No Comment — May 12, 2009, 1:51 pm

A Convenient Death

On Sunday, the Libyan newspaper Oea reported that Ali Mohamed al-Fakheri, also known as Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, had died in a Libyan prison. The report stated that the death was an apparent suicide and that Libyan prosecutors had opened an investigation into it, but it went on to note that friends of al-Libi questioned the circumstances of his death. Ken Silverstein is also skeptical.

Al-Libi played a key role in the torture debate. He provided a perfect demonstration of the way torture techniques can produce dangerous misinformation. Here’s Peter Finn’s account of the focal role played by the al-Libi interrogation in efforts to make a case for war against Iraq from today’s Washington Post:

Libi was captured fleeing Afghanistan in late 2001, and he vanished into the secret detention system run by the Bush administration. He became the unnamed source, according to Senate investigators, behind Bush administration claims in 2002 and 2003 that Iraq had provided training in chemical and biological weapons to al-Qaeda operatives. The claim was most famously delivered by then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in his address to the United Nations in February 2003. Powell later called the speech a “blot” on his record, saying he was not given all available intelligence and analysis within the government. The Defense Intelligence Agency and some analysts at the CIA had questioned the veracity of Libi’s testimony, which was obtained after the prisoner was transferred to Egyptian custody for questioning by the CIA, according to Senate investigators.

In their book “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War,” Michael Isikoff and David Corn said Libi made up the story about Iraqi training after he was beaten and subjected to a “mock burial” by his Egyptian interrogators, who put him in a cramped box for 17 hours. Libi recanted the story after being returned to CIA custody in 2004.

The torture of al-Libi in the hands of Egyptian CIA proxies occurred during the peak period of use of Bush era torture techniques, according to information recently revealed by the Senate Armed Services Committee. This “torture surge” occurred under pressure from Vice President Richard B. Cheney, as part of a concerted effort to collect evidence of a relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda-linked terrorist organizations. No such relationship ever existed, but even today you won’t hear Dick Cheney acknowledge this. The al-Libi case raises the question of whether the aim was to “gather” intelligence or to “concoct” it. Al-Libi could have been a star witness in a case against those who built the bogus case for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the Bush Administration has long been eager to have him disappear.

When, in September 2006, President Bush ordered the transfer of the “worst of the worst” terrorist detainees from CIA black sites to Guantánamo, al-Libi was nowhere to be found. Why? Al-Libi had great potential to embarrass the CIA and the Bush White House. The Bush Administration wanted him out of sight. They accomplished that, in the first instance, by turning him over to Libyan authorities, who subjected him to a pseudo-trial and locked him away for what turned out to be a life sentence.

Andy Worthington, who provided the first Engish language account of al-Libi’s death, provides a bit more update on the circumstances surrounding it. Human Rights Watch has issued a call for a complete investigation into the al-Libi case, including the specific circumstances of the interrogations that yielded the false information used by Secretary Powell, how he came to be turned over to Libya, and his death. But pressure for an investigation that would inevitably have included al-Libi was already building. He was the Bush era’s most inconvenient witness. And now he’s dead.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2017

Black Like Who?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Matter of Life

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

City of Gilt

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tyranny of the Minority

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Texas is the Future

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Family Values

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Texas is the Future·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Illustration (detail) by John Ritter
Post
The Forty-Fifth President·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Photograph (detail) by Philip Montgomery
Article
Itchy Nose·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Artwork (detail) © The Kazuto Tatsuta/Kodansha Ltd
Article
A Matter of Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Photograph (detail) by Edwin Tse
Article
Black Like Who?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I first heard the name Barack Obama in the spring of 2004, while visiting my mother in Chicago. As we sat around the kitchen table early one spring morning, I noticed a handsome studio portrait among the pictures, lists, cards, and other totems of family life fastened to the refrigerator door. “Who’s the guy with the ears?” I asked, assuming he was some distant relative or family friend I didn’t know or else had forgotten. “Barack Obama,” she answered with a broad smile. “He’s running for Senate, but he’s going to be the first black president.”

Photograph © Jon Lowenstein/NOOR

Ratio of the average cost of a gallon of gas in Britain last September to that of a gallon of Starbucks coffee:

1:4

The faculty of embarrassment was located in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex by neurologists who made brain-damaged subjects sing along to “My Girl” and then listen to their own singing played back without musical accompaniment.

Greece evacuated 72,000 people from the town of Thessaloniki while an undetonated World War II–era bomb was excavated from beneath a gas station.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today