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:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2014

Stop Hillary!

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

How the Islamic State was Won

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Cage Wars

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Everyday Grace

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"What Hillary will deliver, then, is more of the same. And that shouldn’t surprise us."
Photograph by Joe Raedle
Post
A Band of Her Own·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"What in the poem is an unappealing display becomes, with the addition of the soul-influenced, flute-inflected background, funny, almost self-consciously so."
Photograph by AP/Bill Chaplis
Article
Cage Wars·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"In the 1970s, “Chickens’ Lib” was a handful of women in flower-print dresses holding signs, but in the past decade farm hens have become almost a national preoccupation."
Photograph by Adam Dickerson/Big Dutchman USA, courtesy Vande Bunte Farms
Article
Paradise Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Suffering Sappho! Here we still are, marching right into yet another century with our glass ceilings, unequal pay, unresolved work and child-care balance, and still marrying, forever marrying, men."
Illustration by Anthony Lister
Article
Off the Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Nearly half the reservation lives below the poverty line, with unemployment as high as 60 percent, little to no infrastructure, few entitlements, a safety net that never was, no industry to speak of, and a housing crisis that has been dire not for five years but since the reservation’s founding in 1855."
Illustration by Stan Fellows

Amount a Chinese online gamer made last year by selling a virtual sword he had borrowed from a friend:

$850

In South Africa, AIDS patients were smoking their antiretroviral drugs to get high or selling them to teenage drug users.

Swiss retailer Migros cut off ties with a collectible-creamer company following the distribution of 2,000 creamers whose lids bore images of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. “You cannot put Pol Pot or a terrorist on a milk creamer,” said a Migros spokesman.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today