Effect Measure

Tripoli 6: Free at last

At 3:50 am EDST I received the welcome news, via Declan Butler, that the Tripoli 6 were free and on the tarmac in Sofia, Bulgaria. All are Bulgarian citizens and were released by the Libyan prison authorities as part of an extradition arrangement. Their life sentences were immediately pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov. Our six medical colleague had been accused of deliberately infecting over 400 children in a hospital in Benghazi, Libya and sentenced to death. They have been imprisoned for 8 years, through two trials and numerous appeals. Genetic analysis of the infecting strains indicated the virus had been circulating there prior to the medics’ arrival in 1998, but was not allowed to be presented as evidence (more background in these posts).

The Tripoli 6 case had become a cause celebre for the international scientific and EU communities. Several prominent scientists, among them US Nobel Laureate Rich Roberts, worked tirelessly to obtain the release of the six medical workers. But there were significant forces within Libya opposing the release, principally the grieving and enraged families of the infected children, who have become a significant political force within Libya and particularly in their home city of Benghazi, a stronghold of anti-government feeling. Thus the resolution required balancing and, in effect, compensating various parties and the middle-men that brokered the agreement, which included significant payments to the children’s families, contributions to modernize the hospital in Benghazi and a variety of diplomatic concessions between the EU and Libya:

According to EU officials, the key to the agreement has been a memorandum signed in Tripoli by [EU negotiator] Ms Ferrero-Waldner, which would lead to the full normalisation of EU relations with Libya.

The BBC’s Oana Lungescu says it includes a pledge to open the European market to Libyan farm and fishery produce, technical assistance for the restoration of archaeological monuments, and EU grants for Libyan students. (BBC)

Now they are free for the first time in 8 years. When the full story of this sad case is written we will find there were villains, heroes and many innocent victims. I’ll leave to others the assignment of blame. The victims, the children and the medics and the families of both, are obvious. I don’t know all the heroes, but I would like to make special mention of Nature Senior Correspondent Declan Butler who was instrumental in getting Nature, the world’s greatest science journal, many scientists and, not least, the science blogosphere actively engaged. I am proud of my colleagues here at Science Blogs and elsewhere who weighed in at just the right moment, becoming the spearhead for a huge reaction from the blogosphere in general, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum. Declan was the spark that set it ablaze.

For the moment, we will let Bulgarian President Parvanov have the last word:

“The dramatic case with the sentenced innocent Bulgarian citizens is at its end. We are still sympathetic with the other tragedy – the one of the infected Libyan children and their families.”


  1. #1 Abel Pharmboy
    July 24, 2007

    Ah, yes, Declan is very much deserving of accolades but it was you, my friend, who spearheaded efforts among a great many of us. Thank you for all of your hard work.

  2. #2 gilmore
    July 24, 2007

    Revere wrote: “When the full story of this sad case is written we will find there were villains, heroes and many innocent victims”.

    It was the many stories written already that secured their freedom. That ink my friend, is on your hands. Congratulations on a job well done, to all those had a part in securing their release.

  3. #3 M. Randolph Kruger
    July 24, 2007

    Yes indeed Revere you deserve as well as Declan the praises of your convictions which were to get them out. A fine job of putting pressure on the government of Libya. But they laughed and got what they wanted by a terrorist act. I would have handled it much differently if they took you, your family or acted against US interests. Politically correct once again. They all want to be martyrs for their cause. Maybe next time it will rise to the level that we go in and knock the snot out of them and we grant their wishes.

    These people didnt give them AIDS, their government and country did. We just prolonged the inevitable and left Mo. G. in power.

    The question begs itself and Declan should be writing about this, “Whats next?”

  4. #4 Kristjan Wager
    July 24, 2007

    Revere certainly did a great job in reporting about this, but I am afraid that I have to disagree with people here who feel that bloggers really had anything to do with this. Rather, it was Bulgaria’s membership of the EU, which got the EU heavily involved in getting them freed. Libya might easily dismiss Bulgaria (and Palestinia), but when the whole EU got involved, the stakes got too high.
    This doesn’t mean that Libya didn’t get something out of this, but it only happened because it was more important for the people in power in Libya to get on the good side of the EU than to avoid pissing off their citizens (as Revere makes clear in his post).

    One thing that I think is worth noticing, is that Bulgaria granted the Palestinian doctor his Bulgarian citizenship last month, enabling them to get him freed as well. That’s certainly the decent thing to do, and should be applauded as such.

  5. #5 revere
    July 24, 2007

    Kristian: I don’t want to take credit for this. But the outcome came from a very complicated mixture that included, in my estimation, at the very least the heavy weight of the international scientific community (leaving bloggers aside). It was not just Bulgaria’s entry into the EU in January, although that, too, was a key factor. Necessary but not sufficient. Again my opinion, it was not the only factor.

  6. #6 Kristjan Wager
    July 24, 2007

    I think that the EU getting involved was what made it possible for a solution to be reached. However, without the involvement of the scientific community (with or without bloggers), it’s likely that the EU would not have gotten so heavily involved. So, credit all around (except to certain people in Libya).

  7. #7 bar
    July 24, 2007

    It’s our own fault. We taught Gadaffi that trick after Lockerbie.

    Now that the barbarians have established a new way to extract money (around $100 million per hostage in this instance, or $1 million per victim) from the liberal representative democracies, I guess there will be similar cases soon.

  8. #8 DemFromCT
    July 24, 2007

    i am grateful to both Declan and the Reveres (and all the other science bloggers) for their work on this. It isn’t a matter of which one thing helped most… everything helped.

  9. #9 revere
    July 24, 2007

    Which includes you, Dem. The big blogs like yours were instrumental in amplifying this.

