The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?


The Brad Blog, which picked up on the story of the strange death of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi shortly after I published the first account in the Western media on Sunday evening, asked a question yesterday evening that I had been asking myself throughout the day:

So, it’s been about 16 hours since we covered indie journalist / historian / blogger Andy Worthington’s detailed report on the reported suicide of the man who falsely “confessed,” during torture, to a false tie between Iraq and al-Qaeda … As of this moment, not a single mainstream US newspaper or broadcast outlet has reported on the story. Is it not notable? Or are our newspapers just dead set on ensuring their irrelevance by continuing to not report on news that actually matters, no matter how widely it’s being reported in other parts of the world?

See the rest of the story here.

Reuters finally picked up on the story late yesterday afternoon, and secured a quote from Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef, who said that she had seen al-Libi just two weeks ago, on April 27, during a visit to Abu Salim jail in Tripoli. She explained that he “appeared for just two minutes in a prison courtyard,” and that he “looked well, but was unwilling to speak” to the Human Rights Watch team, saying instead, “Where were you when I was being tortured in American prisons?”

This account corresponded with some news I received from a Libyan friend, who told me that “a reliable source” had told him that al-Libi’s body “was handed to his brother in the city of Ajdabiya.” The friend’s source corroborated Heba Morayef’s account of the prison visit, explaining that al-Libi “refused to meet them in anger because he thought, ‘Where were these organizations when I was badly tortured in US custody?’” In addition, the source, who had had access to al-Libi when he was in prison, said that he was held “in reasonable cell conditions.”

This doesn’t provide absolute confirmation of what happened to al-Libi, but it does seem to indicate fairly convincingly that he was in reasonable health just two weeks ago, which will only add to suspicions that, instead of committing suicide, as the Libyan authorities claimed, he was actually killed.

Late yesterday, Human Rights Watch issued a press release, calling on the Libyan authorities to conduct “a full and transparent investigation of the reported suicide,” in which they “should reveal what they know about al-Libi’s treatment in US and Egyptian custody.” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said, “The death of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi means that the world will never hear his account of the brutal torture he experienced. So now it is up to Libya and the United States to reveal the full story of what they know, including its impact on his mental health.”

Other Libyans subjected to “extraordinary rendition” by the CIA

Human Rights Watch also revealed that, although its researchers had been unable to talk to al-Libi, they did interview four other Libyan prisoners, sent to Libya by the CIA between 2004 to 2006, who stated that they had been tortured by US forces in detention centers in Afghanistan, and that US forces had also supervised their torture in Pakistan and Thailand.

One of the men, Mohamed Ahmad Mohamed al-Shoroeiya, also known as Hassan Rabi’i, told Human Rights Watch that “in mid-2003, in a place he believed was Bagram prison in Afghanistan,” he had been subjected to the following abuse: “The interpreters who directed the questions to us did it with beatings and insults. They used cold water, ice water. They put us in a tub with cold water. We were forced [to go] for months without clothes. They brought a doctor at the beginning. He put my leg in a plaster. One of the methods of interrogation was to take the plaster off and stand on my leg.”

The Washington Post published the story of al-Libi’s death in this morning’s edition, with a fine quote from Tom Malinowski, the head of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch, who said, “I would speculate that he was missing because he was such an embarrassment to the Bush administration. He was Exhibit A in the narrative that tortured confessions contributed to the massive intelligence failure that preceded the Iraq war.” However, the Post failed to follow up on the stories of the other prisoners mentioned in the Human Rights Watch press release, even though, in October 2007, Craig Whitlock had written a front-page article for the Post, “From CIA Jails, Inmates Fade Into Obscurity,” which included details of the four prisoners.

Whitlock wrote that, when al-Libi was rendered to Libya by the CIA “in early 2006,” he “joined several other Libyans” — members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an exiled group dedicated to the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi —  “who had spent time in the CIA’s penal system.” Whitlock noted that, after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA “helped Libya’s spy agencies track down some of the leaders” of the LIFG, after they fled the country.

