Ibn Sheikh al-Libi

Fran Fragos Townsend Admits We Render to Torture in Egypt

Well, perhaps not quite. When Mona Eltahawy explicitly described what many of us learned from Jane Mayer–Hosni Mubarak’s appointed Vice President, Omar Suleiman, has a long history of cooperating with us in accepting and torturing people rendered to Egypt–and when Wolf asks whether this went on in the Bush Administration (it dates back to the Clinton Administration), Townsend explains the best known example is that of Maher Arar. Wolf corrects her that that involved Syria.

Perhaps Townsend was thinking of that other best known rendition, when we sent Ibn Sheikh al-Libi to Egypt to be tortured so he would tell his torturers–presumably people working for Suleiman–what they wanted to hear: that there were ties between al Qaeda and Iraq.

You gotta wonder whether the US would take some comfort in having the guy we outsourced torture to running Egypt.

Bush Admits to Approving Torture–But Which Use of It?

The WaPo reports that Bush, in his book, admits to approving waterboarding.

In a memoir due out Tuesday, Bush makes clear that he personally approved the use of that coercive technique against alleged Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an admission the human rights experts say could one day have legal consequences for him.

In his book, titled “Decision Points,” Bush recounts being asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who Bush said was suspected of knowing about still-pending terrorist plots against the United States. Bush writes that his reply was “Damn right” and states that he would make the same decision again to save lives, according to a someone close to Bush who has read the book.

At one level, this is thoroughly unsurprising. We know the Bush Administration very deliberately implemented torture, so it’s unsurprising to hear that it was approved by the President.

But–at least as Jeffrey Smith relays the admission from Bush–it raises as many questions as it does answers.

It appears that Bush admits to approving torture for use with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. That is, he approved torture sometime around March 1, 2003, when KSM was captured.

That date is itself very significant. After all, on February 5, 2003, the first Democrat (Jane Harman) was briefed that the CIA had used waterboarding. Her response was a letter, objecting not just to the destruction of the torture tapes, but also asking specifically whether Bush had signed off on torture.

I would like to know what kind of policy review took place and what questions were examined. In particular, I would like to know whether the most senior levels of the White House have determined that these practices are consistent with the principles and policies of the United States. Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the President?

In response, CIA appears to have met with the White House around February 19, ostensibly to talk about an appropriate response. They also appear to have consulted with the White House on how they should record the results of the Gang of 4 briefings from that month; in the end, they only recorded the outcome of the Senate briefing–which Jay Rockefeller did not attend and at which Pat Roberts is recorded to have signed off not just on torture, but on destroying the torture tapes depicting that torture. In other words, for much of February 2003, CIA was working closely with the White House to create a false appearance of Congressional approval for torture, even while they were specifically refusing to give Congress something akin to a Finding making it clear the President had signed off on that torture.

And now we come to find out that’s precisely the period during which–at least according to Bush–he approved torture.

But note what that leaves out. At least from Smith’s description, it appears that Bush says nothing about approving the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah (nor the reported waterboarding of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi). Mind you, Ron Suskind has reported that Bush was intimately, almost gleefully, involved in ordering torture for Abu Zubaydah.

But Bush doesn’t cop to that in his book.

Now, there may be good reason for that. After all, John Yoo had not yet written the memo claiming that waterboarding did not amount to torture at the time Abu Zubaydah was first tortured.

Moreover, there’s the whole issue of the approval method for the torture that occurred before August 1, 2002.

The source says nearly every day, Mitchell would sit at his computer and write a top-secret cable to the CIA’s counterterrorism center. Each day, Mitchell would request permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. The source says the CIA would then forward the request to the White House, where White House counsel Alberto Gonzales would sign off on the technique. That would provide the administration’s legal blessing for Mitchell to increase the pressure on Zubaydah in the next interrogation.

According to multiple reports, the White House–Alberto Gonzales at least, if not his boss–approved the torture of Abu Zubaydah on a daily basis. And when you read the Bybee Memo and the OPR Report on it, it’s very clear that the memo carved out legal authorization specifically for the torture directly authorized by the President. Indeed, the White House’s prior approval for torture–potentially up to and including waterboarding–may explain the urgency behind the memo in the first place, to provide retroactive legal cover for Bush’s unilateral disregard for US laws prohibiting torture.

In other words, Bush has admitted to approving torture in 2003. But that likely obfuscates his earlier approval for torture at a time when he had no legal cover for doing so.

In other news, the statute of limitations on the torture tape destruction expires in just three or four days. Yet we’ve got silence coming from John Durham.

Steven Kappes and Ibn Sheikh al-Libi

Jeff Stein has a long profile of Steven Kappes in the Washingtonian that challenges Kappes’ reputation for competence. For example, he points out how Kappes tried to get Jeff Castelli–the guy in charge of the notoriously incompetent Abu Omar rendition–placed in charge of CIA’s NY office. And he describes how Kappes helped the officer in charge of the Salt Pit prison avoid accountability for killing Gul Rahman.

