Cables depict Qaddafi's bizarre, infighting family

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 23: Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi gestures as he enters the U.N. headquarters for the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2009 in New York City. This is the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly featuring leaders from over 120 countries. (Photo by Rick Gershon/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Muammar Gaddafi
Rick Gershon
Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is seen in a 2009 file photo.

Think you're family's crazy? You've probably got nothing on the Qaddafis.

Hundreds of cables from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli released by the transparency group WikiLeaks paint a sometimes humorous and sometimes disturbing picture of Libyan President Muammar al-Qaddafi and his seven sons.

The cables alternately depict absurd extravagance - private island concerts by U.S. pop superstars - and vicious infighting among a group of brothers seeking ever larger pieces of the oligarchic pie and a better claim as the heir to the despot who has ruled Libya for 42 years.

"The glimpses of the clan's antics in recent years that have reached Libyans despite Col. Qaddafi's tight control of the media have added to the public anger now boiling over. And the tensions between siblings could emerge as a factor in the chaos in the oil-rich African country," the New York Times reported Wednesday in one of several reviews of the Libya cables.

Wikileaks cables from embassy Tripoli

Numerous cables focus on a long-simmering feud between the Libyan and Swiss governments that began when one of the Qaddafi sons, Hannibal, was arrested in Geneva for physically abusing his personal staff then hiding from and resisting Swiss police with armed bodyguards.

Libya accused the Swiss of using unnecessary force, violating Hannibal's diplomatic immunity and of "deliberately seeking to embarrass Libya because of Switzerland's 'well-known' dislike of Arabs," according to a U.S. embassy cable.

Libya, in clear retaliation, arrested two Swiss citizens for "immigration offenses" and began shutting down Swiss companies conducting business in Libya on bureaucratic pretexts. The feud eventually led Switzerland's ambassador to Libya to declare the relationship "dead."

Hannibal was separately accused of abusing his wife. Other female family members intervened to advise the wife not to report the abuse and to attribute it to an "accident," the documents show.

In 2008, Condoleezza Rice became the first secretary of state since John Foster Dulles to visit Libya in 1953. In a "scenesetter" cable, classified as secret, local diplomats advised Rice that Libya was a valued partner in the U.S. "war on terror," that it sought the prestige of a leadership role among African states and strong bilateral relations with the U.S. and that her visit would come amid nationalist fervor, days after the 39th anniversary of the 1969 military coup that brought Qadddafi to power.

But the scenestter also described human rights issues, complicated ties with Iraq and warned that Qaddafi is "notoriously mercurial. He often avoids making eye contact during the initial portion of meetings, and there may be long, uncomfortable periods of silence. Alternatively, he can be an engaging and charming interlocutor."

The 68-year-old leader is "a hypochondriac who fears flying over water and often fasts on Mondays and Thursdays. ... who once added "King of Culture" to the long list of titles he had awarded himself," the Times wrote in its review of the cables. He is also, rather notoriously, "accompanied everywhere by a 'voluptuous blonde,' the senior member of his posse of Ukrainian nurses."

  • Ken Millstone

    Ken Millstone is an assignment editor at