A new report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) reveals that the United States government under George W. Bush tortured opponents of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi before transferring the prisoners to Libya for further torture.
The 154-page report, which contains the firsthand accounts of victims of this torture and extraordinary rendition, also cites recently uncovered CIA and UK Secret Service documents and reveals high-level cooperation between the United States and the Gaddafi regime, which reached out to improve ties with the West following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
HRW conducted interviews with 14 former US detainees, most of them members of the anti-Gaddafi rebels known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), who claim they were tortured while in American custody and after being rendered back into the Gaddafi regime's hands in Libya. They say the Americans abused them more severely than Gaddafi's torturers did. Ironically, many of these men joined the US- and NATO-backed rebels fighting to oust Gaddafi from power during the country's successful 2011 revolution; some have even risen to top positions in the post-Gaddafi government.
According to the report, the US, with help from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, China, Pakistan and other countries in Africa and Asia, arrested and detained without charge numerous LIFG members living outside Libya. Five former LIFG recounted torture by their American captors at a pair of US-run prisons in Afghanistan believed to be operated by the CIA. These former detainees allege they were subjected to the interrupted drowning torture known as waterboarding, as well as other water-related torment and a host of other tortures including being chained to walls naked (sometimes in diapers), sensory deprivation, painful stress positions, beatings, sleep deprivation and music torture. All of these techniques were selected and approved by high-level Bush administration officials; all are banned under US and/or international law.
The revelation that waterboarding was used on the Libyan detainees, if true, proves that the Bush administration was lying when it claimed that only three US detainees had been subjected to the torture. It also suggests that the practice was more widespread than thought.
"I spent three months getting interrogated heavily during the first period and they gave me a different type of torture every day," former detainee Khalid al-Sharif, who is now head of the Libyan National Guard, told HRW. "Sometimes they used water, sometimes not... sometimes they stripped me naked and sometimes they left me clothed." Al-Sharif says he was held for two years in two different US prisons thought to be under CIA control in Afghanistan.
Another Libyan, Ibn-al-Sheikh al-Libi, was imprisoned and tortured by the CIA and Egyptian officials. The Bush administration used information obtained during al-Libi's torture to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq; the CIA has acknowledged that this intelligence was at best "unreliable." The US later rendered al-Libi to Libya knowing full well the Gadaffi regime's record of torturing prisoners. He died in Libyan custody in 2009.
Extraordinary rendition to countries known to practice torture is banned under international law.
Many documents discovered by HRW in Libya reveal a high level of cooperation between the Gadaffi regime, which was rewarded for giving up its weapons of mass destruction program and cooperating with the West in the War on Terror by being removed from Washington's terror list and a 2008 visit from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. One of the rewards for Gaddafi's willingness to cooperate with the US was the rendition of regime enemies to Tripoli, where US officials knew they would be tortured.
"The treatment in Libya was very bad," HRW's Laura Pitter writes in the report. "But it was... not as bad as what they received in US custody."
In addition to the United States, the report alleges that the following nations also assisted in the illegal renditions: Afghanistan, Chad, China, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, The Netherlands, Pakistan, Sudan, Thailand and the United Kingdom.
The United States has failed to bring any key figures who planned, authorized or provided the dubious legal framework for torture to justice. Despite lofty campaign rhetoric about investigating war crimes, and despite Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledging that "our government authorized the use of torture... and authorized the use of techniques that violate both international law and the United States Constitution," the Obama administration has gone to great lengths in order to protect the Bush war criminals. Just last week, Holder's Justice Department granted final immunity for the architects of the Bush torture regime.