was sentenced to death and executed. Dimitar Peshev, who did for the salvation more than anybody else, “the man who stopped Hitler”, received a prison term.
My father, then 22, remembers the People’s Court very well. It concerned him personally: among the victims was his own father, Georgi Markov. He was actually murdered in the blood bath orchestrated in the second half of September 1944, estimated to have taken at least 20000 lives (the exact number isn’t known to this day). Some of the killed were sentenced posthumously by the People’s Court. This served both to justify the murder and to allow convenient “legal” confiscation of their property. My grandfather had never done anything akin to a crime, but as an important member of a local community (he was a well-known lawyer in his town of Pleven) and as a political opponent of the communists (he was an activist of the Social-Democratic party) he represented a typical target of the September 1944 massacre. It was aimed to do at local level what the People’s Court had to do at national level, i.e. to destroy the brain and backbone of the Bulgarian society.
The communists never renounced the People’s Court. Until the very fall of the regime in 1989, applicants for “sensitive” jobs, visas etc. had to answer the question, “Have you relations who have been affected by the actions of the People’s Rule?” After 1989, communists (now calling themselves socialists) continued to claim that the People’s Court did justice and the sentenced people were guilty. Some of the victims, including my grandfather, were vindicated after they or their relations appealed the sentences, using the cumbersome procedure of the ordinary criminal cases. During one of the rare periods when socialists were not in power, a law was proposed to declare the People’s Court illegal and so to vindicate en masse the people sentenced by it. However, three leftist members of the European Parliament, alerted by Bulgarian socialists, passed a resolution appealing to Bulgaria not to support fascism. Bulgarian Parliament didn’t dare to oppose “Europe”. (After that, some members of the European Parliament privately admitted that they often nap or read unrelated texts when draft resolutions are proposed, and so later vote without really knowing what it’s all about.) So “world opinion” wasn’t very useful in the case of our People’s Court. Another example: a memorial plate in Israel devoted to Dimitar Peshev was removed because four Bulgarian communists asked Israeli authorities to do so.
Once I watched on TV a discussion on Tengiz Abuladze’s movie “Repentance”. One participant said, “The screenplay includes elements from very different historical periods; I don’t think this was a good idea.” Another one replied, “I, on the contrary, like this; it shows the ability of evil to erode tunnels through time.” I think that man was right – evil erodes tunnels, connecting points located at different times and places. At one stage, the HIV case in Libya was handled by an institution called People’s Court (if the translation is correct). This court is defined by Wikipedia as “a special status court for crimes against the state”. Any comment needed?
The similarity isn’t just in the court itself. As my father mentioned, it is also in the crowd. During the sessions of the Bulgarian People’s Court, the courthouse was filled and surrounded by a crowd shouting “Death!”. Now, we see the same crowd around the Libyan courthouses when the HIV trial is on the agenda. And it is shouting “Death” again. Every time in history when the tissue of the society becomes thin, this crowd emerges. It is always the same and always wants the same things – arson, destruction and death.
I checked several Libyan blogs and was happy to see that their authors didn’t mention the confirmed death sentences. I hope those Libyan bloggers didn’t quite believe that the sentences were just. When you read that the journal Nature and scores of Nobel Prize winners stand for the defendants, and at the same time under your windows a crowd able to make the bravest shiver wants their death, perhaps the best is to keep meaningful silence.


programmer craig said...

Hi Maya,

This case is inhuman. I can't believe that any rational person can justify the way those nurses have been treated, and continue to be treated. Especially now that's it's been genetically proven that those children weer infected with HIV before the nurses even arrived in Libya! How can this be? How can this stand?

Maya M said...

Unfortunately, it seems that it is also an important PR case for the Q-man at home, so he cannot allow the medics to be acquitted. The most serious commentor I've heard these days thinks that the case will turn into a neverending saga.

Suliman said...

Greetings, Maya. I hope you and your family are doing well, including the handsome new addition.

