Libya: U.S. – Torture and Rendition to Gaddafi’s Country – New Accounts of Waterboarding, Other Water Torture, Abuses in Secret Prisons
Washington — The United States government during the Bush administration tortured opponents of Muammar Gaddafi, then transferred them to mistreatment in Libya, according to accounts by former detainees and recently uncovered CIA and UK Secret Service documents, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. One former detainee alleged he was waterboarded and another described a similar form of water torture, contradicting claims by Bush administration officials that only three men in US custody had been waterboarded.
The 154-page report, “Delivered into Enemy Hands: US-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gaddafi’s Libya,” is based on interviews conducted in Libya with 14 former detainees, most of whom belonged to an armed Islamist group that had worked to overthrow Gaddafi for 20 years. Many members of the group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), joined the NATO-backed anti-Gaddafi rebels in the 2011 conflict. Some of those who were rendered and allegedly tortured in US custody now hold key leadership and political positions in the country.
“Not only did the US deliver Gaddafi his enemies on a silver platter but it seems the CIA tortured many of them first,” said Laura Pitter, counterterrorism advisor at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The scope of Bush administration abuse appears far broader than previously acknowledged and underscores the importance of opening up a full-scale inquiry into what happened.”
The report is also based on documents – some of which are being made public for the first time – that Human Rights Watch found abandoned, on September 3, 2011, in the offices of former Libyan intelligence chief Musa Kusa after Tripoli fell to rebel forces.
The interviews and documents establish that, following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US, with aid from the United Kingdom (UK) and countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, arrested and held without charge a number of LIFG members living outside Libya, and eventually rendered them to the Libyan government.
The report also describes serious abuses that five of the former LIFG members said they experienced at two US-run detention facilities in Afghanistan, most likely operated by the CIA. They include new allegations of waterboarding and other water torture. The details are consistent with the few other first-hand accounts about the same US-run facilities.
Other abuses reported by these former detainees include being chained to walls naked -sometimes while diapered – in pitch black, windowless cells, for weeks or months; restrained in painful stress positions for long periods, forced into cramped spaces; beaten and slammed into walls; kept indoors for nearly five months without the ability to bathe; and denied sleep by continuous, very loud Western music.
“I spent three months getting interrogated heavily during the first period and they gave me a different type of torture every day. Sometimes they used water, sometimes not…. Sometimes they stripped me naked and sometimes they left me clothed,” said Khalid al-Sharif, who asserted he was held for two years in two different US-run detention centers believed to be operated by the CIA in Afghanistan. Al-Sharif is now head of the Libyan National Guard. One of his responsibilities is providing security for facilities holding Libya’s high-value detainees.
The Libyan detainee accounts in the Human Rights Watch report had previously gone largely undocumented because most of those returned to Libya were locked up in Libyan prisons until last year, when Libya’s civil unrest led to their release. And the US government has been unwilling to make public the details about its secret CIA detention facilities. The accounts of former detainees, the CIA documents found in Libya, and some declassified US government memos have shed new light on US detention practices under the Bush administration but also highlighted the vast amount of information that still remains secret.
Despite overwhelming evidence of numerous and systematic abuses of detainees in US custody since the September 11 attacks, the US has yet to hold a single senior official accountable. Only a few low-ranking enlisted military personnel have been punished.
The 156-page report produced by Human Rights Watch (HW) is based upon interviews with 14 Libyans subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and torture by the CIA and then forcibly returned to Libya, where they were imprisoned and in some cases tortured again by the government of Col. Muammar Gaddafi. Substantiating their testimony are classified documents—communications between the CIA and Libyan intelligence—found in the abandoned offices of former Libyan intelligence chief Musa Kusa after Tripoli fell to NATO-backed rebels in September 2011: here.
The European Parliament today strongly condemned the role of Britain and other EU states in the CIA torture and rendition programme: here.