But I’m particularly interested in two details, and the implications of them. Stein reminds us that, during the Obama transition period, Kappes tried to retain CIA’s ability to torture.

When Obama’s intelligence transition team had visited Langley, it had gotten a pitch from Kappes and other CIA officials to “retain the option of reestablishing secret prisons and using aggressive interrogation methods,” according to an anecdote buried in a Washington Post story.

“It was one of the most deeply disturbing experiences I have had,” David Boren, the moderate Oklahoma Democrat and former Senate Intelligence committee chair who led the transition team, told the Post.

Now couple that with Stein’s description of the earliest negotiations between Libya and the US.

In March 2003, leader Muammar Qaddafi signaled that he was ready to jump-start his on-again, off-again campaign to end his long diplomatic and commercial isolation, get off Washington’s list of terrorist states, and get back into the oil business with the West. Two years earlier, he’d dispatched one of his top operatives, Michigan State–educated Mousa Kousa, to a clandestine meeting in London with top CIA and British intelligence officials. Kousa carried with him the names of some of Osama bin Laden’s closest associates, including Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, a Libyan who would soon be the first major catch in the CIA’s pursuit of al-Qaeda. But with Qaddafi dragging his feet on final payouts over Libya’s 1988 downing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, negotiations stalled. [my emphasis]

Stein’s revelation that Qaddafi tried to get back in the good graces of the US by providing information on bin Laden’s associates is news to me. But I’m particularly intrigued that Kousa claimed that Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was one of “Osama bin Laden’s closest associates.”

He wasn’t (though he was “close” to al Qaeda).

Continue reading

Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s and Abu Zubaydah’s Coffins

At Mary’s instigation, I went back to look at Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s description of how he was shoved into a coffin-like box in Egypt. (Thanks to burnt for the searchable copy.)

According to al-Libi, the foreign government service [redacted] “stated that the next topic was al-Qa’ida’s connections with Iraq. … This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” Al-Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his responses and then “placed him in a small box approximately 50cm x 50cm.” He claimed he was held in the box for approximately 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, alLibi claims that he was given a last opportunity to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al-Libi claimed that “he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back.” Al-Libi told CIA debriefers that he then “was punched for 15 minutes.”216

(U) Al-Libi told debriefers that “after the beating,” he was again asked about the connection with Iraq and this time he came up with a story that three al-Qa’ida members went to Iraq to learn about nuclear weapons. Al-Libi said that he used the names of real individuals associated with al-Qa’ida so that he could remember the details of his fabricated story and make it more believable to the foreign intelligence service. Al-Libi noted that “this pleased his [foreign] interrogators, who directed that al-Libi be taken back to a big room, vice the 50 square centimeter box and given food.”217

That mock burial–and al-Libi’s subsequent lies about Iraqi ties with al Qaeda–happened sometime before February 22, 2002, when a DIA cable challenged the report.

This is the first report from Ibn al-Shaykh [al-Libi] in which he claims Iraq assisted al-Qa’ida’s CBRN efforts. However, he lacks specific details on the Iraqi’s involvement, the CBRN materials associated with the assistance, and the location where the training occurred. It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest. Saddam’s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control

Al-Libi was, you’ll recall, the onsite manager of the Khalden training camp, a camp that trained a range of Muslims, a policy that  put it at odds with Osama bin Laden, who wanted training to be limited to al Qaeda operatives.

Just over a month after al-Libi claimed, having been shoved in a coffin for almost a day, there were ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, the US captured al-Libi’s associate, Abu Zubaydah, who handled logistics for Khalden. Rather than send Abu Zubaydah off to the Egyptians, as the US had done with al-Libi, they instead sent Abu Zubaydah to a CIA run black site in Thailand.

And there, less than three months after the Egyptians shoved Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in a coffin overnight, James Mitchell threatened to do the same with Abu Zubaydah. Ali Soufan objected and told Mitchell doing so was torture. Soufan left the black site and alerted DOJ of what Mitchell had intended to do.

And then, some time later (Abu Zubaydah says it was about 3 months after his surgery, so perhaps mid-July) they did shove Abu Zubaydah in that coffin-like box. Continue reading

Ibn Sheikh al-Libi IDs Others

Andy Worthington has some new information on the pre-"suicide" fate of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, based on second-hand information via former Gitmo prisoner Omar Deghayes. It appears that al-Libi’s path took him to these places (click through for Andy’s comparison of this information with information already in the public record).

Afghanistan
USS Bataan
Egypt
Mauritania
Jordan
Afghanistan (three prisons)
Libya

Andy reports that among other things, those locations tie to al-Libi’s past travels as an Islamic extremist–and he may have been brought to some of them to personal ID other supsects.

What makes this scenario even more compelling, however, is the Libyan source’s comment — never previously reported — that, in each prison, other “terror suspects” were brought before al-Libi, and he was required to identify those that he knew — or, under torture, those that he didn’t know.