  10. #10 Chris
    July 24, 2007


  11. #11 caia
    July 25, 2007

    I am very glad to hear this; thanks to everyone who helped this happen, or tried to.

    My question is, how many foreign medical personnel are still working in Libya, and what can they be thinking? I understand the humanitarian impulse at work, but there are plenty of places with a dire need for doctors and nurses where there isn’t a proven possibility one will be falsely accused, imprisoned, tortured, prevented from presenting exculpatory evidence, repeatedly sentenced to death, and finally released only after government-paid ransom.

    IMHO, responsible governments and aid agencies should strongly advise against going to Libya in a medical capacity. Instead, they get normalized relations? How, exactly, does that discourage this sort of abuse from happening again? (And why could they not find a male Muslim scientist, since that’s what it would take, to testify about what the science proved – that these medics were innocent?)

  12. #12 Kristjan Wager
    July 25, 2007

    Normalizing relationships between EU and Libya doesn’t mean want you seem to think it means Caia. It doesn’t mean that Libya is treated as just another country – rather it means that the EU and Libya are re-establishing diplomatic relationships.

    I don’t think any government or aid agency in Europe would not warn against going to Libya, both in a medical capacity and in general.

  13. #13 O'Leary
    July 26, 2007

    After just a couple of days of intense joy for the Tripoli 6 and their families and gratitude and congratulations to all of the many people who have worked towards this moment – here we are looking at the reality of “normalisation” of relations between the EU and Libya. Today France’s President, Sarkozy, has signed a contract with Khadafi to supply a Nuclear Reactor and various tidbits of projects for an autoroute, hospital, etc.

    The reactor is supposedly for the “desalinisation” of water. Interesting that there has not been a peep from the International community about this while there is the unrelenting uproar about Iran’s access to nuclear energy. Hmmmm. Food for thought, indeed.

    The Tripoli 6 hostages are free and that is what counts in this case. But we are just now learning the various financial arrangements. The 450 million Euros is only the tip of the iceberg I’ll bet.

  14. #14 revere
    July 26, 2007

    O’Leary: I’m guessing a lot of the actual money was “”funny money” related to accounting regarding debt forgiveness, although clearly some real Euros changed hands internationally. But I agree that when we lift up this rock we will find lots of unseemly multinational worms crawling around, enabled by US and French gov. leaders. Everyone wants to blame just the Libyans for this, but if this was ransom, and there is certainly an element of that in the whole thing, more than just the Libyans profitted from it.

    The hypocrisy of the US regarding Iranian nuclear ambitions (turning a blind eye or worse to India, Pakistan and now Libya) is almost beyond endurance. Freeing the T6 is coming at a cost for Gadaffi internally but I am guessing he figures he netted out ahead. I don’t think we’ll see this kind of stunt again from him because it was too costly. It was actually an obstacle to the back room deals, which would have happened more easily without the hostages. So I am satisfied that freeing them was best possible outcome. It got help for the families and the children, obtained freedom for unjustly imprisoned and improved the hospital at Benghazi. The costs in dollars are minor and the political and diplomatic concessions were going to happen anyway and probably would have happened earlier were it not for the diplomatic problem of the T6 case. US and multinationals (including those based in France) have been salivating over Libyan oil and other goodies for some time. Now the way is clear and they took advantage of the T6 settlement to get even more.

  15. #15 M. Randolph Kruger
    July 26, 2007

    Revere as you mention the powers of India, Pakistan have the bomb. They are for the better part somewhat stable. None of them though could rationally think they would ever use a nuke on the other because of the fallout. E.g. dropping a bomb in Pakistan would ensure India was in the fallout path. Vice versa on the Paki’s.

    But, I disagree it was the best possible outcome. The EU paid a ransom, might have gained a bit but the end result is that more hostages are going to be taken…again and soon. What do we do when its by a group who has no oil, or anything else for that matter that matter. It was an illegal act that was performed and they as you said felt the international pressure mounting. If they had been smart they should have just executed them and then dealt with the repercussions of it. If we had been smart we would have moved a carrier battle group up there and implied with a certainty that we would use force to remove them or if they were killed in a rescue, made it so intolerably expensive for them that they would never do it again.

    What I have just outlined is in our future. They will do it again and again and again. They have been doing it again, and again and again. Each time we have negotiated for some sort of monetary deal like these people have done something wrong.

    I work from the NATO operational treaty which is far more effective than the UN has and will ever be. That is that if a NATO nation requests assistance you go and give it to them. Period. Mo. G. is another Saddam and they do understand one thing and that is force. It doesnt matter which country it is in the mid east right now, they are swamped with fundamentalists (some like us) who believe they are on the path of salvation when they do things like this. I also believe in negotiations and the rule of law even when its their laws. But it also requires that in and especially the case of foreign nationals the reason for acquittal should be much lower than for a local. Reasonable doubt. They dont have that in their law books and personally I think the whole deal was contrived.

    Get ready for a whole new round of this kind of stuff. It wont be stopped by force, but it sure tamps back a whole lot of it if you take a refinery down with the implication that you might target a navy or airforce base if they arent released. And do, above all do always follow thru with your threats. Ike did it, Kennedy did it, Ford did it, Nixon did it, Carter wussied, GB1 did it, Clinton did it three times, and GWB has and is doing it.

    Its never perfect in the results, but its better than going to non-conventional war later after they take a nuke plant or a chemical factory.

  16. #16 revere
    July 26, 2007

    Randy: Why do you say it was an illegal act? It was perfectly legal by Libyan law. Illegal and immoral are not the same thing. And the won’t do this again because they lost be doing it, although the recouped some of the loss. And Gadaffi will lose more as Benghazi is a hotbed of opposition to him. Hostages will still be taken (e.g., in Afghanistan) and the Israelis have their own Palestinian hostages and we have ours in Gitmo. Look in the mirror.

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