Report: CIA Worked With Libyan Intelligence, Utilized Libya As Site For Secret Interrogations

The collapse of the Libyan government has led to the discovery of a treasure trove of documents, including evidence of close cooperation between the CIA and Libyan Intelligence in the rendition and torture of suspected al Qaeda members:

Documents found at the abandoned office of Libya’s former spymaster appear to provide new details of the close relations the Central Intelligence Agencyshared with the Libyan intelligence service — most notably suggesting that the Americans sent terrorism suspects at least eight times for questioning in Libya despite that country’s reputation for torture.

Although it has been known that Western intelligence services began cooperating with Libya after it abandoned its program to build unconventional weapons in 2004, the files left behind as Tripoli fell to rebels show that the cooperation was much more extensive than generally known with both the C.I.A. and its British equivalent, MI-6.

Some documents indicate that the British agency was even willing to trace phone numbers for the Libyans, and another appears to be a proposed speech written by the Americans for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi about renouncing unconventional weapons.

The documents were discovered Friday by journalists and Human Rights Watch. There were at least three binders of English-language documents, one marked C.I.A. and the other two marked MI-6, among a larger stash of documents in Arabic.

(…)

The flurry of communications about renditions are dated after Libya’s renouncement of its weapons program. In several of the cases, the documents explicitly talked about having a friendly country arrest a suspect, and then suggested aircraft would be sent to pick the suspect up and deliver him to the Libyans for questioning. One document included a list of 89 questions for the Libyans to ask a suspect.

While some of the documents warned Libyan authorities to respect such detainees’ human rights, the C.I.A. nonetheless turned them over for interrogation to a Libyan service with a well-known history of brutality.

One document in the C.I.A. binder said operatives were “in a position to deliver Shaykh Musa to your physical custody, similar to what we have done with other senior L.I.F.G. members in the recent past.” The reference was to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which was dedicated to the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi, and which American officials believed had ties to Al Qaeda.

When Libyans asked to be sent Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, another member of the group, a case officer wrote back on March 4, 2004, that “we are committed to developing this relationship for the benefit of both our services,” and promised to do their best to locate him, according to a document in the C.I.A. binder.

Two days later, an officer faxed the Libyans to say that Mr. Sadiq and his pregnant wife were planning to fly into Malaysia, and the authorities there agreed to put them on a British Airways flight to London that would stop in Bangkok. “We are planning to take control of the pair in Bangkok and place them on our aircraft for a flight to your country,” the case officer wrote.

Sadig, it turns out, was a pseudonym for Abdel Hakim Belhaj,  who is now the military leader of the Libyan rebels, and who contends that he was tortured by Libyan intelligence officers after being handed over to them by CIA operatives:

The top Libyan rebel military commander in Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, dropped something of a bombshell in an interview with the New York Times yesterday: In  2004, he said, two CIA agents tortured him in Thailand and then “rendered” him to Libya. From that point on, he maintains, he was held in solitary confinement for the next six years.

“Yes, [Belhaj] said, he was detained by Malaysian officials in 2004 on arrival at the Kuala Lumpur airport, where he was subjected to extraordinary rendition on behalf of the United States, and sent to Thailand,” the New York Times’ Rod Norland writes. “In Bangkok, Mr. Belhaj said, he was tortured for a few days by two people he said were CIA agents, and then, worse, they repatriated him to Libya, where he was thrown into solitary confinement for six years.”

This resurrects, obviously, the concerns that have been expressed over the Bush-era extraordinary rendition policy, which resulted in suspected al Qaeda members being turned over to foreign governments for interrogation, or held in black sites in “friendly” countries, where interrogation methods otherwise impermissible under U.S. law were allegedly used. It was fairly well-known that such sites existed in several Eastern European nations, but the extent of U.S. cooperation with a regime as controversial as the Gaddafi regime is seemingly new.

