Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a major new report detailing how the Bush Administration and other allied governments tortured and imprisoned opponents of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The prisoners were then rendered to Gaddafi’s own prisons where many of them were tortured.
According to a HRW press release, the 154-page report, “Delivered into Enemy Hands: US-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gaddafi’s Libya,” is based on documents discovered by Human Rights Watch on September 3, 2011 in the offices of Libya’s former intelligence chief, Musa Kusa, after Tripoli fell to rebel forces last year.
The report also references 14 interviews with victims of both U.S. rendition and U.S. and Libyan torture. In addition, HRW provides new information on the mysterious last days of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who reportedly committed suicide in a Libyan prison in 2009, two weeks after HRW representatives briefly spoke with him.
According to HRW, other governments involved in torture and/or unlawful renditions to Libya included “Afghanistan, Chad, China and Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Sudan, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.”
Perhaps the most explosive new information in the report concerns charges by one of the prisoners that he was waterboarded. US authorities have long maintained that only three CIA-held prisoners were ever waterboarded, and the Department of Defense maintains it never waterboarded prisoners in DoD custody.
According to the report, Mohammed al-Shoroeiya, who was former Deputy Head of the Military Council for the anti-Gaddafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), told HRW representatives earlier this year that he after he was captured by the Pakistanis in April 2003, he was imprisoned by the Americans in Afghanistan.
Shoroeiya told HRW that U.S. forces tortured him. He was “chained to walls naked—sometimes while diapered—in pitch black, windowless cells, for weeks or months at a time; being restrained in painful stress positions for long periods of time, being forced into cramped spaces; being beaten and slammed into walls; being kept inside for nearly five months without the ability to bathe; being denied food; being denied sleep by continuous, deafeningly loud Western music; and being subjected to different forms of water torture including… waterboarding.”
Shoroeiya said the interrogators wore “’special forces’ black uniforms with black caps on but no masks.” He also drew numerous pictures of the torture apparatuses used on him, including the board he was strapped to for waterboarding. Many of these pictures are reproduced in the HRW report.
Khalid al-Sharif, who was another LIFG leader captured at the same time as Shoroeiya, told HRW that he also was subjected to water torture while in U.S. custody. Today, Sharif is head of the Libyan National Guard.
“Sometimes they put a hood over my head and they lay me down and they start to put water in my mouth…. They poured the water over my mouth and nose so I had the feeling that I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe…. I tried to turn my head left and right as much as I could to take in some gulps of breath. I felt as if I was suffocating,” Sharif told HRW in a telephone interview last May.
U.S. interrogators reportedly repeatedly threatened both Sharif and Shoroeiya with return to Libya. Despite pleas not to be returned, and despite the fact U.S. State Department reports on Libya described the widespread use of torture in Libyan prisons, both the men were unlawfully rendered to Libya.
The UN Convention Against Torture, to which the U.S. is a signatory, states, “No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”
Sharif has said the Libyans placed him in “extreme isolation.” Shoroeiya said initially the Libyans told him he would not be maltreated because they had made assurances to U.S. authorities as to his safety as part of his transfer. Nevertheless, after six months, the Libyans began to torture Shoroeiya, including both “long periods of solitary confinement” and beatings by guards, who used “sticks, steel pipes, and electrical cables that were used as a whip” to bloody the prisoner.
U.S. Water Torture of Teen
The new revelations concerning waterboarding and waterboarding-like torture of detainees comes a year after a two-part series at Truthout in August 2011 which revealed that, despite denials by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other DoD authorities, waterboarding-like torture was used in DoD facilities, including Guantanamo.
While the HRW report is certain to get wide U.S. coverage, the recent release of documents related to the incarceration of Omar Khadr, a long-term Guantanamo detainee who was brought to that prison as a 15-year-old teenager, has so far not gained much attention.
In one of the documents published August 31 by Macleans Canada, US Army psychiatrist, Brigadier General (retired) Stephen Xenakis, wrote to Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews last February, describing his psychiatric evaluation of Khadr, based on hundreds of hours of meetings with the former child prisoner.
Xenakis’s report and that of other doctors and psychologists involved in examining Khadr were requested by the Canadian government as part of their deliberations in the contentious possible transfer of Khadr from Guantanamo to Canada. Such a transfer was reportedly part of a plea deal Khadr and his attorneys made last year when he pleaded guilty to purported war crimes at his military commission trial in October 2010. Khadr is a Canadian citizen.
According to Xenakis’s letter, after Khadr, who was “severely wounded” in a July 2002 firefight in Afghanistan, was brought to Bagram medical facility, he was “forcibly handled while still in his hospital stretcher.”
