A Libyan terror suspect kidnapped from Libya in a raid by US special forces on October 5 was transferred from the naval ship, where he was being detained and interrogated, into “law enforcement custody” over the weekend.
The Justice Department indicated in a press release that he was “brought directly to the Southern District of New York, where he has been under indictment for more than a decade.” He was expected to be brought before a judge on October 15.
Al-Liby is suspected of being involved in the bombings of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Last week, a chief federal public defender, David E. Patton, according to the Los Angeles Times, had pressed a federal judge to order that he be “brought to court immediately,” as he was aboard a ship being interrogated by the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which is a special task force of personnel from the Pentagon, FBI, CIA and other agencies. He had not been read Miranda rights, which he and other terror suspects have a right to be read if they are being prosecuted under US law. But a federal judge would not issue such an order and would not appoint a defense lawyer to represent him either.
A more critical issue is that al-Liby, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, may not be the dangerous al Qaeda terrorist the United States government believes he happens to be.
American-British foreign correspondent Jamie Dettmer interviewed family members of al-Liby, who suggested just last month he had “talked with the Libyan attorney general and the head of intelligence to say he was keen to clear his name of the bombing accusations and was ready to face any Libyan judicial inquiry they deemed necessary. He was prepared for an American interrogation—in Libya. [Dettmer saw a copy of a letter from the attorney general's office dated September 15, 2013, that confirmed his father's discussions.]
Umm Abdul Rahman, al-Liby’s wife, explained to Dettmer that in the 1990s, at the same time as the bombings, they were living in Britain and “under tight surveillance, with their home being raided frequently and her husband’s computers seized.” Rahman was “sure that if British intelligence had any evidence, they would have acted and the British authorities would have agreed to an extradition request made by the Americans during their stint in the UK.” Al-Liby’s family essentially decided to flee Britain because the surveillance and harassment was no longer tolerable and were allowed to legally leave the country.
Although she admitted he had been affiliated with al Qaeda and was a member for a period, he left at some point in the mid-1990s to join the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which was formed by Islamic dissidents to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. She contended that allegations by the US government that he was now overseeing al Qaeda groups in North Africa were “untrue.” She showed Dettmer a copy of a document that showed he was trying to get back his job as a computer engineer for the Ministry of Oil. [Gaddafi convinced President George W. Bush's administration that LIFG members were jihadists and a number were victims of rendition, detention and torture. They were transferred to Libya where they were abused.]
Dettmer’s story suggests that the rendition of al-Liby deprived him of a key due process he should have had in Libya. Al-Liby was obviously ready to offer up any information on his past and evidence of crimes could have been passed on to the US government. Rather than allow this to take place, he was abducted.
If the US had requested that he be extradited to face charges for his alleged role in the embassy bombings, he could have challenged the allegations in a court in Libya. He could have argued that if he was tried in the US he would not receive a fair trial and, if convicted, he would likely be held in a supermax prison and subjected to conditions of solitary confinement that were cruel and inhuman. He could have also argued that he might be deprived other due process rights, like a right to a lawyer.
This is what makes rendition a violation of international human rights law. The abduction of a person is clearly intended to bypass a process that he should have been afforded because President Barack Obama’s administration was unwilling to wait for the Libyan government to extradite him.
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan, who was kidnapped and released by militants angry the US raid had occurred, has called the snatch and grab of al-Liby a “kidnapping.” But no clear proof exists yet that Zidan did not privately grant consent to US forces to conduct a raid and remove him from Libya.
Even if Zidan granted consent to the US government, that does not necessarily make it any more lawful. It would mean Zidan had agreed to deprive due process rights to al-Liby and allow him to be transported to a navy ship vessel, where he could not guarantee that al-Liby’s human rights would be protected.
Al-Liby may be suspected of bombing US embassies, and, if there is any evidence to support this serious allegation, he should have been able to defend himself in a court of law before being handed over to US custody.
As The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill has eloquently stated, “Our values are not defined by how we treat the rich and the powerful and the popular. It’s defined by how we treat the least of our people, how we treat the poorest. And it’s also how we treat the most reprehensible.”
Unfortunately for al-Liby, a process may have been set in motion that virtually guarantees he will be imprisoned for a lengthy period of time. He may not be responsible for the bombings but his past history with al Qaeda—even though Britain found no evidence of crimes—may discourage a judge from letting him return to Libya.
That the due process he will be given in the United States is likely to take place under a cloud of fear is why renditions of terrorist suspects should be opposed.