This partly ties in with the report of his death in the Oea newspaper, which noted that “he had left Libya in 1986 to travel to Morocco, Mauritania and then to Saudi Arabia where he was recruited in 1990 to join Islamist militants in Afghanistan” (in other words, that he spent time in two countries where he was later rendered by the CIA), and also indicates that he was, essentially, taken on a torture tour of prisons in Africa and the Middle East to identify those who had trained at Khaldan — or, again, those who hadn’t, but who were implicated through the use of torture.

[snip]

Moreover, the story becomes even more chilling with the realization that prisoners were also repeatedly shown photographs of other “terror suspects” to identify. No reports confirm that this also happened to al-Libi, but it is inconceivable that it did not take place, and on a regular basis, because it happened to every other prisoner regarded as having intelligence value. Continue reading

The Terrorism Intelligence and the Briefing Schedule

I suggested yesterday that one of the explanations for the CIA’s unreliable record of briefings on torture and terrorism in 2002 and 2003 might reflect an attempt to hide certain information.

Did CIA not reveal they were torturing detainees to dodge any question about the accuracy of claims about Iraq intelligence? 

While we don’t know the full schedule of briefings on Iraq intelligence, the schedule of intelligence documents pertaining to Iraqi ties to terrorism suggests that might be possible. Significantly, according to Bob Graham and Nancy Pelosi, they were not briefed that Abu Zubaydah had been tortured before the NIE appeared integrating his August 2002 interrogation reports. And Jane Harman was not informed he had been tortured until after the last major report on Iraqi links to terrorism came out in January 2003.

Here are the intelligence documents mentioned in the SSCI Report on Iraq, interspersed with the torture briefings.

September 21, 2001: Document written by Cofer Black (then Director of CounterTerrorism) and Near East and South Asia Directorate. Distributed only to President’s Daily Brief principals, and not revealed to Congress until June 2004. The document is described as "taking a ‘Q&A’ approach to the issue of Iraq’s possible links" to 9/11.

October 2001:  NESA document discussing Iraq’s overall ties to terrorism.CIA refused to share the document with SSCI, explaining its dissemination was limited to PDB readers.

December 18, 2001: Ibn Sheikh al-Libi captured.

February 22, 2002: First report doubting al-Libi’s claims of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda.

March 28, 2002: Abu Zubaydah captured.

June 21, 2002, Iraq and al-Qaida: Interpreting a Murky Relationship: Ostensibly a joint project between CTC and NESA, the report was a subject of a CIA Ombud invsetigation into a complaint from a NESA analyst alleging that the document did not adequately reflect the views of NESA. The document was intentionally expansive, as described by Jamie Miscik: "If you were going to stretch to the maximum the evidence you had, what could you come up with?"

July 26, 2002: OLC orally authorized waterboarding.

July 31, 2002: Second report doubting al-Libi’s claims of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Summer 2002, Dougie Feith’s Propaganda: This led to a series of briefings in August 2002 apparently designed to reinsert previously discredited claims into the CIA stream of intelligence. In particular, George Tenet agreed to hold up the production of Iraqi Support for Terrorism until CIA could attend a meeting with Feith’s people; the meeting took place on August 20, 2002. Continue reading

Timing and the Sheikh al-Libi Death

Since Andy Worthington reported on Sheikh al-Libi’s death over the weekend, a few more details on timing have come out.

Ibn Sheikh al-Libi Died in the Last Two Weeks

The first important point is that al-Libi died sometime after April 27, when a Human Rights Watch researcher spoke with him in a Libyan jail.

Human Right Watch researcher Heba Morayef told Reuters in London that she saw Fakhiri on April 27 during a visit to the Libyan capital’s main Abu Salim jail.

She said Fakhiri appeared for just two minutes in a prison courtyard. He look well, but was unwilling to speak to the Rights Watch team, she said. "Where were you when I was being tortured in American prisons?" she quoted him as saying.

This makes his death all the more suspicious, as it occurs after it has become clear there will be an inquiry of some sort here in the US (to say nothing of international prosecutions). The SSCI, remember, is conducting detainee by detainee reviews of treatment, and al-Libi is close to the top of the list in terms of seniority and brutality of treatment. Any reconsideration of Moussaoui’s sentencing given the treatment of evidence in his case may well point to al-Libi. Likewise, any contempt proceedings out of the ACLU case my bring attention to al-Libi’s treatment.

Most importantly, think of the people who would have an interest in having al-Libi–recently discovered by Human Rights Watch–silenced. If al-Libi had an opportunity to testify about how he fabricated the reports of al Qaeda ties to Iraq, it would focus intense attention on Dick Cheney’s lies to get us into war. And Egypt can ill afford to have the extent of their cooperation with the US on these matters exposed.

So there are a lot of reasons why al-Libi’s recent death is all the more suspicious.

Ibn Sheikh al-Libi Was Turned Over to Libya in 2006

Then there’s the detail that al-Libi was rendered to Libya in 2006 (which had been reported by the WaPo in 2007). Obviously, that would mean the US gave up custody of al-Libi before it moved the remaining High Value Detainees to Gitmo and ultimately made them available to the Red Cross. Continue reading

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