Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Living Out Exile In Paradise A Thing Of The Past


Exile isn't what it used to be. It's no longer easy for a dictator to take his millions on a midnight plane and live out his days in France or Saudi Arabia. As pressure mounts on Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, European diplomats are reported to be looking at different options for an exile deal, but others want to haul him off in chains to answer for his crimes at the International Criminal Court.

What's the right thing to do? A deal on a quick and quiet exile might end the fighting and save lives. A trial might deter other dictators and provide accountability. 800-989-8255 is our phone number. Email us: You can also join the conversation on our website. That's in, click on TALK OF THE NATION.


Attorney Scott Horton has advised countries on how to pursue kleptocratic predecessors. And he joins us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. SCOTT HORTON (Attorney): Great to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And what are Moammar Gadhafi's options at this point if - if, and that's a big if - he's interested in exile?

Mr. HORTON: Well, I think they are rapidly dwindling. You know - as you know, of course, in the old days it would have been Europe, it would have been London, South of France, Switzerland. Those options are clearly not on the table. Within the Arab world...

CONAN: Why not?


Mr. HORTON: Because he would face prosecution at any of those locations. So the governments are not in a position to shield him from prosecution. Likewise, he would face civil suits going after his assets. So you know, those who have gone there more recently have found it to be hell. In fact, you can ask Baby Doc Duvalier, who bought a beautiful villa in the South of France and then got in all sorts of litigation and wound up losing his fortune.

CONAN: Much of it in the divorce proceeding.

Mr. HORTON: That's exactly right, yeah. Which shows you can never guess where the exposures or risks will come from.

Then you've got Saudi Arabia, which for the Arab world really was the place of choice. The Saudis would protect people they granted exile to, insist that they be good practicing devout Muslims. But it would give them security. Two floors in the Nova Hotel for Idi Amin, for instance.

But Moammar Gadhafi has got a problem with Saudi Arabia. And that is that he was involved in at least two serious plots on the life of then-Crown Prince Abdullah, who now, of course, is King Abdullah, and will be the person making the decision. So it's hard to imagine Saudi Arabia welcoming someone like Moammar Gadhafi.

And that leaves - that leaves Africa, I think. And from everything I hear out of London today, that's what's being explored, explored aggressively. You know, certainly we have the Italian government involved in pioneering some talks with the African Union. And the countries that are being mentioned right now - Chad, Niger, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea - none of them exactly a delightful vacation resort, but all countries that could offer him shelter from criminal prosecution. I think there's going to be a lot of tension on that point.

CONAN: Indeed. It's interesting to note, there's a report out of Tunisia today that Libya's foreign minister, Mussa Kussa, left Tunisia for London on Wednesday. We clearly don't know if he's there to negotiate, if he's there to protest, if he's there to go shopping. We simply don't know. But clearly there are some things in train.

Mr. HORTON: I think that's right. And you know, part of it is we have a Security Council resolution, the first resolution, 1970, that referred the case to the ICC. In fact, that was the first resolution ever that was...

CONAN: To the International Criminal Court.

Mr. HORTON: Exactly correct. That's the first that was ever voted unanimously. And this last weekend, we have Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor, stating that he assesses the likelihood of indictments being brought as 100 percent. In other words, he's going to do it. I've talked to people on his staff who tell me that they've been told to have the process wound up and have indictments ready by the end of May. That's a pretty tight schedule.

And given that, it's very, very difficult for anyone to offer him immunity. It's been decided at the Security Council level, there's no head of state who would have the right unilaterally to undo that. It's not even clear that the Security Council itself could undo that.

And this sets us up for a real problem. It's this problem we have before. In fact, if you think back to 1999, 2000, when negotiations were going on with Slobodan Milosevic, we had the same question of war crimes charges - and The Hague lingering in the background - and he felt that he got assurance that he wasn't going to be prosecuted.

Of course, then, when he was brought to The Hague, he claimed, look, I was assured of immunity. And U.S. diplomats had to travel there and testify, no, no, no, no, no. He misunderstood us. We never promised him any immunity. And indeed, the U.S. diplomat said, nor we did have the authority and power to do so.

CONAN: Interesting. And, of course, his trial never came to conclusion. He died before it could end. But nevertheless, he did spend the rest of his days in a prison waiting the conclusion of that trial.

Nevertheless, as you look at the situation in Libya, as unpalatable as it might be that Moammar Gadhafi could live out the rest of his days, he and his sons, in comfort in some place like Zimbabwe, which many part of it are very nice, wouldn't that be preferable to fighting to the last drop of blood?

Mr. HORTON: I think there's just no question about it. I think that would be a solution. I think there's a broad sense right now that if Gadhafi and his sons were to leave Libya, that would result in the collapse of the existing government in Tripoli, and that would set the stage for reconsolidation of the country and probably internationally supervised elections for a new government. So we get a peaceful solution.

CONAN: What is the right thing to do? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: We'll start with Sarah(ph). Sarah is on the line from Salt Lake City.

SARAH (Caller): Hi.


SARAH: I was - you know, I think if what we're doing is asking him to leave, which basically we're saying you - we should be saying you have to leave but asking nicely. If he doesn't want to leave, we need to either find out where he's at, bomb the place, hopefully get him. Or if we capture him, hold him accountable.

