After I picked up on the breaking story of the death of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi on Sunday evening (with follow-up articles here and here), there was considerable interest from bloggers, including, in particular, the Brad Blog and Empty Wheel at Firedoglake, before the mainstream media finally picked up on it.
It remains to be seen whether the most crucial aspects of the story that impact on American audiences — al-Libi’s tortured lies that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq, and the wider question of diplomatic arrangements that involved Libyan prisoners seized by the CIA being rendered back to Libya — will survive an initial flurry of headlines, but on the question of al-Libi’s death, and whether it was, in fact, suicide, as the Libyan authorities claim, two experts have weighed in with their opinions, and both follow a line that accords with the opinion of Human Rights Watch, whose researchers fleetingly met al-Libi in a prison courtyard two weeks ago, and stated that he “looked well.”
The Associated Press spoke to Yasser al-Sirri, an Egyptian exile who runs the Islamic Observation Centre in London, who confirmed, as a source of mine informed me yesterday, that, on Sunday evening, the Libyan authorities had contacted al-Libi’s family and requested them to come and collect his body. Al-Sirri added that al-Libi was buried in Ajdabiya the following day, and told the AP that he doubted that he had committed suicide, as he was a “true Muslim and Islam prohibits committing suicides.”
Newsweek added further details, reporting that Hafed al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American and a prominent critic of the Gaddafi regime, also doubted that al-Libi had committed suicide. “This idea of committing suicide in your prison cell is an old story in Libya,” al-Ghwell said, adding that, throughout Gaddafi’s rule, there had been several instances in which political prisoners were reported to have committed suicide, but that “then the families get the bodies back and discover the prisoners had been shot in the back or tortured to death.”
As yet, we have had no reports about the condition of al-Libi’s body, but al-Ghwell indicated that he felt that al-Libi’s death may have followed the pattern established above, but with a twist based on the recent disclosure of documents relating to the Bush administration’s policies of “extraordinary rendition” and torture, and of Libya’s involvement. “My gut feeling is that something fishy happened here and somebody in Libya panicked,” he said, adding, as Newsweek described it, that, “With the prospect that the Obama administration might release more Bush-era documents about the treatment of CIA detainees, officials in the Gaddafi regime had reasons to be concerned that their ‘complicity’ in the US war on terror would be exposed.”
Adding another layer to this theory, Newsweek also reported that al-Libi “had recently been identified by defense lawyers in the US as a prime potential witness in any upcoming trials of top terror suspects, either in revamped military commissions or in US federal courts.” Brent Mickum, the attorney for Abu Zubaydah, another alleged “high-value detainee,” who knew al-Libi well, as they were both involved with the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, explained that he “had recently begun efforts through intermediaries to arrange to talk to Libi,” and said of his death, “The timing of this is weird.”
That’s all for now, but I hope to have a major update in the next few days.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009. Visit his website at: www.andyworthington.co.uk.