Deranged Gaddafi Blames Ex-Guantánamo Prisoners for Unrest in Libya, Even Though Only One Ex-Prisoner Has Been Released


Colonel Gaddafi has long demonstrated a fundamental disregard for the life of the Libyan people. Not content with murdering 1,200 prisoners in the Abu Salim prison massacre in June 1996, he then allowed men like Fouad Assad ben Omran, who recently spoke to Lindsey Hilsum of Channel 4 News, to make the journey to the gates of the prison for 14 years, to deliver food and clothing for his brother-in-law, before finally letting ben Omran know that his journeys had all been in vain, and  that his brother-in-law had been killed in the massacre.

While this anecdote rather chillingly demostrates Gaddafi’s disregard for human life — also demonstrated in his first speech against the revolution on February 22, when he urged supporters to “chase away the rats and terrorists” and threatened to “cleanse Libya house by house” — he also seems to have a tenuous grip on sanity, as revealed in his most recent speech, when, as CNN reported:

In another of his trademark lengthy, rambling speeches carried on state television, Gaddafi continued to claim that there are no peaceful Libyan protests, only al-Qaeda-backed efforts to tear the country apart. He blamed the problems on former prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who were released to Libya and then freed by Libyan authorities after they pledged to reform. He said they turned out to be members of al Qaeda sleeper cells — but insisted that his country is “stopping al- Qaeda from flourishing” and preventing Osama bin Laden from moving into North Africa.

Perhaps the mention of al-Qaeda was meant to reassure his former allies in the West that there was still some life in the discredited “War on Terror” that he joined so adroitly in 2004, but if this was his hope, he appears to have missed the fact that the popular uprisings in the Middle East are actually showing that all that was achieved by signing up to the “War on Terror” on the basis of a shared crusade with the US against terrorism was to alienate the people still further, as police states were reinforced and arms budgets increased, and the ordinary people — rather than spectral terrorists — were the ones who largely suffered.

In addition, even the most cursory investigation of the “former prisoners at Guantánamo Bay” reveals that only two Libyans have been repatriated since the prison opened over nine years ago, and that, of these two men, only one has been freed, and the other is still languishing in Abu Salim prison.

The man still held is Muhammad al-Rimi (also identified as Muhammad al-Futuri or Abdesalam Safrani), a refugee from the Gaddafi regime, who was repatriated from Guantánamo in December 2006, and the released man is certainly no al-Qaeda terrorist, as I reported at the time of his release, on August 31 last year, with 36 other men described as political prisoners. As I explained at the time:

They included a former Guantánamo prisoner transferred to Libyan custody nearly three years ago, in October 2007, named by AFP as Abu Sofian Ben Guemou, and by Reuters as Sofiane Ibrahim Gammu. Reuters noted that media reports had “quoted an official in the Gaddafi Foundation as saying Gammu was a former driver for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden,” but as he left the prison on Tuesday, he stated, “I am not bin Laden’s driver. It’s a misunderstanding.”

This was almost certainly true. Identified in Guantánamo as Abu Sufian Hamouda or Abu Sufian bin Qumu, his story, as revealed in publicly available documents, suggests that the bin Laden connection was only relevant in relation to a job that he took in Sudan for a company owned by bin Laden, when the al-Qaeda leader was involved in construction work and other activities unrelated to terrorism between 1992 and 1996, prior to his expulsion from Sudan and his return to Afghanistan.

As Hamouda explained in Guantánamo (and as I reported at the time of his transfer to Libyan custody):

[H]e had served in the Libyan army as a tank driver from 1979 to 1990, but was “arrested and jailed on multiple occasions for drug and alcohol offenses.” Having apparently escaped from prison in 1992, he fled to Sudan, where he worked as a truck driver. In an attempt to beef up the evidence against him, the Department of Defense alleged that the company he worked for, the Wadi al-Aqiq company, was “owned by Osama bin Laden,” and also attempted to claim that he joined the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group … even while admitting that an unidentified “al-Qaeda/LIFG facilitator” had described him as “a noncommittal LIFG member who received no training.”

