By Stephen Grey
ONE of the most important members of the Al Qaeda captured by the CIA in the months after 9/11 has been found dead in an alleged “suicide” in a jail in Libya, according to the country’s news media.
Ibn Al Sheikh al Libi, a former Al Qaeda camp commander, was controversially sent by the CIA to Egypt as part of the agency’s “extra-ordinary rendition” program and was allegedly subject to extreme torture, returned back into CIA custody, and then transferred onwards to Libya.
Described by former CIA director George Tenet in his 2006 autobiography as “the highest ranking al-Qa’ida member in U.S. custody” just after 9/11, al Libi was captured by the CIA before the agency had established its own secret prison program. And he was one of a handful of the most senior Al Qaeda leaders in US custody that were sent for interrogation at the hands of foreign countries.
According to agency insiders he was subject to far worse torture than techniques like waterboarding used against prisoners like Khalid Sheikh Mohamed inside the CIA’s own jails.
Al Libi’s testimony – albeit extracted under alleged torture – was probably more important than that of any prisoner captur after 9/11. According to a secret CIA cable, after being effectively buried alive – held for 17 hours in Egypt in a wooden box – he provided evidence linking the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda.
After first denying the Saddam-bin Laden connection, the torture persuaded al Libi to acknowledge the link. This ‘intelligence’ was later used by former secretary of state Colin Powell before the United Nations when he gave evidence justifying the invasion of Iraq.
Picked up crossing the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan in early January 2002, al Libi was first held in FBI custody. Former counter-terrorism FBI agents Dan Coleman and Jack Cloonan revealed how, despite hopes that al Libi would be peruaded to testify against other members of Al Qaeda, al Libi was snatched from FBI hands into the CIA’s custody and transferred “ in a box” to Egypt.
Ever since he was transferred by the CIA to Egypt, Al Libi’s whereabouts have remained a mystery. Tenet’s autobiography confirmed his destination was Egypt and other former CIA prisoners suggested he was transferred back into US custody in Afghanistan. But when all other CIA high value prisoners, including KSM, were transferred to Guantanamo, al LIbi was missing from the list and no information was released by the US Government about his detention.
Last month, al Libi was finally tracked down by Human Rights Watch to a jail in Libya. Seen by researchers at 6pm on April 26, at the Abu Salem prison in Tripoli, al Libi refused to speak, angrily demanding
“where were you when I was being tortured in American prisons.”
The organisation’s statement is here.
Now the full story of his detention may never be known after the discovery of his dead body, announced in the Libyan state newspaper OEA.
Last night, British human rights group, Reprieve, alleged there was reason to doubt al Libi had committed suicide. “Reprieve has good reason to believe that he may have died from untreated tuberculosis that developed during his years in US custody.”