Yes, Libya had something called "The People's Court," and sure enough it was created by the leaders of the military coup that deposed the King Idris government in 1969. At that time, both the chief judge and the prosecutor belonged to the 12-officer Revolutionary Leadership Council. Interestingly, both of those characters ended up branded "enemies of the revolution." The prosecutor lead a failed coup attempt in 1975, escaped to Egypt and he was ultimately turned in to the Libyan government in a deal with the Moroccan (now dead) king. The People's Court was also the extra-judicial instrument that was used to convict and sentence many people who showed an inkling of opposition to the ruling regime. It was recently disbanded, but in practice it only lost its name because it got replaced by things called "specialized courts."

I think I once mentioned to you that I might post my opinion on this case on your blog. Here goes a start. First of all, I'd like to engage you as a scientist, appealing to your rational side, and I'd like you to know that I have no respect for the Libyan state or any of its institutions that deal with rights of any kind. In my opinion, the Libyan state made itself unworthy of respect by committing crimes against humanity, starting with crimes against the Libyans.

It is possible what you said is true about the Libyan People's Court taking charge of the medics trial early on. But the court that found them guilty on December 19th was not the People's Court or any of its offspring. The medics were found guilty by the Benghazi Criminal Court, which was convened in Tripoli (not Benghazi) supposedly to avoid any public unrest. I am not sure we will ever know the full story behind the case. For me, this case will never rise above being a mistrial, partly because of circumstance, but also because it is demonstrably contrived. But I am also not so sure that the case is as clear cut as the western propaganda/news coverage would have us believe. In fact, I think the mobs that your father saw probably reflect the genuine public opinion in Libya. That is not to say it is right or wrong, just that it is genuine, unlike the mobs of "revolutionary" thugs that used to hang students on university campuses every year, etc. The general Libyan public, I believe, is convinced that the accused committed the crime, and they (understandably) want the death sentence issued against those they hold responsible for a terrible crime. There is, I believe, another dynamic in the case. The Libyans are worried that the Libyan state will cave in under external (western) pressures. They see the position of the west as one of dictating terms not mediating and certainly not seeking the truth. In that regard, I think they are justified. We don't the hear any western governments calling for fair trial. The west are repeatedly calling for unconditional release of the accused. That, I'm sure you understand, can hardly win any sort of public support. The Libyan public opinion says, the West is not interested in finding the truth, not interested in justice, they merely want to dictate terms to others, an only for their selfish interests. The Libyans also point to the western companies tripping over each other at Gaddafi's front door. The question for many Libyans is the double standard they see in western governments: On the one hand, the west disrespects the Libyan state to the degree of not only interfering but actually dictating/demanding a specific unconditional outcome of its legal processes. On the other hand, the West has no qualms entering into strategic economic and political partnerships with the same bunch. What would you make out of that, if you were an ordinary Libyan? I think many Libyans see the west as a callus, unprincipled side in the case. It does not surprise me at all that they should push for the outcome that goes against the maneuverings of western powers.