After relocating to Pakistan, [he] apparently stayed there until the summer of 2001, when he and a friend crossed the border into Afghanistan, traveling to Jalalabad and then to Kabul, where [he] found a job working as an accountant for Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi, the director of al-Wafa, a Saudi charity which provided humanitarian aid to Afghans, but which was regarded by the US authorities as a front for al-Qaeda.

In the years since Hamouda’s transfer to Libyan custody, everyone connected to al-Wafa, including Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi, has been released, but in any case, as I also explained at the time:

[His] involvement with the organization centered on its humanitarian work … In the “evidence” presented for his Combatant Status Review Tribunal — under factors purporting to demonstrate that he “supported military operations against the United States or its coalition partners” — it was stated that, while working for al-Wafa, he traveled to Kunduz “to oversee the distribution of rice that was being guarded by four to five armed guards.” In Guantánamo, it seems, even the distribution of rice can be regarded as a component in a military operation.

I also explained:

Captured in Islamabad, after fleeing from Afghanistan following the US-led invasion, [he] was held for a month by the Pakistani authorities, and was then handed over to the Americans, who began mining him for the flimsy “evidence” of terrorist activities outlined above. Earlier this year [2007], he was cleared for release, and, despite misgivings on the part of his lawyers, stated that he was prepared to return to Libya, even though what awaits him may not be any better than what he was suffered over the last five years. Perhaps, as one of Guantánamo’s truly lost men, he has decided that, if he is to spend the rest of his life in prison for no apparent reason, he would rather be in Libya, where his wife and his family might be able to see him, than in Guantánamo, where, like every other detainee, he was more isolated from his relatives than even the deadliest convicted mass murderer on the US mainland.

In September 2008, Human Rights Watch stated in a report that, according to the US State Department, officials had visited Hamouda in December 2007, and that, although the Libyan security forces “were holding him on unknown charges and apparently without access to a lawyer … he did not complain of maltreatment [and] was scheduled to receive a family visit” at the end of the month. The Gaddafi Foundation [founded by one of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, with the avowed intention of supporting charitable work and upholding human rights] subsequently claimed that he had indeed been “granted a family visit,” and added that the foundation was providing an apartment for his family in Tripoli.

It would, of course, be useful if other media outlets bothered to research Gaddafi’s wild claims, but it would be prudent to expect, instead, that the “al-Qaeda in Libya” narrative will drizzle its way insiduously into discussions about Libya’s future — not aided, it must be said, by comments that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made on Wednesday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

After stating, “One of our biggest concerns is Libya descending into chaos and becoming a giant Somalia,” Clinton proceeded to express “her concern about the number of al-Qaeda recruits that have come from Libya,” as ABC News described it, “suggesting the power vacuum that could result from the unrest in that country could be ripe for exploitation from terror groups,” as happened in Somalia.

With these words, Clinton demonstrated that the tired rhetoric of the “War on Terror” — in which exiled political opponents of Gaddafi were automatically labelled as al-Qaeda, to Gaddafi’s benefit — is not only a lie to which a desperate tyrant clings, but is also a lie that is still being kept alive in the corridors of power in the US, where some hawkish types are already looking for an opportunity to see terrorists where, as the actual record inconveniently shows, there are none.

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Cageprisoners.

26 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Scott Trent wrote:

    A US asset using the “al-Qaeda threat” to justify repression and war? Who ever heard of such a thing?
    Thanks for this exposure, AW…you are invaluable…

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Terry Sully wrote:

    ‎”Control oil and you control nations. Control food and you control the people!”
    Henry Kissinger 1974

    hint hint!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil Goodwin wrote:

    control the remote and you control the tele

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m sharing this, Andy.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Deranged is right, unhinged from reality, Andy. I want this to end and Qaddafi’s bloodletting to stop. Thanks again.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Dennis O’Neil wrote:

    ya done it again, andy!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia Patterson wrote:

    Al Qaeda is a name for people trained and funded by the USA/CIA/MI5 who operate in different countries, who are easy for the West to blame when their actions get uncovered to deny all involvement and this becomes a name that is dumped on people who have their own individual movements and beliefs and aspirations and political motives in a wide range of different countries so how do we know which Al Qaeda is being refered to?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Lisa Barr wrote:

    Okay, so our former ally is nuts. I still don’t want U.S. military intervention.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, everyone.
    Lilia, my understanding of al-Qaeda — “the base” — is that it grew out of the records kept by the Arab mujahideen at the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and came to be a group gathered around Osama bin Laden and an inner circle that mainly included members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, like Ayman al-Zawahiri.
    Most international references to al-Qaeda after 9/11 are, to my mind, nothing more than references to a kind of franchise, or even just an inspiration, and in certain cases, like the Libyans, the al-Qaeda tag was used cynically to claim that political opponents of Gaddafi were affiliated with bin Laden/al-Qaeda, when, for the most part, I don’t think there was any truth in this. See my article, Revolution in Libya: Protestors Respond to Gaddafi’s Murderous Backlash with Remarkable Courage; US and UK Look Like the Hypocrites They Are, for more on this.
    The same, it should be noted, applied to numerous other Arabs in Afghanistan/Pakistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks — Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans, for example — who, when unlucky enough to be seized and sent to Guantanamo, were described as members of, or affiliated with al-Qaeda.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Eugene Hernandez wrote:

    I knew they would spin it like this- the US military advisors are already on the ground in Libya, it is just a matter of time before they select the next leader of Libya

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Fern Lindsay wrote:

    Sleight-of-hand is correct. I have never seen the media go so rabid so quickly. I am no apologist for Gadaffi but his crimes are an order of magnitude less than those his accusers. I am seriously doubting the press more and more. It would not surprise me at all if this story was just made up propaganda.
    Seriously why dont they take on Mugabe if they are suddenly so concerned about injustice? What about the Chinese using politcal prisoners as an organ bank?
    I have to move away from this before I make myself sick

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments. I do have to say though, Fern, that although Gaddafi may not be responsible for as many deaths as “the good guys” in the West, our hypocritical leaders can’t match Gaddafi for his assault on his own people. Please read about the massacre of 1200 prisoners at Abu Salim prison in 1996 and the long-lasting impact this has had, and know that I have met, or know of countless talented Libyans scattered around the world, because they had to flee Libya after Gaddafi killed members of their family. The man is a butcher and a tyrant, and no amount of comparisons with anyone else should lead to any conclusions that he is not a fundamental menace to his own people:
    That said, it would be appalling if the West became militarily involved on the ground, as we only need to look at what a disaster our intervention has been in Afghanistan and Iraq. And for more on this, see my cross-post of a recent article by a Libyan blogger in Tripoli:

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia Patterson wrote:

    Fern, exactly.
    the hypocrisy of the Western militaries is so completely and totally blatant. Why don’t they just stop interfering in foreign affairs for good, and leave everyone alone and just focus on developing their diplomatic negotiating skills so that everyone can respectfully negotiate trade agreements in peace without all this constant bloodshed of innocents.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia Patterson wrote:

