Sad to say, the US has taught us various things about abusing detainees in Abu Ghraib and beyond. We learned another sorry lesson in Ian Cobain and Clara Usiskin’s expose (November 6, 2018) in which they filled in some important details to the biggest torture story never fully told: that of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi.
Unfortunately, the mistakes caused by torture come in various degrees. It is one matter if the CIA abuses one of my clients into confessing falsely to a crime. True, the man suffers twice: first in the mistreatment, and then when he is locked in a legal black hole like Guantanamo Bay, as with the 40 men who continue to languish in that notorious Cuban prison.
Screenshot: Middle East Eye, November 6, 2018
Yet there is an even darker side to such secrets, and this is where Middle East Eye’s investigation is so important: some “intelligence” adduced by abuse is used to change government policy, even to start a war.
Some years ago, Shaker Aamer, one of my Guantanamo clients, told me what he knew about Libi. Shaker was being held in a cage at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan when he was taken into the same room as Libi. There, he said, he saw someone he thought was a British agent, present during the torment.
Soon after, early in 2002, he saw a coffin being carried out. It transpired that Libi was in it – very much alive, but on his way to Egypt, where the US had President Hosni Mubarak’s henchmen do their dirty work, taking an electric cattle prod to their victim.
Unsurprisingly, Libi said what the US wanted to hear – that Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaeda. Later, I was able to report evidence declassified from Guantanamo, where a detainee being tortured there also said that Saddam’s people were developing weapons of mass destruction.
When Libi first said all this, some CIA operatives expressed doubt, but that did not stop US President George W. Bush relying on it in a speech in October 2002, or Secretary of State Colin Powell delivering his infamous presentation to the UN Security Council in February 2003.