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.

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More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

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