(New York) – A Libyan-Canadian citizen who was imprisoned for eight years by the Muammar Gaddafi government says that agents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) were among foreign agents who interrogated him while he was in Libyan custody for suspected terrorist ties, Human Rights Watch said today.
The former prisoner, Mustafa Krer, 46, was detained in Libya from 2002 to 2010 for alleged ties to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. He told Human Rights Watch that Canadian interrogators visited him about three times between 2003 and 2005, although he could not recall the exact number of Canadian interrogations or the dates. Once, he said, CSIS agents interrogated him jointly with a team of Libyans in the room. Krer did not allege mistreatment during any of the CSIS interrogations. But he said that his Libyan captors beat him repeatedly between the time of his arrest in May 2002 and mid-2004.
“Canada’s apparent decision to interrogate a suspect in the custody of Gaddafi’s forces is deeply troubling,” said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. “CSIS did not torture Krer, but they must have known that the Libyans probably did.”
Human Rights Watch called on CSIS to clarify whether it had interrogated Krer in Libya, and if so, under what circumstances. CSIS did not respond to a request from Human Rights Watch for comment about the case.
In addition to alleged interrogations by CSIS, Krer said that agents of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) interrogated him in Libya about seven times starting in 2005, and that the United Kingdom’s MI6 intelligence agency interrogated him once in 2007. He said he was not mistreated during these interrogations.
Krer alleged that Libyan interrogators beat him repeatedly with sticks, cables, and kicks to the face, sometimes while he was blindfolded. One beating required him to get stitches on the face. On one occasion Krer said he was forced to stay in what he called a “steel box” for five days with limited food and water.
Krer told Human Rights Watch that agents who identified themselves as being from CSIS interrogated him about three times. After interrogations by four governments over eight years he could not remember exactly how many times CSIS agents had questioned him.
During one interrogation, he said, a team of Canadians and Libyans questioned him together for more than seven hours. “I was at the head of the table,” he said. “Left and right there was a line – seven Canadians and seven Libyans. I was there, and they did it together. It was an interrogation, many, many questions.”
Krer said the Canadians had knowledge about specific phone calls he had made while living in Canada and they showed him surveillance photos of him in public places in Canada.
After the fall of Tripoli to rebel forces in late August 2011, Human Rights Watch discovered a cache of documents in a Libyan External Security building revealing details of close cooperation between the US, the UK, and other governments with the Libyan intelligence agency. One of those documents, which appears to be from the CIA, requests that the Libyans ask Krer a set of 89 questions. In an interview with Human Rights Watch following the fall of Gaddafi, Krer confirmed that he was asked those questions by the Libyans and the CIA. He said he was also asked some of those questions by CSIS. Prior to this interview with Human Rights Watch, the role of CSIS in Krer’s interrogation was not known.
Human Rights Watch also interviewed Krer in 2005 while he was still in Libyan custody, meeting him privately in an office at Abu Salim prison. He did not mention torture or interrogations by foreign agents at that time, but he was clearly uncomfortable talking about matters that might put him in danger. At one point he asked to write a note in the interviewer’s notebook, apparently afraid to speak out loud. “I’m not happy with what’s happening with me,” he wrote.
In both interviews Krer said that he had returned to Libya from Canada, via Malta, in May 2002, after getting guarantees from Libyan authorities that he would not face prosecution for past opposition activity, including involvement in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which had been fighting since the late 1990s to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. Libyan security forces arrested him at the Tripoli airport upon his return, he said. Krer was eventually sentenced to life in prison after a trial where, he said, his lawyers were not allowed to speak. He was released in January 2010 after the intervention of Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, who mediated the release of a few hundred prisoners, including members of the LIFG.
Krer said that he was held in various facilities during his eight years in custody and that he endured repeated torture during the first two-and-a-half years. At the Internal Security Agency office on al-Sikka Street in Tripoli, he said, he was held for five days in August heat in what he called a “steel box” with limited food and water. The box was 1.5 by 2 meters, and too small for a person to stand, he said.
Krer said interrogators at the internal security facility on al-Sikka Street subjected him and fellow prisoners to beatings on the soles of their feet with a thick cable. “[There’s a] stick that they wind your legs around, two guys hold you, and another hits your feet with an electric cable,” he said. “But they don’t care where they hit.”
Krer also said that he did not receive a consular visit from Canada until 2005. Starting that year, he received a total of five visits until his release in 2010, from Canadian diplomats who were helpful, he said.
In May 2005, Human Rights Watch interviewed the head of Libya’s Internal Security Agency, Col. Tohamy Khaled, and asked him about Krer’s case. Krer is “one of the terrorists,” Khaled said – something that, he said, is “also known to the Canadians.”
Libya’s record of torture under Gaddafi is well documented. The US State Department Report on Human Rights Practices, a reference consulted by many governments, stated in its 2004 edition on Libya, “Security personnel reportedly routinely tortured prisoners during interrogations or as punishment.” Some of the reported methods of torture, according to the State Department, included chaining prisoners to a wall for hours; clubbing; applying electric shock; applying corkscrews to the back; pouring lemon juice in open wounds; breaking fingers and allowing the joints to heal without medical care; suffocating with plastic bags; deprivation of food and water; hanging by the wrists; suspension from a pole inserted between the knees and elbows; cigarette burns; threats of being attacked by dogs; and beating on the soles of the feet.
In December 2004, just prior to the visit to Libya by Paul Martin, Prime Minister of Canada from 2003 to 2006, Human Rights Watch sent Martin a list of human rights concerns. “Prolonged incommunicado detention is common, as are confessions extracted by means of torture,” the Human Rights Watch memo to Martin said.
“There is no justification for CSIS agents joining in the interrogation of a prisoner by agents of a government well-known for torturing prisoners,” Prasow said. “CSIS should explain what it knows about Krer’s case.”