Even the scientific evidence seems to be getting overblown and spun in various ways. For example, what did the scientists really conclude about the phyleology of the HIV virus? It turns out, there are at least two studies, one by Visco-Comandini et al., which got no press coverage when it came out a couple years ago, and one study by Oliveiri et al., which got a lot of press a few months ago. The two studies reached apparently quite different conclusions about the phyleology of the vrius in their samples. The second paper, you'd think, bore the burden of explaining the conflict of its conclusions with the previous ones, but that was not done as far as I could see. The second paper cited the first one only one time, colloquially brushing off an apparently important point of difference. For a certain segment in the virus family tree, Oliveiri et al. said its length was "perfectly typical" not divergent, which is the conclusion they attributed to V-C et al. But they never went beyond stating the different conclusion. The quotes around "perfectly typical" are my addition, to highlight the awkward part. I would guess that being "typical" is fundamentally a statistical notion, which is hardly capable of perfection. The review process let that go. In any case, what exactly did the second study conclude about where the virus was at what time? (1) The Oleveiri et al. paper concluded that the strain of HIV virus was present "at the hospital and its environs" before the arrival of the medics." Being "in the hospital" vs. "in the patients" are two totally different things. Saying that the murder weapon was present at the crime scene before the accused got there does not mean the accused did not use it once there, does it? Again, the evidence may well be sufficient for shooting holes in the prosecution's case as such, but it does not prove innocence--not to me! Not guilty as charged is a totally different ball game from innocent, at least for me. (2) The phrase "before the arrival of the medics" reveals a subtle little bias of the scientists. It is a known fact that one of the accused foreign medics was born and raised in Libya. What the hell does "arrival" mean in his case? Does it mean the HIV virus was there before the doctor was born? That is just meaningless garbage, and it would have been caught by any objective, unprejudiced review process. Also, based on published statements by the head of the Libyan parents association, (some of) the Oleveiri group were not authorized by the kids legal guardians to obtain samples. If that's true, I would guess such evidence would have a difficult time being allowed in any respectable court. That might also explain why the Western governments/propaganda are seeking a political dismissal of the case, not a fair trial based on evidence and a clean judicial process. One can also add things along these lines from the court itself. The prosecution presented as evidence some reportedly contaminated bottles of blood products found at the home of one of the accused. Originally, the defense contested the legality of the process of gathering those bottles as evidence, and in fact that was part of their reasoning for the appeal. However, in the appeal, the Libyans showed a video tape of how the evidence was gathered and in whose presence, etc., in an effort to refute the defense claims. How did the defense react? They pointed the finger to some Austrian company that they said were the source/supplier of seized blood products! In so doing, the defense basically failed to contest and they were only shifting attention to completely irrelevant details. They had not appealed on the grounds that the Austrian company was to blame, they did on the basis of improperly gathered evidence! Boy did that backfire! I can also point to the conspicuous absence of Dr. Montagnier's in-court testimony, which Libyan sources say was damning to the case of the accused. Nature published Dr. Montagnier's "report" in duplicate, but not a word about his in-court testimony in response to questions by the judge. Considering that the Oliveiri et al. study largely echoed the older report by Montagnier, and in view of the lack of true scientific debate about the science itself, even, I can only let loose the cynical/skeptical side of me and wonder whether someone is trying to make amends for a big in-court booboo. If the Libyans or the expert witnesses would publish the full testimonies, maybe we will all be able to make an informed judgment about the full extent of the contributions of Dr. Montagnier and whether there is enough there to justify a major guilt trip on his part. There is a lot more that is inexplicably missing in this case. For example, I might understand why the Libyan authorities put the lid on the report by Dr. Purrin, but I'll be damned if I understand why he does not publish it in its entirety, instead of feeding little snippits of it to the media. I also will never underrstand why the Europeans failed to face the Libyan doctor/expert witness in the press conferences he held on the 15th and 18th of December in Geneva and London, not Tripoli. Why didn't they put his feet to the fire? The only thing I saw was a condescending remark by Nature's journalist Declan Butler on his personal blog. But neither Butler nor Montagnier, nor anyone else showed up to debate the science. Why not?

Having said all of this, I hope you do not misinterpret my comments. I am not defending the Libyan state and not condemning the accused. But, as I said, the western two-faced dealings with the Libyan state only confirms their hypocrisy and ill intentions, and it only strengthens the polarization of Libyan public opinion against the accused. For me, no matter what the outcome is, the case is too deeply mired in coverup and political propaganda that it could never be anything but a mistrial. That is not to say the accused are innocent or guilty, just that we'll never know the truth.

I apologize for the length of this comment, but I hope it gives you some insight in the range of opinions among Libyans.

programmer craig said...

I just wish all potential visitors to Libya will remember the way they any be treated by the Libyan government. Those women are almost certainly insane by now, whether they are acquitted or not, they will never recover. Libyan "justice" makes a mockery of the concept.

Suliman, how can any Libyan criticize the type of justice in another country, after this? How could a Libyan do that with a clear conscience? It's like a murderer, lecturing a shoplifter.

Maya M said...