Xenakis continued, “He was mocked [by U.S. personnel] and remembers having water poured on his face while hooded so that he felt unable to breathe.”
Another story similar to that of Sharif and Khadr was described by this reporter in an article at Truthout last year. Saudi national Ahmed al-Darbi was rendered from Azerbaijan to Afghanistan in 2002. In a 2009 declaration, al-Darbi described torture by U.S. DoD interrogators, who placed “a sand bag or hood… over my head and tightened around my neck, and then they would grab my head and shake it violently while swearing at me and they would also pour water over my head while my head was covered.”
“The Case of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi”
One section of the HRW report adds new details to what is known about the fate of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi. Captured by Pakistani forces in late 2001, Al-Libi was turned over to the U.S. who rendered him to Egypt. There he was tortured until he “revealed” that Al Qaeda operatives were given training in use of biological and chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein’s regime. The torture infamously included being confined in a coffin.
Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to this al-Libi’s “revelations” in making his case against Saddam Hussein’s biological and chemical weapons capacities at the UN in a speech on February 5, 2003. The U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.
But Al-Libi recanted his confession months later. Even earlier, U.S. intelligence agencies were doubtful concerning the original revelations, in part because they were obtained by torture. But Al-Libi himself had disappeared into the maw of the U.S. rendition system.
According to the HRW report, Al-Libi was transferred to a number of prisons. After Egypt, it appears likely he was transferred to CIA custody at Bagram “where it seems he recanted the information he had provided earlier on links between Iraq and al Qaeda. On February 4 and 5, 2004, CIA officers sent cables to headquarters acknowledging that al-Libi’s account from 2002 was not reliable,” the HRW report said.
Speaking to Al-Libi family members and other prisoners, HRW determined that this high-value detainee was shuffled from Bagram to “a prison in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul from June 2003 to October 2003, then Kabul again, Morocco for about a year, Guantanamo for three to five months, Alaska, a US air base in Sweden, and finally to Libya.” Some contacts could not corroborate the Sweden or Guantanamo incarcerations, and others thought Al-Libi may have been held for a time on a prison ship, in Syria, or in Poland (or possibly another European country).
Al-Libi appears to have certainly been in Libya by December 2007, held first in Tajoura prison and later transferred to Abu Salim, where he reportedly committed suicide on May 9, 2009. HRW reports, “Libyan authorities claim he committed suicide by hanging himself with a sheet, tied into a loop and hooked onto the corner of the edge of the wall in the middle of his cell. “
But pictures taken the morning of Al-Libi’s death reportedly show he has a large bruise on his left arm, “a small bruise on the top of his back near his shoulder blades,” and “two long light scratches that go at an angle across his back from the middle of his shoulder blades to the middle of his lower back.” An autopsy supposedly was provided to a Libyan prosecutor.
Al-Libi’s brother and uncle have asked the new Libyan government for a full investigation.
Human Rights Watch reports that their representatives “saw al-Libi for a few minutes and tried to interview him. He appeared agitated and angry but he sat down with researchers and listened to a short introduction about Human Rights Watch. However, before he could be interviewed, al-Libi got up and said before walking away, ‘Where were you when I was being tortured in American jails?’”
Two weeks later, al-Libi was dead.
Call for New Investigations
The release of the HRW report comes only days after Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the investigation by special prosecutor John Durham into the deaths of two detainees held in U.S. custody was being shut down with no charges being filed.
Laura Pitter, counterterrorism advisor at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, is quoted in a press release, “The closure of the Durham investigation, without any charges, sends a message that abuse like that suffered by the Libyan detainees will continue to be tolerated.”
“The involvement of many countries in the abuse of Gaddafi’s enemies suggests that the tentacles of the US detention and interrogation program reached far beyond what was previously known,” Pitter said. “The US and other governments that assisted in detainee abuse should offer a full accounting of their role.”
HRW has called for the U.S. government to honor its commitment under the UN Convention Against Torture treaty and investigate allegations of torture, while taking steps to allow compensation for torture victims.
More specifically, HRW calls for President Obama to “[d]irect the attorney general to begin a criminal investigation into US government detention practices and interrogation methods since September 11, 2001, including the CIA detention program.”
They also call for Congress to create “an independent, nonpartisan commission to investigate the mistreatment of detainees in US custody anywhere in the world since September 11, 2001, including torture, enforced disappearance, and rendition to torture.” The commission should have “full subpoena power” to “compel the production of evidence, and be empowered to recommend the creation of a special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal offenses, if the attorney general has not commenced such an investigation.”