CIA Helped Gaddafi Torture Libyan Dissidents, Documents Show
September 5, 2011 5 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Back in February, when Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi blamed the popular revolt against him on al-Qaeda, he was ridiculed in the international media. But documents discovered at an abandoned Libyan government office complex show that the Libyan rebels’ supreme military commander was abducted in 2004 by the CIA, which suspected him of links to al-Qaeda. Abdel Hakim Belhaj, also known as Abdullah al-Sadiq, was snatched by a CIA team in Malaysia, and secretly transported to Thailand, where he says he was “directly tortured by CIA agents”. The CIA then renditioned him to Libya, where he says he was tortured routinely until his release from prison, in 2010. In the 1980s, Belhaj was a member of the foreign Mujahedeen summoned by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. Upon returning to Libya in the early 1990s, he led the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an al-Qaeda-inspired armed organization that unsuccessfully sought to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi. Ironically, Belhaj is now the Tripoli-based military commander of the Libyan National Transitional Council, and says that he wants a full apology from the United States and Britain “for the way he was transported to prison in Libya in 2004”. But the former Mujahedeen is one of several terrorism suspects delivered to Libya by Western intelligence agencies in the years after 9/11, according to Libyan government documents discovered by Human Rights Watch (HRW) workers at the office of Libyan former intelligence chief and foreign minister Moussa Koussa. The documents show that Libya’s External Security Organization maintained extremely close relations with German, Canadian, British, and American intelligence services.
Most of the documents, which were passed on by HRW activists to the world’s media, cover the period between 2002 and 2007. Those years were marked by Libya’s public denunciation of its nuclear weapons program, which essentially brought Tripoli back under the umbrella of Western regional powers. The events of 9/11 brought the Gaddafi regime closer to Washington, as the nationalist Libyan leader began to fear the rise of militant Islamism.
Admittedly, the documents reveal a degree of cooperation that is far more extensive than generally supposed, as expressed in countless items of correspondence in which British and American spies address their Libyan counterparts by their first names, and refer to routine visits to each other’s offices. In one case, an unnamed official of MI6, Britain’s equivalent of the CIA, tells Moussa Koussa —a senior official in the regime that orchestrated the Lockerbie bombing— that he feels compelled to “offer you my admiration”.
Should this surprise anyone? Absolutely not. It is the job of intelligence officers to establish links with their foreign counterparts. It is precisely through these links that valuable intelligence is often acquired, and foreign agents are sometimes turned, as indeed Moussa Koussa himself was turned, several years before he finally defected to the West. Washington’s so-called global war on terrorism gave British and American intelligence operatives an added incentive to strengthen their ties with their Libyan colleagues, who were far more competent in deciphering the movements of North African militant groups. Does this mean that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group had links with al-Qaeda? Not necessarily. But the post-9/11 tendency to turn every dissident group to an al-Qaeda-linked foe was the only game in town across the Arab world, as repressive regimes from Tripoli to Damascus jumped on the opportunity to use 9/11 as a means of settling personal scores —often with the help of the CIA.
The documents retrieved from Koussa’s office clearly show that the CIA and MI6 went so far as to provide the Gaddafi regime with intelligence on dissident groups of ex-pat Libyans operating abroad. MI6, in particular, even offered to intercept telecommunications exchanges between anti-Gaddafi dissidents in Britain and elsewhere. It is also revealed in the documents that, after delivering alleged al-Qaeda-linked Libyans to the hands of Gaddafi agents, CIA officers participated in the interrogations deep inside Gaddafi’s complex of secret prisons.
It is these very people, who were systematically tortured by the Libyan dictator, with the approval and support of Western intelligence services, who are now in command of the oil-rich North African country. How will this affect Libya’s relations with the West? The answer to this question depends on which faction within the National Transitional Council will eventually prevail in the months ahead. There is no doubt that the group’s tactical mission —the removal of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s dictatorship— is coming to an end. A discussion will now begin about its long-term strategic vision, which will also shape the country’s foreign policy.
It is probably safe to state, however, that the elaborate intelligence network set up in Libya —and the Arab World as a whole— by the CIA, MI6, and other Western intelligence services in the years after 9/11, has been swept away by the Arab Spring. Western-handled informants in the old regimes, in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab World, have either been deposed or defected. They have been replaced by an amalgam of mostly unknown quantities, representing what we may call “the grass roots”. In an ideal world, Western intelligence services are supposed to develop links with both foreign government agencies and those who oppose them. But the black-and-white response to 9/11 essentially created a blind spot for Western intelligence agencies when it came to “the grass roots”. This explains why the Arab Spring was such a major surprise for Western intelligence. Only time will show how many more such surprises are in store before the dust finally settles in the Maghreb and the Middle East.