The report of a privately-funded Canadian fact-finding mission that traveled to Libya last summer as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was clinging to . . .[restrict]power was one-sided and reflected a view of the conflict that the regime was actively promoting, according to those familiar with its contents.
The Vanier Consulting study was impartially titled “Fact Finding Report — Mission Date July 17, 2011-July 26, 2011,” but several people who have seen it called it pro-Gaddafi and said it claimed NATO forces and Libyan rebels had committed atrocities and war crimes.
Following the fact-finding mission, the consultant, Cynthia Vanier, was mysteriously arrested in Mexico City along with two partners of the retired U.S. Marine who supplied the plane for the Libya trip. The RCMP has also questioned at least two of those who took part in the expedition.
Based partly on the consultant’s tour of sites around Tripoli that had been bombed by NATO warplanes, the report was distributed to several Canadian organizations including the Department of Foreign Affairs, which received an unsolicited copy in the first week of August.
At the time, the remnants of the Gaddafi regime were holed up in the capital, under siege by rebels and trying to undermine NATO by claiming air strikes were killing large numbers of civilians, but there is no evidence the report had any impact on Canadian policy.
At a tribute Thursday to Canadian Forces members who took part in the Libya campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the Gaddafi regime a “brutal and psychotic” dictatorship and said the United Nations and NATO had to step in to prevent mass killings.
SNC-Lavalin, the Montreal engineering and construction firm, which has several large contracts in Libya, acknowledged last week it had hired Vanier Consulting to report on the findings of its Libya mission but it is unclear whether other financiers also bankrolled the mission.
“This is a very interesting case which we urge the Canadian public and government to explore,” the Canada Libya Council said in a statement. “These cases are critical in Canada’s future involvement with Libya, particularly the corporation’s future investments in the country.”
Mexican police and prosecutors have not said why they are holding Ms. Vanier or her associates, who were allegedly planning to meet in Mexico City. Mexico can detain suspects for up to 40 days while they investigate. The Canadian embassy in Mexico City is monitoring the case.
Ms. Vanier is a mediator from Mount Forest, Ont., who works mostly on First Nations issues. Her resume does not indicate she has any significant experience in war zones. But in July she put together a small Libyan fact-finding team that traveled on a private jet.
Her security team was led by an Ontario private security contractor and former Australian soldier named Gary Peters who says he has been a Gaddafi family bodyguard since 2004 and helped three of Gaddafi’s children, Saadi, Hannibal and Ayisha, get out of Libya last summer.
The translator was Mahmod Razwan, president of the Canadian Libyan Friendship Association. The plane and pilots were contracted from Veritas Worldwide Security, a U.S. company whose website offers such services as provision of weapons and clandestine operations.
Libya was then under United Nations-imposed sanctions that prohibited any financial dealings with senior government members or the Gaddafi family. Ms. Vanier has said she did not violate any sanctions. Mr. Peters also said he broke no laws.
SNC-Lavalin said it had hired Vanier Consulting because the engineering giant was monitoring the security situation in Libya on behalf of the employees it hopes to return to the country to complete its construction projects. It said it was unaware Mr. Peters was involved in the fact-finding mission. It declined to say how much it had paid Vanier.
The descriptions of the consultant’s report are consistent with what Mr. Peters has said — that the expedition documented atrocities supposedly committed by the NATO forces and the National Transitional Council (NTC) rebel fighters who went on to topple Gaddafi.
“I went over there a while back with a fact finding tour which was really good for both sides to try and expose what’s going on over there,” Mr. Peters said in an interview last month. “I am neither pro-Gaddafi or -NTC. But what I saw when I was over there, it’s changing my mind real fast. I’ve seen some things over there and videos of stuff that the NTC were doing in Bengazi, which if it had become public would have turned especially Canada away.”
He said NATO had bombed private residences rather than just anti-aircraft defences and other military targets. “We went to 72 bomb sites throughout the place and out of the 72 only eight were military installations.”
But Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch, who toured several NATO bomb sites in August, said while civilian deaths did occur, Libyan authorities had grossly exaggerated the numbers and had tampered with the sites for public relations purposes.
“We saw signs of doctoring at those sites we did. For example we saw baby bottles that were placed strategically atop rubble,” he said, adding medicines and toys had also been planted. “I remember seeing stuffed animals placed delicately atop the ruins.”
He said Human Rights Watch had interviewed a senior Libyan official, now in custody, who had admitted the regime had deliberately inflated civilian deaths caused by NATO. “It’s no surprise, we see that in any war,” he said. “What was surprising was how sloppily they did it. [/restrict]