At the same time, of course, it raises yet more questions about just who the rebels are, and their ties to anti-American groups:

The paramilitary Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, established in 1990, “led a three-year, low-level insurgency … in eastern Libya and tried three times to assassinate Qadhafi in 1995 and 1996,” Ashour wrote. After Gadhafi mostly crushed the group in 1998, “most of its leaders and members fled and joined forces with the Taliban in Afghanistan,” where they pledged loyalty to Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, “Belhaj and most of the LIFG leaders fled that country as well, only to be arrested in 2004 by the CIA and then handed over to Qadhafi’s regime, following interrogations in Thailand and Hong Kong,” writes Ashour. Belhaj was then imprisoned in Libya for six years in brutal conditions. Following his release in 2010, he participated in several “reconciliation” conferences between the Gadhafi regime and anti-Gadhafi Islamist militants, spearheaded by Gadhafi’s son and onetime heir apparent Seif al-Islam. Ashour attended those panels as an observer.

Last week, Belhaj led the rebels’ seizure of Gadhafi’s Tripoli compound. But as Belhaj exulted that “the tyrant fled,” he also “repeatedly called for enhancing security, protecting property, ending vendettas, and building a new Libya,” Ashour observed.

In his interview with the Times yesterday, Belhaj stressed that despite his group’s past ties with the Taliban, it is now entirely focused on liberating Libya from Gadhafi’s control, and is no longer advancing the cause of global jihad.

“We focused on Libya and Libya only,” Belhaj told the Times. “Our goal was to help our people. We didn’t participate in or support any action outside of Libya. We never had any link with Al Qaeda, and that could never be. We had a different agenda; global fighting was not our goal.”

You’ll pardon me if I have trouble believing a guy who once pledged his loyalty to Mullah Omar and the Taliban.

 

 

 

FILED UNDER: Africa, Intelligence, National Security, Quick Takes, Terrorism, World Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. So from this we can conclude that Qaddafi believed that he had a sweetheart deal with the MI5 and CIA. After all, he is a graduate of Sandhurst, don’t you know, old boy? But then again, I suppose there is no honor among thieves. (Except for W. Look at the way he has always walked hand in hand with the Salafist Saudis funding Al Qaeda. Look also at the way the funding for the 911 conspirators by the Saudi royalty has been covered up time and again. MI5 has closed the books on the spurious and risible grounds of national security on the BAE/al Yamamah arms deal that provided the dough for Prince Bandar who is part and parcel of the same funding apparatus…)

  2. michael reynolds says:

    To summarize:

    The conservative, Republican Bush-Cheney administration regularly used terrorist and mass- murderer-of-Americans, Muamar Gaddafi, to torture other suspected terrorists.

    Knowing that Gaddafi ordered Pan Am 103 to be blown out of the sky, killing 270 people, most of them Americans, some of them children, the Bush administration nevertheless handed over anti-Gaddafi plotters for brutal treatment by the very Libyan security apparatus that had ordered terror attacks on Americans.

    In order to secure an oil deal with Libya, the Bush CIA and Tony Blair’s MI-6 conspired to pin the blame on one Libyan agent, consider him sufficiently punished, and wiped Gaddafi’s slate clean.

    But that’s all balanced off by this one dude in Libya who tried to kill Gaddafi and then fled to the Taliban. We then captured him and handed him back to Gaddafi to be tortured. And now we don’t trust him.

    We don’t trust him.

  3. @michael reynolds:

    Michael, no, all that proves is that we have no business getting involved in the internal affairs of Libya and taking sides with people who are, in the end, not without moral taint themselves.

  4. anjin-san says:

    taking sides with people who are, in the end, not without moral taint themselves.

    Do you know of any people, anywhere in the world who are “without moral taint”? Let me know, I would really like to meet them.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    As Anjin points out: everyone we deal with is morally tainted, starting with our best friends, the British and working all the way down to, let’s say, the Saudis.

    We did business with Stalin. We lauded Stalin and sent him weapons and money. Of course we do business with people who are morally questionable, there’s no choice. But that doesn’t mean we can do it and pretend we’re simon pure, and it also doesn’t mean we can simply set aside the responsibility to look to the greater moral good, to do all we can — consistent with the interests of the US — to foster peace and democracy.

