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Context of 'December 19, 2001: Al-Libi Transferred into US Custody; Responsive to Non-Aggressive Interrogation Tactics'

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The FBI extracts a full confession from L’Houssaine Kherchtou, also known as “Joe the Moroccan,” a member of the cell that bombed the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see Late 1993-Late 1994 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). However, in contrast with methods used on al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11, he is not tortured and the FBI is at pains to treat him well.
Relaxing Surroundings, Respectful Treatment - FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later say of the initial interrogation, which took place in Morocco, “The setting was beautiful, it was this grand house with stables out back, gazelles bouncing in the background, palm trees, three-course meals.” Kherchtou had a relationship with the British intelligence service MI6 (see Mid-Summer 1998 and Shortly After August 7, 1998), but had broken off contact with it and has to be lured to Morocco, where his debriefing is headed by Patrick Fitzgerald. Cloonan will later describe the questioning: “We advised [Kherchtou] of his rights. We told him he could have a lawyer anytime, and that he could pray at any time he wanted. We were letting the Moroccans sit in on this, and they were dumbfounded.… The Moroccans said he’d never talk. He never shut up for 10 days.” Fitzgerald denies Kherchtou a plea bargaining agreement, and says he must plead guilty to conspiracy to murder, for which he may receive a life sentence, though Fitzgerald promises to ask the judge for leniency. However, Cloonan will later say, “His wife needed money for medical treatment in Khartoum, and al-Qaeda had failed to provide it.” It is Cloonan’s “in” with Kherchtou, who is also sure that the US will not torture him. When Kherchtou wavers, Cloonan steps in. As he recalls: “I said, ‘Joe, you understand English, so I’d like you to go out and pray on this with your two Moroccan brothers.’ I thought Fitzy was going to give birth. Joe went out and prayed and came back and said yes.” He provides the FBI with details of the plot and becoming a star witness at the trial (see September 2000). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005; Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Invaluable Information - Kherchtou’s information, provided at a time when the US knows comparatively little about al-Qaeda, is, in Cloonan’s assessment, invaluable. “He told us about a lot of things,” Cloonan later says. “We learned how they recruited people, their front organizations, how they used NGOs [non-governmental organizations], false passports, what they thought about kidnapping, how they developed targets, did their surveillance, a day in the life of Osama bin Laden, what weapons they used, what vehicles they drove, who was the principal liaison with the Sudanese government, that there was a relationship between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, how they did their training exercises, their finances, and their membership.” After the trial, he enters the witness protection program in the US. Four of his onetime associates will receive life sentences as a direct result of his information. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
FBI Use Kherchtou as Example of Successful Interrogation Tacticss - FBI officials will later compare this outcome favorably to procedures used by other US agencies after 9/11. For example, following the detainee abuse scandals after 9/11, FBI manager Tom Harrington will write that the FBI has “been successful for many years obtaining confessions via non-confrontational interviewing techniques.” Cloonan will later contrast Kherchtou’s treatment with that of al-Qaeda training manager Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in December 2001, when the US sent al-Libi to Egypt to be tortured and interrogated, but some of the information he provided there turned out to be false (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Jack Cloonan, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Thomas J. Harrington, L’Houssaine Kherchtou

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Pakistani forces capture Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan national, apparently as he is trying to flee Afghanistan. Al-Libi is considered an al-Qaeda leader and head of the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan for many years. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] He is the first al-Qaeda figure captured after 9/11 of any importance. He will be transferred to US custody one month later (see December 19, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, captured by Pakistani forces six weeks earlier (see November 11, 2001), is handed over to US authorities at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Two FBI agents from New York are tasked with interrogating him. One of the agents, Russell Fincher, spends more than 80 hours with al-Libi discussing religion and prayer in an effort to establish a close bond. It works, and al-Libi opens up to Fincher, giving him information about Zacarias Moussaoui and the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 120] But despite this progress, he will soon be transferred to Egypt and tortured there into making some false confessions (see January 2002 and After).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard C. Reid, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Russell Fincher