Programmer Craig, you are quite right that foreigners must have this case in mind if they consider going to Libya. I am amazed how easily people venture to go to such dangerous places.
Suliman, sorry for answering your comment so late. I remember how you expressed readiness to put a comment about the HIV trial on my blog. In fact, I mention this at the beginning of my first post about the HIV trial at The last part of the sequel (God knows when I'll write it) will be about why most Libyans believe that the defendants are quilty. So now I'll write only what I don't intend to put in this future post.
You are right that it was not the People's Court of Libya that sentenced the six medics to death (in fact, if I remember correctly, it lifted the first-instance death sentences and referred the case to the criminal court). However, the important thing is that if you have in the country a "People's Court", you will have no justice even in the ordinary courts; the judicial system is a whole.
I am not so sceptical as you about finding the truth in this case; I am sure that, if the world changes to better, Libya will Westernize and many truths about its history will come to light.
I agree that those crowds reflected the genuine public opinion in Libya. In fact, the crowds around the Bulgarian courts most likely also reflected a genuine public opinion. Many Bulgarians then naively believed that, hadn't the former rulers made mistakes, Bulgaria would survive World War II untouched - and also that the Socialist "People's Rule" was good and would make honey and butter rain from the sky. Because most people in any country aren't as stupid as they seem, but much more stupid, the public opinion should never be taken too seriously; and in an unfree society it's a joke, because it is necessarily restricted by what is allowed to say in public.
Bulgarian government has called for fair trial for years. I believe it has been a grave mistake. It hasn't won any support in Libya - in fact, it's offending, because it implies that the trial would otherwise be unfair. And the official Libyan reaction naturally was, "We have justice and independent courts, so the trial, like all trials in Libya, will be fair; but, to make absolutely sure it will be fair, give us more money." Bulgaria gives money, the defendants are sentenced to death and Libya assures that this has been the fairest trial in world history.
I agree that the eagerness of Western companies and whole countries to trade with Libya is morally dubious.
I can find in the Web only the abstracts of the two papers you are citing. BTW, although I am a biologist, I have never worked with viruses, so I have little expertise in this matter. However, I disagree with you about the knife analogy because a knife can be seen while staying idle while a virus normally cannot. A witness can testify, "I saw in 1997 a knife quite like this knife on a table in that house". What about "I saw in 1997 a virus quite like this virus on a plot in the hospital"? To "see" that the virus was "in the hospital" in 1997, actually means to find it now in the bodies of patients believed to have been infected in that hospital in 1997.
I believe that "before the arrival" meant arrival at the hospital, not in Libya; but I cannot really say, without having read the text. It is likely that Montagnier & Colizzi have used the expression "before arrival in Libya", because they were recruited by the defense of the Bulgarians only.
About the bottles seized in Kristiana Valcheva's home, Bulgarian media reported that when the video was shown, a Libyan police officer recorded on it testified, "As soon as we saw the bottles, I warned my subordinates to be careful with them, because there was HIV inside". Lawyer Byzanti asked, "How did you know this?" and of course received no satisfactory answer. Why should the Austrian company be blamed? Even if the bottles haven't been planted, there was no virus inside, so why to blame the supplier?
About Montagnier's testimony, my only source is and I see there nothing "damning"; I am interested what Libyan propaganda saw.
Although you state that you don't comment whether the defendants are guilty or not, I have some idea of your general views, so I am sure that you are sure they are not guilty at least in intentional infection. However, I guess you are unhappy to see how the craziness of the Q-man casts a shadow of doubt over the intellect of all Libyans in Westerners' eyes. So you find and use some discrepancies and details in an attempt to justify the opinion of most Libyans about the case. I have sympathy to your efforts to stand for your people. Of course the public opinion in Libya can be excused by the abnormal, censored informational environment there. And of course, a person who has not been in Libya shouldn't judge too easily those forced to live there. However, I think we must be careful in excusing any unwanted behaviour, because even if the excuses are relevant, they ultimately encourage this behaviour. I don't know if I am clear; I hope I will be in my future post, when I write it.

NOMAD said...

Hi Maya, I am with you ;