    It’s a balancing act, always has been and always will be. We achieved our independence from the British constitutional monarchy by forming an alliance with a near-absolute monarch in France. We expanded our country by pumping money to Napoleon — a man not known for his love of democracy.

    It’s absurd to throw up our hands and hide in our shell of self-righteousness. We have to do the hard things: balance interests, exploit opportunities, help the good guys where we can, and minimize the damage to them when we can’t help them overtly. We need to keep our core principles in mind and also play realpolitik.

    This is why ideology and partisanship are so toxic in foreign policy, and why strength of character and a moral sense are so vital. We want stability, peace, free markets and democracy around the world. Sometimes that means getting our hands dirty. It does not mean so far forgetting ourselves and what we stand for that we hand men over to be tortured by people who murder American children. It is hard to find the line, but it’s impossible to find it when you’re not looking.

  6. Dastum says:

    “It was fairly well-known that such sites existed in several Eastern European nations, but the extent of U.S. cooperation with a regime as controversial as the Gaddafi regime is seemingly new.”

    Was that really new or just the part where you noticed?
    Clinton sent the first rendition case to Egypt to be tortured in the 90s and he was tortured to death. Then he sent more.
    I haven’t yet heard of a human who thinks Libya’s reputation for torture surpasses that of Egypt. So what’s that leave us with apart from just another claim that if you just ignore all recorded history then a lot of stuff never happened before Bush came to office.

  7. daveinboca says:

    Yes and GWB conned Qaddafi into giving up the essentials of his nuke program. Sometimes bad things are done to achieve good ends. And Panetta at the CIA did admit that waterboarding KSM got the info that led us to Bin Laden’s lair where he was hiding under Paki auspices [or at least those of the ISI]. And technically the CIA is still working closely with the ISI anyway. Ain’t life a bitch? Sometimes you get your hands dirty. Too bad Jamie Gorelick wasn’t overseeing the CIA and FBI operations to see they kept their ” boundaries,” which you know are very important in personal and institutional development !?!

    KSM was waterboarded but is still above room temp. Ask Daniel Pearl about KSM & his own brand of Islamic “Justice.”

  8. Dastum says:

    @daveinboca:
    “Yes and GWB conned Qaddafi into giving up the essentials of his nuke program.”

    GWB didn’t con Libya into anything. Libya wanted certain things and these were the concessions they made to get it.
    If you think GWB did something crafty when he sent officials to negotiate dropping Libya from the state sponsors of terrorism list and have those negotiations with the actual planner of the Lockerbie bombing, you’re easy to impress.

    “Sometimes bad things are done to achieve good ends. And Panetta at the CIA did admit that waterboarding KSM got the info that led us to Bin Laden’s lair where he was hiding under Paki auspices”

    Actually no. The info that led to UBL was the real name of the courier. KSM knew this and after undergoing the most extensive waterboarding of anyone, KSM didn’t even give up the name of his own protege. That’s the reason UBL was killed in 2011, not 2004.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @daveinboca:

    KSM was waterboarded but is still above room temp. Ask Daniel Pearl about KSM & his own brand of Islamic “Justice.”

    So your moral standard is the one set by terrorists, and so long as we are better than the lowest form of humanity we’re fine.

    Yeah, that’s why are are the greatest nation on earth: because we’ve managed to outperform scum.

    Reach for the stars, Dave, reach for the stars.

  10. @michael reynolds:

    and why strength of character and a moral sense are so vital.

    Yes, we need the strength of character to be completely amoral when it suits our ends!

  11. Polaris says:

    To me all this proves is for once the CIA was actually competant. Who better to cooperate with and get intelligence on terrorism than one who is intimately familiar with it? In covert intelligence and ops, there are no clean hands.

    Personally, I am with Doug. Libya is a mess we should have stayed out of since I am not entirely convinced that the “rebels” in Libya today aren’t the next Anti-American Islamic Republic tomorrow.

    -Polaris

  12. Polaris says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Yes, we need the strength of character to be completely amoral when it suits our ends!

    Indeed. You almost have to be immoral to have adequate covert ops and intelligence. It’s the way the game is played.

    -Polaris