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

CIA officer Richard Blee, who is now chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan, objects to the FBI interviewing high-ranking al-Qaeda detainee Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The FBI obtained access to al-Libi after he was handed over to the US, and is obtaining some information from him about Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, who will be prosecuted in the US (see December 19, 2001). However, according to FBI agent Jack Cloonan, “for some reason, the CIA chief of station in Kabul is taking issue with our approach.” [American Prospect, 6/19/2005] CIA Director George Tenet learns of Blee’s complaints and insists that al-Libi be turned over to the CIA (see January-April 2002), which promptly puts him on a plane to Egypt (see January 2002 and After), where he is tortured and makes false statements (see February 2002). Blee was in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit on 9/11 and has only recently become chief of its Kabul station. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 59-60, 297] The FBI, which has long experience interviewing suspects, will continue in its attempts to use rapport-building techniques (see Late March through Early June, 2002), whereas the CIA will employ harsher techniques, despite not having much experience with interviews (see Mid-April 2002).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Blee, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Reid’s shoe bomb.
Richard Reid’s shoe bomb. [Source: NEFA Foundation]British citizen Richard Reid is arrested for trying to blow up a Miami-bound jet using explosives hidden in his shoe. [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] Reid fails in his attempt to destroy the American Airlines jet because he is unable to detonate the explosives—he cannot get the fuse to light using matches, despite using up six of them before he is overpowered by the stewards and passengers. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Had Reid used a cheap disposable plastic cigarette lighter to ignite the fuse of his bomb, rather than a match that did not burn for long enough, forensic experts are sure there was enough plastic explosive in his boot to puncture the fuselage of Flight 63 and bring down the aircraft.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 215-217, 236] The attack is supposed to be one of two simultaneous attacks, but Reid’s partner, Saajit Badat, backs out shortly before the bombing (see (December 14, 2001)). Reid will later plead guilty to all charges, and declare himself a follower of Osama bin Laden. [CBS News, 10/4/2002] He may have ties to Pakistan. [Washington Post, 3/31/2002] It is later believed that Reid and others in the shoe bomb plot reported directly to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). [CNN, 1/30/2003] It has been suggested that KSM has ties to the ISI, and that Reid is a follower of Ali Gilani, a religious leader believed to be working with the ISI (see January 6, 2002).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Daniel McGrory, Sean O’Neill, Richard C. Reid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

At the request of CIA Director George Tenet, the White House orders the FBI to hand Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured al-Qaeda operative being held in Afghanistan (see December 19, 2001), over to the CIA. One day before the transfer, a CIA officer enters al-Libi’s cell, interrupting an interrogation being conducted by FBI agent Russel Fincher, and tells al-Libi: “You’re going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I’m going to find your mother and I’m going to f_ck her.” Soon after, al-Libi is flown to Egypt. [Newsweek, 6/21/2004; Washington Post, 6/27/2004; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 121] The CIA officer will later be identified as “Albert,” a former FBI translator. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 106] Presumably, this is the same former FBI translator named “Albert” who will later threaten al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a gun and drill during interrogations (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003 and Late December 2002 or Early January 2003). [Associated Press, 9/7/2010] Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will later say: “He’s carried off to Egypt, who torture him. And we know that he’s going to be tortured. Anyone who’s worked on Egypt, has worked on other countries in the Middle East, knows that. Egyptians torture him, and he provides a lot of information.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
Provides Mix of Valid, False Information - It is unclear whether al-Libi is interrogated solely by Egyptian officials, or by a combination of Egyptian and CIA interrogators. Al-Libi is subjected to a series of increasingly harsh techniques, including at least one, waterboarding, that is considered torture (see Mid-March 2002). Reputedly, he is finally broken after being waterboarded and then forced to stand naked in a cold cell overnight where he is repeatedly doused with cold water by his captors. Al-Libi is said to provide his Egyptian interrogators with valuable intelligence about an alleged plot to blow up the US Embassy in Yemen with a truck bomb, and the location of Abu Zubaida, who will be captured in March 2002 (see Mid-May 2002 and After). However, in order to avoid harsh treatment he will also provide false information to the Egyptians, alleging that Iraq trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases. Officials will later determine that al-Libi has no knowledge of such training or weapons, and fabricates the statements out of fear and a desire to avoid further torture. Sources will later confirm that al-Libi did not try to deliberately mislead his captors; rather, he told them what he thought they wanted to hear. [ABC News, 11/18/2005; New York Times, 12/9/2005]
Using Allegations in White House Statements - Both President Bush (see October 7, 2002) and Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 5, 2003) will include these allegations in major speeches.
Shifting Responsibility for Interrogations to CIA from FBI - The FBI has thus far taken the lead in interrogations of terrorist suspects, because its agents are the ones with most experience. The CIA’s apparent success with al-Libi contributes to the shift of interrogations from the bureau to the CIA. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] Such methods as making death threats, advocated by the CIA, are opposed by the FBI, which is used to limiting its questioning techniques so the results from interrogations can be used in court. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] “We don’t believe in coercion,” a senior FBI official says. [Guardian, 9/13/2004]

