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

October 2016

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Average amount of time a child spends in Santa Claus’s lap at Macy’s (in seconds):

37

Beer does not cause beer bellies.

Following the arrest of at least 10 clowns in Kentucky and Alabama, Tennesseans were warned that clowns could be “predators” and Pennsylvanians were advised not to interact with what one police chief described as “knuckleheads with clown-like clothes on.”

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today