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Context of 'February 4-5, 2004: CIA Documents Claims of Torture by Al-Libi'

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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

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

The Washington Post reveals that the US government has secretly transported “dozens of people” suspected of links to terrorists to foreign countries with poor human rights records “where they can be subjected to interrogation tactics—including torture and threats to families—that are illegal in the United States.” The program is known as “rendition” (see 1993) (see After September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), signs off on a secret opinion that approves a long, disturbing list of harsh interrogation techniques proposed by the CIA. The list includes waterboarding, a form of near-drowning that some consider mock execution, and which has been prosecuted as a war crime in the US since at least 1901. The list only forbids one proposed technique: burying a prisoner alive (see February 4-5, 2004). Yoo concludes that such harsh tactics do not fall under the 1984 Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994 and July 22, 2002) because they will not be employed with “specific intent” to torture. Also, the methods do not fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court because “a state cannot be bound by treaties to which it has not consented”; also, since the interrogations do not constitute a “widespread and systematic” attack on civilian populations, and since neither Taliban nor al-Qaeda detainees are considered prisoners of war (see February 7, 2002), the ICC has no purview. The same day that Yoo sends his memo, Yoo’s boss, OLC chief Jay Bybee, sends a classified memo to the CIA regarding the interrogation of al-Qaeda members and including information detailing “potential interrogation methods and the context in which their use was contemplated” (see August 1, 2002). [US Department of Justice, 8/1/2002; Washington Post, 6/25/2007; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] Yoo will later claim that he warns White House lawyers, as well as Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, that it would be dangerous to allow military interrogators to use the harshest interrogation techniques, because the military might overuse the techniques or exceed the limitations. “I always thought that only the CIA should do this, but people at the White House and at [the Defense Department] felt differently,” Yoo will later say. Yoo’s words are prophetic: such excessively harsh techniques will be used by military interrogators at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Convention Against Torture, Donald Rumsfeld, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The US learns that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former al-Qaeda camp commander, was allegedly tortured in Egypt, where he was rendered by the CIA (see January 2002 and After). Although CIA Director George Tenet will describe al-Libi’s handling by the Egyptians as “further debriefing,” after being returned to US custody, al-Libi tells CIA officers he was tortured and these claims are documented in a series of cables sent to CIA headquarters on February 4 and 5. These cables are the final proof, many believe, that the US is illegally “outsourcing” torture to other countries, against suspects who have not been convicted or even charged with a crime. After being tortured by his Egyptian captors (see November 11, 2001), al-Libi was returned to US custody on November 22, 2003. The February 5 cable reads, in part, that al-Libi was told by the Egyptians that “the next topic was al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq…. This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” The Egyptians didn’t like al-Libi’s response, and locked him in a 20 inch by 20 inch box for 17 hours—effectively burying him alive. The Egyptians released him and gave him one more change to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not give the proper response, he was knocked to the ground and beaten. The CIA debriefers send this information straight to Washington (see February 14, 2004), thus informing the CIA that not only was this key piece of evidence about the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda false, but it was obtained by extreme, US-sanctioned torture. Although stories and witness accounts about torture in such US-allied countries as Egypt, Syria, Morocco, and Uzbekistan have long been known, this is the first time such torture has been detailed in an official US government document. It will be almost a year before the Bush administration will confirm the CIA’s rendition program (see March 11, 2002), and even then it will begin a litany of reassurances that the US does not torture, nor does it hand over prisoners to countries that torture. The CIA cables will be declassified in September 2006, and roundly ignored by the mainstream media. And as of late 2007, al-Libi will still be a “ghost prisoner” whose whereabouts and circumstances are considered a US state secret. [ABC News, 11/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The CIA sends a memo to top Bush administration officials informing them that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative being held in custody by the CIA, recanted his claim in January that Iraq provided training in poisons and gases to members of al-Qaeda (see September 2002). [New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 7/5/2005; Washington Post, 11/6/2005] The claim had been used in speeches by both President George Bush (see October 7, 2002) and Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 5, 2003).