He reported that, according to Noman Benotman, an exiled former LIFG member, who had met the prisoners during a visit to Tripoli that was “arranged by the Libyan government as part of an effort to persuade the Libyan prisoners to reconcile with the Gaddafi regime,” the prisoners included Abdallah al-Sadeq, who “was apprehended in a covert CIA operation in Thailand in the spring of 2004,” and Abu Munder al-Saadi, described as “the group’s spiritual leader,” who was seized at an airport in Hong Kong. According to Benotman, these two men were only “held briefly” by the CIA before being rendered to Tripoli. “They realized very quickly that these guys had nothing to do with al-Qaeda,” Benotman explained. “They kept them for a few weeks, and that’s it.”

Benotman also explained that two other prisoners, Khaled al-Sharif “and another Libyan known only as Rabai” — the prisoner mentioned in the Human Rights Watch press release — “were captured in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2003 and spent time in a CIA prison in Afghanistan.”

I await the Human Rights Watch report on the Libyan visit with interest, as it will undoubtedly shed more light on the stories of these four men, who appear to be among the 94 prisoners who, in May 2005, in one of the notorious Office of Legal Counsel memos issued by the US Justice Department last month, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven G. Bradbury acknowledged had been held in US custody.

Just as the story of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi should shine the most uncomfortable light on former Vice President Dick Cheney’s claims that the CIA’s web of secret prisons and proxy prisons protected America from further deadly attacks (and not, as it transpired, provided false information obtained through torture to justify an illegal war), so the stories of these four men deserve to be heard, to focus much-needed attention on a policy which, with no oversight from either Congress or the judiciary, allowed the Executive branch to indulge its dictatorial fantasies by “disappearing” prisoners anywhere around the world, and, in some cases, returning them to countries like Libya, with its notoriously poor human rights record, even when, as Craig Whitlock noted, at least two of these men “had nothing to do with al-Qaeda.”

And an even bigger story, to which I hope to return in future, involves asking searching questions of both the US and UK governments regarding their role in forcibly returning — or attempting to return — Libyan prisoners from Guantánamo, and Libyan residents in the UK, whose only crime, it appears, is to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time when Colonel Gaddafi, once regarded as a pariah and an international terrorist, became an ally in the “War on Terror,” and those who opposed him were transformed, overnight, from freedom fighters to terrorists.

Note: See here for some excellent political cartoons by Detainee DD, one of the Libyans held in the UK, see here for a report on the UK government’s failed attempts to forcibly repatriate Libyans in the UK, and see here, here, here and here for more stories of Libyans in Guantánamo.

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.

For updates on the story, see: Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq and In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA), and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah? and CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval (all April 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: Mixed Messages On Torture (May 2009). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi (August 2007), Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), and also see the extensive Binyam Mohamed archive. And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in “conventional” US prisons in Afghanistan, see: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 2007), Guantánamo Transcripts: “Ghost” Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And “9/11 hijacker” Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

12 Responses

  1. Frances Madeson says...

    Andy, be compassionate and just a little more patient. The US press is waking up after a long, sleepy trip down the tributary of the River Nile. You know the one I mean, De Nial. They’re rubbing their eyes, they’re staring ga-ga at the almost blindingly strong sunlight streaming in the not-so-clean window forming prism rainbows on the wall nonetheless.They’re drinking their second cup of Fair Trade coffee; the first round of wheat toast burned on the rack and they’re making another, choosing this morning’s flavor of marmalade. After they’ve eaten, when they’ve brushed their teeth and washed the gritty, both bitter and sweet taste out of their mouths, they’ll get to work.

    And, Andy, my friend, I think you should prepare yourself. With their resources, networks, traditions of excellence, experience, training, skill, and new found dedication inspired by our awesome president–they’re going to blow you out of the water.

