How US, British intelligence worked to bring Qaddafi's Libya in from the cold
Documents uncovered by Human Rights Watch in Tripoli detail how the CIA and Britain’s MI6 worked to develop warm ties with Libya's Muammar Qaddafi after he vowed to give up weapons of mass destruction.
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On Jan. 17, 2003, the British provided an “intelligence resume” of a UK-based senior member of the LIFG, Ismail Kamoka. He, too, was described as providing support for militants across the Middle East, and in Iran “is reported to have delivered false documentation and correspondence to individuals believed to be associated with Al Qaeda.”Skip to next paragraph
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Some 40 or so ranking Al Qaeda leaders were known to have escaped to Iran during the US offensive in Afghanistan in 2001 that ended Taliban rule and largely dismantled Al Qaeda. Shiite Iran claimed to have kept the Sunni militants of Al Qaeda under house arrest, but the documents in Tripoli, apparently based on British wiretaps of operatives in the UK, appear to undermine Iran’s claims that it gave no help to Al Qaeda.
Considering the six-month NATO-led military effort to end 42 years of brutal Qaddafi rule, the most important and potentially embarrassing revelations from the Libyan intelligence archive are how closely the US and British intelligence agencies cultivated their Libyan counterparts.
In the years following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration authorized renditions for suspects to many countries where severe interrogation methods and torture were commonplace.
The documents found in Tripoli show that whenever Libyan cooperation with rendition is discussed with the CIA, there is a caveat inserted into the text.
One fax discussing the rendition of a deputy leader of the LIFG and his family from Hong Kong on April 9, 2004, for example, noted that the CIA was “willing to assist financially” to pay for the flight, but in exchange needed assurance that the detainee “will be treated humanely and that his human rights will be respected.”
The planning letter for the capture of Belhadj said the CIA would “appreciate direct access” to him after he was handed over to the Libyans. The letter continued that US officers “cannot condone any significant physical or psychological aspects, such as direct physical contacts, unusual mental duress, unusual physical restraints, or deliberate environmental deprivations beyond those reasonably required.…”
Shedding light on unanswered questions
The documents shed unaccustomed light on one of the darkest chapters of the post-9/11 decade, but were found almost by chance.
“I did not go there to find these documents. We went there to make sure this archive was being preserved,” says Bouckaert of HRW, who describes the intelligence files as a “candy shop” that included wiretaps of every foreign embassy in Tripoli. “There are a lot of unanswered questions about what has happened in Libya the past 42 years: the massacre at Abu Salim [prison, where some 1,200 were killed in 1996], where are the bodies? The Lockerbie bombing. The disappearance of [Shiite cleric] Musa Sadr.
“People go into these offices. It’s the breakdown of a police state and they want to see for themselves what’s inside,” adds Bouckaert. “But they also walk away with souvenirs. One person could walk away with the file that lets us know what happened to the bodies at Abu Salim; we don’t want that tragedy to happen.”