Entity Tags: White House, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Arlen Specter.Arlen Specter. [Source: US Senate]White House counsel Alberto Gonzales testifies before the US Senate as part of his confirmation as the Bush administration’s new attorney general. Much of the seven hours of testimony focuses on Gonzales’s position on torturing terrorist suspects. He is specifically questioned on the August 2002 Justice Department memo requested by Gonzales that outlined how US officials could interrogate subjects without violating domestic and international laws against torture by setting unusually high standards for the definition of torture (see August 1, 2002). [Democracy Now!, 1/7/2005] Arlen Specter (R-PA) asks Gonzales if he approves of torture. Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not,” but refuses to be pinned down on specifics of exactly what constitutes torture.
Equivocating on the Definition of Torture - Gonzales says he “was sickened and outraged” by the photographs of tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), but refuses to say whether he believes any of that conduct is criminal, citing ongoing prosecutions. Joseph Biden (D-DE) retorts: “That’s malarkey. You are obliged to comment. That’s your judgment we’re looking at.… We’re looking for candor.” [CNN, 1/7/2005] When asked whether he agrees with the August 2002 memo that said, “[F]or an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” Gonzales says: “We were trying to interpret the standard set by Congress. There was discussion between the White House and Department of Justice as well as other agencies about what does this statute mean? It was a very, very difficult—I don’t recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis, but I don’t have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the department.” He says that the standard “does not represent the position of the executive branch” today. Author and torture expert Mark Danner calls the standard “appalling… even worse the second time through.” Gonzales was obviously prepped for this line of questioning, Danner says: “He sat in front of the committee and asserted things, frankly, that we know not to be true.… He was essentially unwilling to say definitively there were no situations in which Americans could legally torture prisoners.… [T]here’s an assumption behind [this performance] that we have the votes. We’re going to get through. I just have to give them nothing on which to hang some sort of a contrary argument.”
Equivicating on Techniques - Edward Kennedy (D-MA) questions Gonzales about what techniques are defined as torture, including “live burial” (see February 4-5, 2004) and waterboarding. Kennedy says that, according to media reports, Gonzales never objected to these or other techniques. Gonzales does not have a “specific recollection” of the discussions or whether the CIA ever asked him to help define what is and is not torture. He also says that in “this new kind of” war against “this new kind of enemy, we realized there was a premium on receiving information” the US needs to defeat terrorists. Agencies such as the CIA requested guidance as to “[w]hat is lawful conduct” because they did not “want to do anything that violates the law.” Kennedy asks if Gonzales ever suggested that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) ever “lean forward on this issue about supporting the extreme uses of torture?” Gonzales focuses on Kennedy’s phrasing: “Sir, I don’t recall ever using the term sort of ‘leaning forward,’ in terms of stretching what the law is.” He refuses to admit giving any opinions or requesting any documents, but only wanted “to understand [the OLC’s] views about the interpretation” of torture. Danner notes that Justice Department officials have told reporters that Gonzales pushed for the expansive definition of torture in the memos, but Gonzales refuses to admit to any of that in the questioning.
Ignoring the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tells Gonzales that the Justice Department memo was “entirely wrong in its focus” because it excluded the Uniform Code Of Military Justice, and that it “put our troops at jeopardy.” Gonzales replies that he does not think that because of the memo the US has lost “the moral high ground” in the world. Danner says, “[Graham] is arguing that these steps weakened the United States, not only by putting troops at risk, but by undermining the US’s reputation in the world, undermining the ideological side of this war… Graham is saying very directly that by torturing, and by supplying images like that one, of… a hooded man, the man with the hood over his head and the wires coming out of his fingers and his genitals which is known far and wide in the Arab world in the Middle East it’s become highly recognizable by supplying that sort of ammunition, you’re giving very, very strong comfort and aid to the enemy in fact.” [Democracy Now!, 1/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, Arlen Specter, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, Uniform Code of Military Justice, US Department of Justice, Mark Danner, Patrick J. Leahy, Joseph Biden, Bush administration (43), Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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