  2. the talking dog says...

    Oh, I think Andy has it about right. If one were designing the perfect corporate-state, one would want to encourage the illusion of both free discourse and a free press by letting the Greg Palasts, Seymour Hershes and Andy Worthingtons of the world run around doing their journalism journalism while the t.v., cable and big newspaper guys doing their celebrity journalism contented themselves with re-printing press releases and seeing whatever Britney or Angelina was up to (and news of Barack’s dog, of course)… or worse yet, “serious” journalists like Judith Miller, Michael Gordon, et al., pry their “unverified-but-still-helpful-to-
    the-Bush-Administration-leaks masquerading as news” trade, got the big headlines.

    The “journalist journalists” are then duly marginalized on their niche web-sites and books and magazines and so forth, while the more important “celebrity journalists” would be dominating the airwaves and the bandwidths… but the masters of the universe could turn around and say “You see? It’s out there!” even as only a miniscule part of the public were the least bit cognizant of it, because, of course, most of the larger outlets of the media were dominated with celebrity driven crap.

    Sound familiar, perhaps?

    Hence, the al-Libi suicide/homicide isn’t a more “important” story simply because corporate America simply doesn’t want it to be an important story; it demonstrates that corporate America and its media arm were not only complicit with “a case for war” based on “inadequate” evidence and support, or even “fabricated” evidence, but were quite actively complicit with a regime that relied on “evidence” deliberately secured through the use of Medieval torture methods to pry false “confessions”. Possibly worse still, it might embarrass a potentially huge no trading partner and source of profits, our new friend in Tripoli (sorry Pan Am 103 and Lockerbie families… business is business).

    Sufficeth to say, it just would not be good for business if this sort of story were more… widely reported.

  3. Peter Morse, PE says...

    One reason the media is silent is that exposure of the falsity of the “intelligence” supposedly gained through torture will inevitably lead to exposure of the falsity of the torturers’ own version of 9/11, known as the OTC, or the Official Conspiracy Theory. We are told, for instance, that KSM was waterboarded 183 times in a month. That does not bolster credence in the OTC claim that he is the 9/11 “mastermind.” If he wasn’t, well then, who was?

    Add to this the publication of peer-reviewed science journal articles including’s “Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe” and we may well find evil-doer’s in our own midst – not in Afghan caves – at the bottom of this rabbit hole. How did that thermitic material get there and who put it there?

  4. The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence? by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] Why The Media Silence? by Andy Worthington Posted on May 12, 2009 by dandelionsalad by Andy Worthington Featured Writer Dandelion Salad 12 May […]

  5. Frances Madeson says...

    TD and PE,
    The corporate media is comprised of people, some of whom you probably went to college with, if not law school. That they have been enslaved and silenced is not lost on them. If they have been complicit they have also been victimized by the forces that demanded that complicity.

    But what the masters forget, punch-drunk on their own arrogance, is that you can’t keep a good man or a good woman down forever. You just can’t. We’re hardwired for liberty. Humiliate them long enough, squelch their instincts and impulse for the STORY, which is what drew them to journalism in the first place, and they will revolt. They will but in their own way that cannot be dictated by outsiders.

    Right now, they are looking around at their co-workers, sizing them up, seeing who’s got the guts to make the break. Someone will start and the daring spirit will catch fire and their colleagues will be emboldened and want a piece of that freedom (and the dignity that comes with being genuinely free, your own man, your own woman, with your singular contribution to make, even within the context of the team).

    So, please, don’t take it away from them with your damning foregone conclusions before they’ve even had a chance to stir. They know we’re a country born of revolution finding itself again in a sort of revolutionary moment. Do you really think the members of this intelligent, curious, articulate profession are going to be content with sitting silently on the bench, sidelined while the biggest story, the place where the action is, the main story, and in some sense the Ur story, the only story really worth covering, unfolds without their input and insight?

