Amal Alamuddin’s photo was splashed across the world last month after the announcement of her engagement to George Clooney.
Soon, she could return to the front pages in a more controversial role — when she stands up in court to represent former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s notorious spy chief in a case that could scupper the reputation of the International Criminal Court.
Abdullah al-Senussi is no one’s idea of a poster boy for justice. As Gadhafi’s intelligence chief and right-hand man for four decades, the 64-year-old supervised torture, assassinations and town-square hangings.
Many Libyans blame him for the massacre of 1,200 inmates at Tripoli’s Abu Salem Prison. A Paris court has convicted him in absentia for the bombing of a French airliner in 1989, and Scottish police are to interview him over allegations of masterminding the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
He fled Libya during the 2011 Arab Spring revolution but was caught in Mauritania and returned to Libya. And that is where the trouble began.
Al-Senussi was charged — along with Gadhafi’s playboy son, Seif al-Islam — with war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC. Under the rules of the United Nations, which ordered the case, the Hague court was to hold the trial unless Libya could prove itself capable of doing the job itself.
In October, Libya was given that approval, despite allegations that al-Senussi had been mistreated, and Libya’s refusal to let Alamuddin or any of his ICC-appointed defense team visit him, which she says should have been a red flag to The Hague.
“A scary precedent has been set,” she said. “The ICC made its decision despite the fact that Libya did not allow us a single visit to al-Senussi.”
A high-flier in the world of international lawyers, Alamuddin was hired for the case by Ben Emmerson QC, with whom she had already worked defending WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange.
Her decision to work as legal adviser to Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who has been blamed by rights groups for systematic torture and repression, raised eyebrows, but sources at her chambers in London’s Doughty Street say she is a tough, combative lawyer with experience gained as a prosecutor on the U.N.’s Lebanon war crimes tribunal.