Entity Tags: “Albert”, Russell Fincher, George J. Tenet, Vincent Cannistraro, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam).Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam). [Source: FBI]The New York Times reports that 10 out of the 24 al-Qaeda leaders considered most important by the CIA before 9/11 have been killed or captured. [New York Times, 9/10/2002] The four most important figures considered still at large are:
bullet Osama bin Laden (Saudi). He will be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011).
bullet Ayman al-Zawahiri (Egyptian).
bullet Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (Kuwaiti/Pakistani). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003).
bullet Saif al-Adel (Egyptian).
Other figures considered still at large are:
bullet Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Egyptian).
bullet Mustafa Muhammad Fadhil (Egyptian).
bullet Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2006 (see April 12, 2006).
bullet Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam) (Kenyan). He will be killed in 2009 (see January 1, 2009).
bullet Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) (Comoros Islander). He will be killed in 2011 (see June 10, 2011).
bullet Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian) (Mauritanian).
bullet Amin ul-Haq (Afghan).
bullet Midhat Mursi (Egyptian). He will be killed in 2008 (see July 28, 2008).
bullet Anas al-Liby (Libyan). He may have been secretly captured already (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002).
bullet Suliman abu Ghaith (Kuwaiti).
bullet Saad bin Laden (Saudi). He apparently will be killed in 2009 (see July 22, 2009).
bullet Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (Saudi). He will be captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). [New York Times, 9/10/2002]
The four leaders captured are:
bullet Abu Zubaida (Palestinian) (see March 28, 2002).
bullet Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi (Yemeni) (see Late 2001 and February 7, 2002).
bullet Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (Libyan) (see December 19, 2001).
bullet Abu Zubair al-Haili (Saudi) (see June 8, 2002 and After). [New York Times, 9/10/2002]
Five of the six leaders believed killed are:
bullet Mohammed Atef (Egyptian) (see November 15, 2001).
bullet Abu Jaffa (a.k.a. Abu Jafar al-Jaziri) (Algerian).
bullet Abu Salah al-Yemeni (Yemeni).
bullet Tariq Anwar al-Sayyid Ahmad (Egyptian).
bullet Muhammad Salah (a.k.a. Nasr Fahmi Nasr Hasanayn) (Egyptian). [New York Times, 9/10/2002]
The sixth leader believed killed is not named. One year after 9/11, US intelligence identifies 20 current high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders, though it is not mentioned who the six new leaders are who replaced some of the killed or captured leaders. [New York Times, 9/10/2002] This list of leaders, while instructive, is curiously incomplete because it fails to mention al-Qaeda leaders known as important to US intelligence before 9/11, such as Hambali, Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Thirwat Salah Shehata, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, and Mohammed Jamal Khalifa.

