George Clooney’s fiancée Amal Alamuddin who got engaged just last week is back in the news. Clooney’s human rights lawyer fiancée, is defending Colonel Gaddafi’s notoriously brutal spy chief as he goes on trial in Libya charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Amal Alamuddin is representing Abdullah al-Senussi who is accused of a string of human rights abuses dating back to the 2011 Arab-spring uprising and civil war which unseated Gaddafi.
But while few people doubt that Senussi is guilty, the International Criminal Court’s decision to allow the case to be heard in Libya has sparked a firestorm of controversy that threatens to tarnish its reputation.
He and his co-defendant Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the ousted dictator, have been allegedly mistreated and stopped from seeing lawyers, or even the evidence against them, in a trial that could lead to the death penalty.
As hearings began last month, Amnesty International branded the trials of Senussi, Gaddafi and a string of other former Gaddafi regime officials a ‘farce’.
Miss Alamuddin, 36, whose engagement to Clooney was made public last month, is now appealing the ICC’s decision to allow Libya to try Senussi, saying that many of the conditions it set for the trial have not been met.
It was the ICC that brought the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Senussi, but it has allowed Libya to hold the trial after judging that the country was capable of doing so.
But although the first hearings in Tripoli have already begun, Miss Alamuddin says she has not been granted a visa to visit the country, or even had a chance to speak to her client by phone.
She told The Observer: ‘A scary precedent has been set. The ICC made its decision [to allow Libya to prosecute] despite the fact that Libya did not allow us a single visit to Senussi.’
Senussi, 64, was Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence chief for four decades, during which time he supervised torture, assasination and public executions.
He has had a reputation for brutality in Libya going back to the Seventies. During the Eighties he was head of the country’s internal security at a time when many of the regimes opponents were killed.
In 1999 a French court convicted him in absentia for his role in a 1989 bombing of a passenger plane over Niger that led to the deaths of 170 people.
Libyans believe he was responsible for the massacre of 1,200 inmates at the Abu Salim jail in 1996, and it has been speculated that he was also behind a 2003 plot to assassinate Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Miss Alamuddin is a high-flier in the world of international law. She recently worked on the defence of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and has acted as legal adviser to former UN chief Kofi Annan and, more controversially, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain, who has been accused of systematic oppression of his own people.
She has represented clients in cases before the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, as well as in domestic courts in the UK and U.S.
Born in Beirut, her family fled to the UK when she was two to escape war in Lebanon. She attended Dr Challoner’s High School in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, before studying law at St Hugh’s College, Oxford University.
She now works out of Doughty Street Chambers, which describes her as ‘a barrister specialising in international law, human rights, extradition and criminal law.’
So far Miss Alamuddin has waited six months for ICC officials to give a date for Senussi appeal hearing, and the issue of his and other defendants’ access to their defence lawyers will be pivotal.
The trial of Senussi alongside 30 other former Gaddafi henchmen began at Tripoli’s Al-Habda prison last month, despite the ongoing appeal at the ICC.
Addressing the four judges, many of the defendants complained they had not been given access to lawyers or only saw them at court appearances.
‘I want to be treated like other prisoners. I want visiting rights. I don’t have a lawyer,’ Senussi said.
In the meantime, the lawyer is enjoying the Hollywood jet set lifestyle with her new fiancé. She was last pictured on Thursday with Clooney last Thursday boarding a private jet at Van Nuys airport in California.