Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Bulgarian Nurses Have Been Released

The Bulgarian nurses in custody in LibyaMme. Sarkozy seems to have done the trick: the Bulgarian nurses have been released. According to a story in the International Herald Tribune, Libya got a pretty sweet deal out of their little hostage-taking number.

For each of the HIV-infected children — none of which sustained any damage at the hands of the nurses — Libya gets $1 million, plus a plum trade deal and “full partnership” with the EU. That’s a pretty good return for grabbing six innocent people and keeping them in the slammer for eight years.

The president of France is pretending that the deal is something other than a ransom payment:

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would go to Libya on Wednesday “to help Libya rejoin the international community.” He said neither France nor the EU paid any money to Libya for the medics’ release.

He’s being disingenuous. From a legalistic standpoint, the European countries didn’t pay anything, they simply forgave some debt, and the debtors in Libya paid the families of the children. A little fiscal sleight of hand, and voilà! No ransom.

The Libyan court issued the death sentences, and then the appeal court commuted them to life imprisonment. Under an existing treaty, the nurses were returned to Bulgaria to serve their sentences, and the Bulgarian government pardoned them. Another sleight of hand, and the nurses are free.

Note that the nurses were convicted, and their conviction was never reversed. Libya got paid off, and never admitted to any wrongdoing.

And now it gets to rejoin the “community of nations”.

The details of the story:
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After more than eight years in prison in Libya, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor stepped off the French presidential plane in Bulgaria’s capital early Tuesday, greeted by the hugs of crying relatives and Bulgaria’s top officials.

They were accompanied on the flight by the European Union’s external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and France’s first lady, Cécilia Sarkozy, who helped secure their release.

During a news conference at the airport terminal, standing in front of the nurses, Bulgaria’s foreign minister, Ivailo Kalfin, announced that President Georgi Parvanov had pardoned the medics, ending all their legal liabilities, to the emotional applause of the crowd.

“I waited so long for this moment,” one of the nurses, Snezhana Dimitrova, said on being reunited with her family, The Associated Press reported.

The release completes a rapprochement with Libya, which not long ago was largely shunned in the world community.

A turning point came when it publicly abandoned a program to develop weapons of mass destruction and made payments to the families of the people who died in the Lockerbie explosion. That led Washington and other capitals to restore diplomatic ties.

Libya’s foreign minister said Libya and the European Union had agreed to develop a “full partnership” after the release of the medical workers, with the Europeans promising help for Libyan hospitals and infrastructure.

In Brussels, the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, said Tuesday that the European Union would now move to normalize trade and political ties with Libya. “We hope to go on further normalizing our relations with Libya,” he said. “Our relations with Libya were in a large extent blocked by the nonsettlement of this medics issue.”


Following Bulgaria’s admittance into the European Union on Jan. 1, the political weight of the 27-member bloc considerably changed Bulgaria’s diplomatic pull, while coinciding with moves by Qaddafi for closer relations with the West.

The release came at the end of eight years of imprisonment, three trials and two separate death sentences. The medics deny infecting the children and say their confessions were extracted under torture.

The Libyans agreed to the release only after the families of the infected children agreed to accept $1 million in exchange for dropping their demands for the medics to be executed, permissible under Libyan law.

Most of the families received the money last week, after Bulgaria agreed to forgive Libya’s foreign debt dating to the Cold War.

Seif al-Islam, a son of Qaddafi’s who heads a foundation that led negotiations between the families and the Libyan government, said that Libya provided the money, which came from debt forgiveness that was also granted by Slovakia, Croatia and the Czech Republic.

The Libyan Supreme Court upheld the death sentences on July 11, the final legal step. That allowed the Supreme Judicial Council to take up the case, and it commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment on July 17.

The medics returned under an obscure mutual legal assistance treaty signed by Bulgaria and Libya in 1984, according to which prisoners can be transferred to serve sentences in their home countries. With the pardon from the Bulgarian government, the medics are free.

We’re all happy that the nurses are free and have gone home. Their lives will never be the same, after eight years of brutality and torture in a Libyan hellhole. But they are free.

However, make no mistake about it: the EU just paid the jizyah, big time.

This will not be last installment.

Hat tip: LN.