Entity Tags: Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah, Muhammad Salah, Mohammed Atef, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Suliman abu Ghaith, Saif al-Adel, Saad bin Laden, Usama al-Kini, Midhat Mursi, Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid, Osama bin Laden, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Abu Jaffa, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, Abu Salah al-Yemeni, Abu Zubaida, Abu Zubair al-Haili, Anas al-Liby, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Amin ul-Haq, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Aerial photo of Diego Garcia island.Aerial photo of Diego Garcia island. [Source: Department of Defense]British Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, who chairs the all-party Parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, files a formal complaint with the government’s Information Commissioner over the government’s use of the island of Diego Garcia for the rendition of US prisoners to foreign countries for interrogation and possibly torture (see After February 7, 2002 and June 2, 2008). Diego Garcia is a large atoll in the Indian Ocean under British jurisdiction, and hosts a large British-American military base (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). Tyrie says he decided to make the complaint to learn if Britain was in breach of its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The British government has recently admitted that at least two US rendition planes used Diego Garcia as a refueling base in 2002 (see December 2001-January 2002). “The foreign secretary has been forced to admit that two rendition planes refueled at Diego Garcia, despite explicit US assurances to the [British] government that no such flights had taken place,” Tyrie says. “Clearly people will conclude that these assurances are worthless.… But in response to requests by me the government has twice refused to release the terms of these assurances. Their disclosure will allow for a legal assessment of whether or not [Britain] has breached its obligations under the convention against torture, both with respect to Diego Garcia and to rendition generally.” Tyrie’s complaint requests that Foreign Secretary David Milbrand name the prisoners rendered through Diego Garcia by the US. Milbrand has already apologized to Parliament about falsely claiming that no US rendition flights have ever used Diego Garcia as a refueling base; other British government officials have issued similar denials (see January 8, 2003). But Manfred Novak, the UN special investigator on torture, says that he has credible evidence that detainees were held on Diego Garcia between 2002 and 2003. Human rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith says he believes two of the detainees were Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni (see Early January-January 9, 2002 and March 2004) and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After), though he cannot be sure since neither the US nor British governments are releasing the names of potential detainees kept at Diego Garcia. In 2007, a Council of Europe investigation into extraordinary rendition will learn that US agencies use Diego Garcia in the “processing” of “high-value detainees.” [Guardian, 6/2/2008; Guardian, 6/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, David Miliband, Manfred Novak, Andrew Tyrie, Clive Stafford Smith, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s body, shortly after he died.Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s body, shortly after he died. [Source: Public domain]Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former manager of a training camp for militants in Afghanistan, dies at Al Saleem jail in Libya. Al-Libi was captured and handed over to the US in 2001 (see December 19, 2001), and later provided information falsely linking Iraq and al-Qaeda while being tortured in Egyptian custody (see February 2002). The story of his death is broken by a Libyan newspaper named Oea, and picked up by media around the world. However, Newsweek will point out that Oea has “close ties to the [Libyan] government,” as it is owned by a son of Libyan dictator Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. Workers with Human Rights Watch visited al-Libi at the prison on April 27, and spoke to him briefly, finding him reasonably well. Hafed al-Ghwell, a leading critic of the al-Qadhafi regime, will comment, “This idea of committing suicide in your prison cell is an old story in Libya.” Apparently, sometimes a prisoner is reported to have committed suicide, but when the family gets the body back, there is a bullet hole in its back or signs of torture. George Brent Mickum, a US lawyer representing al-Libi’s former partner in the training camp, US-held detainee Abu Zubaidah, says he had recently begun efforts through intermediaries to arrange to talk to al-Libi. “The timing of this is weird,” Mickum says. “My gut feeling is that something fishy happened here and somebody in Libya panicked,” adds al-Ghwell. [Newsweek, 5/12/2009] Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says: “I would speculate that he was missing because he was such an embarrassment to the Bush administration. He was Exhibit A in the narrative that tortured confessions contributed to the massive intelligence failure that preceded the Iraq war.” After the Bush administration used al-Libi’s claims of links between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government to justify the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, al-Libi withdrew the claims. [Washington Post, 5/12/2009] In October 2009, in a video posted on an Islamist website, al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri will claim the US government “handed him over to the agents of al-Qadhafi to continue torturing him and kill him.” [Reuters, 10/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Tom Malinowski, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Human Rights Watch, Ayman al-Zawahiri, George Brent Mickum, Hafed al-Ghwell

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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