(New York) – The Libyan authorities should carry out a full and transparent investigation of the reported suicide of the Libyan prisoner Ali Mohamed al-Fakheri, also known as Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, Human Rights Watch said today. Al-Libi, who was held in secret US and Egyptian detention from late 2001 to at least 2005, was found dead in his cell in Abu Salim prison in Tripoli. Human Rights Watch spoke with him briefly in the Tripoli prison on April 27, though he refused to be interviewed.
After his arrest in Pakistan in late 2001, al-Libi was sent by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to Egypt in 2002, under the procedure known as “rendition.” According to a CIA declassified cable and a US Senate report, he was tortured in Egypt and gave false information about a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, used in his speech to the UN Security Council on the planned war with Iraq. Al-Libi was later held by the CIA in a series of secret prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
As part of their investigation, the Libyan authorities should reveal what they know about al-Libi’s treatment in US and Egyptian custody, Human Rights Watch said.
“The death of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi means that the world will never hear his account of the brutal torture he experienced,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “So now it is up to Libya and the United States to reveal the full story of what they know, including its impact on his mental health.”
Al-Libi was returned from US custody to Libya in late 2005 or early 2006 and was detained at Abu Salim prison. The Abu Salim prison authorities told Human Rights Watch in April 2009 that he had been sentenced to life imprisonment by the State Security Court, a court whose trial proceedings fail to conform to international fair trial standards.
Human Rights Watch briefly met with al-Libi on April 27 during a research mission to Libya. He refused to be interviewed, and would say nothing more than: “Where were you when I was being tortured in American jails.” Human Rights Watch has strongly condemned the CIA’s detention program and documented how detainees in CIA custody were abused, but, like other human rights groups, was never granted access to prisoners in CIA custody.
The Libyan newspaper Oea first reported al-Libi’s death on May 10, saying that he had committed suicide and that an investigation had been initiated by the General Prosecutor’s Office. The Libyan authorities have not yet made an official statement on the matter.
Human Rights Watch pointed out that the closed nature of prisons means that all prisoner deaths warrant investigation, but that given the special nature of al-Libi’s case, his death merits special scrutiny.
“The Libyan authorities should authorize an investigation into al-Libi’s death that is transparent, thorough, and impartial,” Whitson said.
The Libyan authorities granted Human Rights Watch access to interview prisoners held at Abu Salim prison on April 27, as part of a fact-finding mission to Libya. While the Human Rights Watch researchers were unable to interview al-Libi, they did interview four other Libyan prisoners whom the CIA had sent to Libya under the rendition process in 2004 to 2006. The men claimed that before they were sent to Libya, US forces had tortured them in detention centers in Afghanistan, and supervised their torture in Pakistan and Thailand.
Mohamed Ahmad Mohamed Al Shoroeiya, also known as Hassan Rabi’i, told Human Rights Watch that in mid-2003, in a place he believed was Bagram prison in Afghanistan: “The interpreters who directed the questions to us did it with beatings and insults. They used cold water, ice water. They put us in a tub with cold water. We were forced [to go] for months without clothes. They brought a doctor at the beginning. He put my leg in a plaster. One of the methods of interrogation was to take the plaster off and stand on my leg.”
Al-Libi was born in 1963 in Ajdabiya, Libya. He was believed to be a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and the head of the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan from 1995 to 2000. He was reportedly detained in Pakistan on November 11, 2001, and then held at a US detention facility in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Al-Libi was sent by the CIA to Egypt for interrogation in early 2002. A declassified CIA cable later described how al-Libi told the CIA that the Egyptian interrogators had said they wanted information about al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq, a subject “about which [al-Libi] said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.”
The cable went on to say that al-Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his responses and then “placed him in a small box” for approximately 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, the cable states that al-Libi was given a last opportunity to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi’s answers did not satisfy the interrogator, al-Libi says he “was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back” and was then “punched for 15 minutes.” It was then that al-Libi told his interrogators that Iraq had trained al-Qaeda operatives in chemical and biological weapons, information that was later used in Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council to justify war with Iraq.
A bipartisan report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that that al-Libi “lied [about the link] to avoid torture.”