The Brad Blog, which picked up on the story of the strange death of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi shortly after I published the first account in the Western media on Sunday evening, asked a question yesterday evening that I had been asking myself throughout the day:
So, it's been about 16 hours since we covered indie journalist / historian / blogger Andy Worthington's detailed report on the reported suicide of the man who falsely "confessed," during torture, to a false tie between Iraq and al-Qaeda ... As of this moment, not a single mainstream US newspaper or broadcast outlet has reported on the story. Is it not notable? Or are our newspapers just dead set on ensuring their irrelevance by continuing to not report on news that actually matters, no matter how widely it's being reported in other parts of the world?
See the rest of the story here.
Reuters finally picked up on the story late yesterday afternoon, and secured a quote from Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef, who said that she had seen al-Libi just two weeks ago, on April 27, during a visit to Abu Salim jail in Tripoli. She explained that he "appeared for just two minutes in a prison courtyard," and that he "looked well, but was unwilling to speak" to the Human Rights Watch team, saying instead, "Where were you when I was being tortured in American prisons?"
This account corresponded with some news I received from a Libyan friend, who told me that "a reliable source" had told him that al-Libi's body "was handed to his brother in the city of Ajdabiya." The friend's source corroborated Heba Morayef's account of the prison visit, explaining that al-Libi "refused to meet them in anger because he thought, ‘Where were these organizations when I was badly tortured in US custody?'" In addition, the source, who had had access to al-Libi when he was in prison, said that he was held "in reasonable cell conditions."
This doesn't provide absolute confirmation of what happened to al-Libi, but it does seem to indicate fairly convincingly that he was in reasonable health just two weeks ago, which will only add to suspicions that, instead of committing suicide, as the Libyan authorities claimed, he was actually killed.
Late yesterday, Human Rights Watch issued a press release, calling on the Libyan authorities to conduct "a full and transparent investigation of the reported suicide," in which they "should reveal what they know about al-Libi's treatment in US and Egyptian custody." Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said, "The death of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi means that the world will never hear his account of the brutal torture he experienced. So now it is up to Libya and the United States to reveal the full story of what they know, including its impact on his mental health."
Other Libyans subjected to "extraordinary rendition" by the CIA
Human Rights Watch also revealed that, although its researchers had been unable to talk to al-Libi, they did interview four other Libyan prisoners, sent to Libya by the CIA between 2004 to 2006, who stated that they had been tortured by US forces in detention centers in Afghanistan, and that US forces had also supervised their torture in Pakistan and Thailand.
One of the men, Mohamed Ahmad Mohamed al-Shoroeiya, also known as Hassan Rabi'i, told Human Rights Watch that "in mid-2003, in a place he believed was Bagram prison in Afghanistan," he had been subjected to the following abuse: "The interpreters who directed the questions to us did it with beatings and insults. They used cold water, ice water. They put us in a tub with cold water. We were forced [to go] for months without clothes. They brought a doctor at the beginning. He put my leg in a plaster. One of the methods of interrogation was to take the plaster off and stand on my leg."
The Washington Post published the story of al-Libi's death in this morning's edition, with a fine quote from Tom Malinowski, the head of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch, who said, "I would speculate that he was missing because he was such an embarrassment to the Bush administration. He was Exhibit A in the narrative that tortured confessions contributed to the massive intelligence failure that preceded the Iraq war." However, the Post failed to follow up on the stories of the other prisoners mentioned in the Human Rights Watch press release, even though, in October 2007, Craig Whitlock had written a front-page article for the Post, "From CIA Jails, Inmates Fade Into Obscurity," which included details of the four prisoners.
Whitlock wrote that, when al-Libi was rendered to Libya by the CIA "in early 2006," he "joined several other Libyans" - members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an exiled group dedicated to the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi - "who had spent time in the CIA's penal system." Whitlock noted that, after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA "helped Libya's spy agencies track down some of the leaders" of the LIFG, after they fled the country.
He reported that, according to Noman Benotman, an exiled former LIFG member, who had met the prisoners during a visit to Tripoli that was "arranged by the Libyan government as part of an effort to persuade the Libyan prisoners to reconcile with the Gaddafi regime," the prisoners included Abdallah al-Sadeq, who "was apprehended in a covert CIA operation in Thailand in the spring of 2004," and Abu Munder al-Saadi, described as "the group's spiritual leader," who was seized at an airport in Hong Kong. According to Benotman, these two men were only "held briefly" by the CIA before being rendered to Tripoli. "They realized very quickly that these guys had nothing to do with al-Qaeda," Benotman explained. "They kept them for a few weeks, and that's it."
Benotman also explained that two other prisoners, Khaled al-Sharif "and another Libyan known only as Rabai" - the prisoner mentioned in the Human Rights Watch press release - "were captured in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2003 and spent time in a CIA prison in Afghanistan."
I await the Human Rights Watch report on the Libyan visit with interest, as it will undoubtedly shed more light on the stories of these four men, who appear to be among the 94 prisoners who, in May 2005, in one of the notorious Office of Legal Counsel memos issued by the US Justice Department last month, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven G. Bradbury acknowledged had been held in US custody.
Just as the story of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi should shine the most uncomfortable light on former Vice President Dick Cheney's claims that the CIA's web of secret prisons and proxy prisons protected America from further deadly attacks (and not, as it transpired, provided false information obtained through torture to justify an illegal war), so the stories of these four men deserve to be heard, to focus much-needed attention on a policy which, with no oversight from either Congress or the judiciary, allowed the Executive branch to indulge its dictatorial fantasies by "disappearing" prisoners anywhere around the world, and, in some cases, returning them to countries like Libya, with its notoriously poor human rights record, even when, as Craig Whitlock noted, at least two of these men "had nothing to do with al-Qaeda."
And an even bigger story, to which I hope to return in future, involves asking searching questions of both the US and UK governments regarding their role in forcibly returning - or attempting to return - Libyan prisoners from Guantánamo, and Libyan residents in the UK, whose only crime, it appears, is to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time when Colonel Gaddafi, once regarded as a pariah and an international terrorist, became an ally in the "War on Terror," and those who opposed him were transformed, overnight, from freedom fighters to terrorists.
Note: See here for some excellent political cartoons by Detainee DD, one of the Libyans held in the UK, see here for a report on the UK government's failed attempts to forcibly repatriate Libyans in the UK, and see here, here, here and here for more stories of Libyans in Guantánamo.