Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi's case is perhaps the most notorious and controversially stark example of what happens when the use of torture is justified by the state. Following 'Operation Enduring Freedom' only a handful of alleged Al-Qaeda members were not sent to Guantanamo and became 'disappeared'. Al-Libi was one of them.
Background and Circumstances of Arrest:
Libyan-born Ali Mohamed al-Fakhiri, better known as Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was previously in charge of Afghanistan's Khaldan training camp – which closed down in 1999. In November 2001, he was seized by coalition forces as he attempted to cross the Afghan-Pakistan border, and thereafter handed over to the US military in Afghanistan for a bounty. However, his capture wasn't announced until January 2002 when he was hailed as a high profile al-Qaeda member. Although al-Libi did run the training camp, it is now clear neither he, nor the Khaldan camp, were part of Al-Qaeda, as later confirmed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in September 2006.
After his capture, al-Libi became a victim of the CIA's extraordinary rendition. A ghost prisoner, it is believed he was flown to seven different locations around the world including a US warship, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco, Jordan and secret CIA-run prisons in Afghanistan.
Egypt and the Case for War
In early 2002, al-Libi was transported from Afghanistan to Egypt whilst bound tightly in a coffin. In Egyptian prisons he underwent severe torture including water boarding and mock burial – a method by which prisoners are kept in a box less than 20 inches high. His interrogators persistently questioned him about the link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda but al-Libi said that he "knew nothing" and that he "had difficulty even coming up with a story."
It was only after the mock burial, which lasted 17 hours, and the interrogators giving him one "last opportunity" to "tell the truth" and severe beatings for15 minutes that al-Libi concocted a story his interrogators wanted to hear. Al-Libi’s ‘confession’ connected Saddam Hussein to Al-Qaeda in the training and acquirement of biological and chemical weapons. This false confession was cited by the Bush Administration to the UN Security Council as ‘credible evidence’ and became a major justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In Feb 2002, a US Defense Intelligence Agency report conceded that the confession was a fabrication. One year later al-Libi retracted his entire story when he was returned to CIA custody, in Feb 2004. Remarkably, unlike other High Value Detainees (HVD) – like Abu Zubaydah who is said to have been involved in the running of Khaldan – al-Libi was not sent to Guantanamo. Clearly al-Libi’s presence in its most infamous prison would have proved highly embarrassing and potentially damning for the US administration.
CIA Secret Detentions
From Egypt, al-Libi was transferred to a secret prison in Mauritania. Reports suggest that he was also sent to Poland but that when the secret detentions were discovered in Europe, Mauritania was chosen as a more plausibly deniable option.
After Mauritania, al-Libi was flown to Morocco and then to Jordan where he was detained in a facility run by the GID (General Intelligence Department). It is reported that in an attempt to prevent al-Libi from knowing where he was being held, dark-skinned guards dressed in green trousers and yellow shirts were brought in to make him believe he was in sub-Saharan Africa.
Al-Libi was then rendered back to Afghanistan in late 2003 and held in 3 separate CIA-run prisons; namely 'The Hangar' inside Baghram airbase, the 'Dark Prison' located near Kabul and another in the Panjshir Valley.
In these proxy prisons, it is believed al-Libi was subjected to severe torture and extreme interrogation techniques. With the use of torture, he was persistently questioned by US interrogators at their behest about other prisoners and suspects.
It is uncertain how long al-Libi was last held in Afghanistan, but in the spring of 2006, he was handed over to Libyan authorities who then sentenced him to life imprisonment in a closed court.
After more than 7 years of torture and secret detention, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was found dead in Libya's Abu Salim prison, with no mention of when exactly he died. Later news reports from the Libyan newspaper Oea (owned by one of President al-Gaddafi's sons) stated that he had committed suicide by hanging. In the absence of an independent autopsy report, few people believe this assertion
On 27th April, just two weeks before his death, al-Libi was visited by two Human Rights Watch (HRW) researchers but he refused to speak to them saying, "Where were you when I was being tortured in American prisons?" He then walked away in anger. He was last visited on 29th April 2009 by family members. Al-Libi was aged 46 and suffering from tuberculosis and diabetes when he died. But it is undoubtedly the secret detention programme that took his life
The case of al-Libi should serve as a stark reminder about what happens when torture is used as a method to garner information – even in the name of ‘national security’ – especially when governments have evidently conspired to conceal the facts.
Sarah Leah Whitson from HRW said about his case, "The world will never hear his account of the brutal torture he experienced".
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)