The death in a Libyan jail of an al Qaeda suspect sent there secretly from US custody raises fresh concerns about the West’s counter-terrorism links to nations with poor human rights records, legal analysts say.
Rights groups urged Libya to conduct an immediate and thorough inquiry into the reported suicide of Libyan Ali Mohamed Abdelaziz al Fakhiri, 46, known as Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, a former prisoner in a secret US system of detention and transfers.
Legal experts say his death could be a sharp reminder that Western countries cannot rely on diplomatic assurances from nations suspected of persistent violations that prisoners’ rights will be protected following their transfer Reuters reports.
“This case shows the risk of sending people back to countries where they are at grave risk,” said Gerald Staberock, an official of the International Commission of Jurists.
“There’s an obligation on states not do so, especially to countries where you know the rights record is terrible.”
In Tripoli, government officials were not immediately available for comment on the Libyan Islamist’s case.
Roger Smith of the British human rights group Justice said: “The truth of the circumstances of Libi’s death is obscure. What is all too clear is that suspicions are necessarily raised.”
Oea, the newspaper that reported Libi’s death, said Libya, an ally of Washington’s fight against al Qaeda, was investigating the death. It gave no further details.
The paper said Libi had been an inmate at Guantanamo Bay. A Pentagon spokesman said neither his name or alias appeared on the Pentagon’s list of detainees held there.
Libi’s case has drawn attention because he played a key role in a prominent US intelligence failure after his capture in Pakistan following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.
Libi made up a story later about links between al Qaeda and Iraq to avoid torture while in the custody of a third country, according to a 2006 US Senate Intelligence Committee report.
US human rights groups have reported that he provided the account to interrogators in Egypt, where he was sent by the United States in January 2002. Egyptian officials were not immediately available for comment on Libi’s death.
The bogus testimony was used by the administration of US President George W. Bush to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Libi later recanted his testimony, the US committee said. He was sent secretly by the United States to Libya in 2006.
Staberock said Libi’s arrest and interrogation were part of a system of “enforced disappearances” involving the United States and third countries and such cases had to be probed.
In Washington, a US official on condition of anonymity, said: “The notion that moving this Libyan national back to Libya was done to avoid embarrassing the United States is incorrect.”
Rights experts say his death showed what they call the potential risks many prisoners remaining at the US Guantanamo prison would run if they were sent to their home countries.
“It’s urgent European countries take the prisoners otherwise they’ll be sent to countries like Libya,” said Clara Gutteridge, an investigator at Reprieve, a group of human rights lawyers.
US President Barack Obama has vowed to close the detention centre by early 2010 and is lobbying allies in Europe to accept prisoners who are not seen to pose a security threat but cannot return to their home countries because of a risk of torture.
Maghreb expert George Joffe said other Libyans were due to be sent home from US custody and his death “implies you must anticipate that the same thing will happen to them.”
“That goes counter to the official view in Britain and the U.S. that detention in Libya is not a threat to an individual’s rights, so this would raise serious and embarrassing questions.”
Gutteridge said Libi’s story demonstrated “everything that was wrong” about the US secret prison system. She added: “He was tortured into making false statements that were relied upon to start the Iraq war, and when that became too embarrassing he was ‘disappeared’ to a rights-abusing country.”