    I very much doubt it. If they did that, they’d be worse than slaves. They’d be fools.

  6. the talking dog says...


    I think I’ll just have to disagree with you on that one. I must say I admire your faith in your fellow man and woman. I do hope some day to see it rewarded; I fear that day is a longer way off than either of us would like.

    Anyway, if one generally wants to advance in their bureaucratic careers, one puts their head down and does what their boss(es) want(s) him or her to do; trying to point out the error of their superiors’ ways or, perhaps, to go all “mavericky” is usually a recipe for career suicide. (Here’s a pretty succinct explanation for the phenomenon for the journalism biz.)
    What happens to “mavericky” journalists? Why don’t we ask Ashleigh Banfield, or Dan Rather? The “journalistic profession” has certainly gotten that message, and won’t likely be going all “cutting edge” on any story anytime soon unless their corporate masters want them to.

    So… to answer your big question:

    Do you really think the members of this intelligent, curious, articulate profession are going to be content with sitting silently on the bench, sidelined while the biggest story, the place where the action is, the main story, and in some sense the Ur story, the only story really worth covering, unfolds without their input and insight?

    Well, If they value their career advancement, then the answer is yes, yes they will. And rising unemployment only makes this troubling trend… more troubling.

  7. Frances Madeson says...

    I see Andy’s on to his next post but I cannot let this blight on American journalism stand.

    News flash, TD, I AM thinking of journalists like Dan Rather whose career got jump-started by reporting on the hurricane in Galveston. His heroism during Hurricane Carla prompted the evacuation of the Texas coast, averting disaster and saving who knows how many lives. If he had not stood in the eye of the storm to report on the danger he might never have had the historic and, please, credit-where-credit-is-due, heroic career that he has had. You’re selecting your details far too narrowly, one might say pedantically if I didn’t admire you so, to prove your overly- pessimistic and, frankly, dreary point.

    The link you offer dates from 2004. Not a little ironic given how you’ve on more than one occasion chided me for dredging up anachronistic examples. On May 9, 2009, President Obama charged the US press with the moral equivalent of the Hippocratic oath, Marine motto and Pledge of Allegiance all rolled up into one. Did you somehow miss that? That’s the ground we’re standing on now, not some five-year old whine fest.

    I will bet you a martini, shaken not stirred, at the Sky Bar on the roof of the Washington Hotel, that my worldview proves correct and yours is absolutely defunct. I’m banking on serious journalists like Jack Sirica, editor at Newsday, who I don’t have to remind you is the son of Watergate Judge John Sirica. I knew Jack briefly years ago in Washington, and with all respect to his wife, he was hot stuff then and I’m pretty sure he’s even hotter now. That man’s very genes will impel him to conquer this story. You can call guys like him corporate media tools all you want, but I know better. He’s just the man to light the spark on this bonfire of the vanities, and if memory serves, have a ball doing it.

    Men like Jack, and there are many others, longstanding print journalists who love their country, who are secure, and in a position to take the lead, drive this fast car and plant their paper’s flag at the pinnacle, aren’t going to idle their engines and waste gas. Not when they can rev them, and floor it into the glory that awaits them just around the next curve.

  8. The Dead Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi… « Back Towards The Locus says...

    […] May 14, 2009, 7:42 pm Filed under: Uncategorized Today’s diktat demands that you read these fine articles by Andy Worthington… “The Arabic media is ablaze with the news that Ibn […]

  9. Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide” by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] 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 […]

  10. Rick Boettger says...

    On MSNBC’s Countdown Keith Oberman discussed Al-Libi last night, Thursday 5/15.

  11. 1 Boring Old Man » individuals… says...

    […] The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence? […]

  12. Iraq and Afghanistan: Dual Fronts (closed) « The Agonist says...

    […] The ”œSuicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence? ** US military deaths in Iraq war at 4,294 ** Iraq: Hold And Build, Or Lose ** Qaeda-linked Islamic […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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