I mean - you know, if we don't hold these people accountable for these crimes that they commit, then the precedence that we set is that you can engage in this type of behavior and then you can - we'll just let you -when you're forced out of office, you can just go live your life somewhere else in a different country.

And I - you know, I was against the war in Iraq but I was happy to see Saddam hanged for what he did, because he deserved it. And Gadhafi deserves to be held accountable for his actions.

CONAN: Yet if an exile deal would avert a lot of fighting, would that not be a good thing?

SARAH: I think - you know, it's a difficult thing. I mean, I would say yes if he were exiled, but I don't know. I just - I have a real issue with these dictators committing crimes, like murdering their own people. And, I mean, they - he even engaged in terrorist attacks against America years ago and not being held accountable for their actions.

CONAN: And...

SARAH: They need to be held accountable.

CONAN: And, Scott Horton, accountability. That is the reason the International Criminal Court was established.

Mr. HORTON: Exactly right. And, of course, the joke has long been it's the International Criminal Court for Africa because that's all they seem to be handling. This case, it's at least North Africa. But I think, you know, the question of arresting a head of state sitting is - you know, it's a very, very, very tricky one. And we've dealt with this before a little bit. I mean, we've had this question with Milosevic, with Karadzic. We had the question with Bashir, the sitting president of Sudan who's also been indicted. And it's certainly not an easy thing to do.

But I think it is a possibility in this case. I mean, certainly, if indictments are returned, one possibility is that the forces now enforcing the no-fly zone send troops to the ground to actually arrest Gadhafi and bring him back. But that would be a dangerous and difficult military mission.

CONAN: Sarah, thanks very much.

SARAH: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we could go next to - this is Balark(ph). Balark with us from Berkeley.

BALARK (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: You're on the air, Balark. Go ahead, please.

BALARK: Hi. I was wondering, I mean, as abhorrent as it sounds to give someone like Gadhafi immunity, would it be better to encourage this sort of thing, because, you know, Libya is not isolated in this current conflict. You have people like Bashar Assad in Syria and others like that in many other - in half a dozen other countries. You have Yemen and then you have the possibilities in Bahrain and all that.

If they know that they are going to be cornered and fought down like, you know - and brought down in a bloody conflict, they're more likely to engage in that because they'll be cornered. If you encourage people to step down by giving them immunity, then perhaps that would help save thousands of lives. And - at the cost, obviously, of letting some terrible people go. But it's not the first time that something like this has happened. And...

CONAN: No. But the idea - and we were talking about this before. The -yes, you establish a precedent. You could go without killing - fighting to the last drop of blood. On the other hand, don't you want to send a message to other dictators that there should be some deterrence? If you are terrible and killing your own people, you will end up not in comfort but before the criminal court.

BALARK: I agree. But don't you also want to send a message to dictators that there is an out? There is a way for them to leave right now, and they can - you know, and essentially tell them that if they don't accept this, then obviously, they will be brought down.

But they can get - if they can - I don't want him to get away with it, but the thing is you have many people who are going to die if - or many regimes that are going to survive this current thing because they're not going to be fought, and they're going to continue on. You have inevitably Mugabe in Zimbabwe and places like that.

CONAN: Yeah. And I just wanted to turn to Scott Horton on this point. He was saying earlier who would grant immunity? It's difficult to do. On the other hand, the other part of it, it is impossible to do any of this in public, is it not?

Mr. HORTON: I think so. I think there may be something of a middle ground here, though, because I think what you - we may will wind up with is him being granted asylum in a country which is not a member of the International Criminal Court from which he cannot - and which promises that they won't extradite him.

But the ICC prosecutor will go forward, issue the indictment and you'll see international pressure on that country to render him up, to turn him over, to send him to The Hague to face charges. So we come to something of a standoff where he has a sort of tenuous shelter but still faces demands for accountability.

And in that case, you know, the head of state who's offering him the shelter and might be in Zimbabwe, Mr. Mugabe, who's 93 years old, he might die; a new government could come and could have an entirely different view about how desirable he is. So I think it's - I think the most likely outcome right now would be an ambiguous solution along those lines.

CONAN: Balark, thanks very much for the call. And quickly before we let you go, Scott Horton, if he were to go to such a place - you're an expert in trying to get his money for - on behalf of the people who he took it from in Libya - how difficult would that be?

Mr. HORTON: Well, I think there are enormous financial resources that have already been frozen all around the world - the United States, the UK, Switzerland. He has six billion dollars in gold bars in Tripoli, for instance. I think he would probably leave the country with a substantial sum of money. But I think the great bulk of Libya's state wealth - and probably even most of his private wealth - is going to be seized, and we're going to see a squabble over who will get it. At the end of the day, probably the new Libyan government will lay claim to it.

CONAN: Scott Horton, thanks very much for your time.

Mr. HORTON: Great to be with you.

CONAN: Scott Horton is an attorney who teaches law at Columbia University in New York, a contributing editor to Harper's. You can find a link to his article in foreign policy "Give Me A Shelter" at our website. Just go to and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.