    Andy, from what I understand like you said, Al Qaeda = “the CIA database” was a generic name that was used originally to refer to people that just happened to be on the CIA’s database of people who were involved with Osama bin Laden when he was on the CIA payroll, fighting the Russians, and I guess there must have been quite a few who were on the CIA payroll at that time. As for the reality now, most reports of Osama bin Laden are that he died in 2001, which is over a decade ago now, even if it’s said that he was involved in going to a number of different countries to give them funding in order to buy influence in various different armed struggles in order to Islamicise those individuals and to buy Saudi influence. Whether that Saudi influence continues to this day and whether Islamicisation still continues is something else, but whether or not Al Qaeda in its original form still exists or whether it’s connected to the CIA in any way is hard to say. From what I know Al Qaeda has become a generic term that can apply to almost anyone who is part of the Islamic part of the world from any country and the people who fit under that loose catch-phrase today might not necessarily be connected. It has become instead a term which is too easy to use to blame people as terrorists and then to arrest them and interrogate them and torture them without charge which is something that has been done certainly under the eye and agreement of the USA. In some ways in particular it almost makes me question ‘what on earth is Hillary Clinton talking about’ when she refered to Egypt and saying to the world that she asked them not to use force or violence and moderation against the protesters, and now they are saying that because Gadaffi is said to have used force against his own people (even though some people are saying that the media reports are exxagerated and that the people who are described as demonstrators are in fact USA funded and armed rebel separatists) therefore it is an excuse for US military intervention. Why this sudden U-turn to support innocent citizens against their regimes? Where was the USA when Mubarak and Omar Suleiman were torturing 1000s of people across Egypt including women and children and the USA was actually profitting from this torture to send the extraordinary rendition programs? When Dick Cheney’s daughter was interviewed on TV saying that ‘her dad was scared that he would be charged becuase of his role in orchestrating mass torture of innocent civilians’ then it has to be asked ‘why’ is Hillary Clinton (who is also a shareholder along with her husband Bill of Halliburton of which Cheney was former CEO and still major shareholder today) so keen to support human rights across the Middle East, while David Cameron instead quite blithely continues on his trip to the ME with his troop of BAE arms suppliers in tow as he speaks?

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Quite a lot going on there, Lilia! I don’t see bin Laden as a CIA asset myself, but we could be here forever discussing that.
    As for the Middle East, I’m not convinced that the US has a policy as such. Taken by surprise in Tunisia, they were then were caught between the will of the people and their pet dictator in Egypt — hence the vasclllating — and are now, with their allies, gauging whether to intervene in Libya because (a) Gaddafi isn’t stepping aside like Ben Ali and Mubarak and (2) we in the West have oil interests to protect.
    Personally I don’t doubt Gaddafi’s murderous intent towards his own people — as he has such a history of it — and I also don’t doubt that there are voices of restraint in the US who don’t want to get locked into another occupation.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Michael Ratner wrote:

    The hypocrisy is awful. While Israel was murdering 1400 Palestinians, the US did nothing or worse. The US position is not about human rights but hegemony and self-interest.
    And oil.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Michael. Certainly it’s desperately hypocritical that Israel/Palestine is always off-limits, whereas oil is a motivation for intervention.
    I do still think, however, that the West has been watching Libya and trying to work out which way the wind is blowing before deciding what to do.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Fern Lindsay wrote:

    My question is why the sudden interest in Gadaffi? The USA has over 3000 people on death row right now. Like I said I am no apologist for Gadaffi but over 40 years the USA has killed millions has he managed a tenth?. What would happen in the US if rebels tried to take out the government?
    I am I seeing a serious credibilty gap here.
    I have to say again I don’t like Gadaffi and did not like Saddam. But what happend to the Iraq people 600000 dead since the last invasion and a debt to the US they will never pay off.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia Patterson wrote:

    Fern, It has to be remembered that the Hague already said to the US before the invasion of Iraq that it would be illegal for the US to prosecute Saddam for war crimes, or to invade a sovereign territory based on an internal civil conflict, so therefore there was no way that the case of what Saddam did to the Kurds gave any validity for invasion of a sovereign country in international law whatsoever.

    They stated that it would be up to the Kurdish people to have called for the Hague to have prosecuted him. Most importantly, the USA had supplied Saddam with the gas that he used to kill the Kurds in the first place, and they also knew in advance and gave their consent for him to do so. Therefore in international law, they were in fact complicit from the start. We mustn’t forget as well that the death of David Kelly, one of the world’s foremost experts on biological weapons, and former UN weapons inspector to Iraq, died under mysterious circumstances, that still remain suspicious and under question by expert pathologists to this day.

    Likewise, it would still be illegal in international law, for the US to invade Libya or any other country whether or not they had an internal civil dispute, and therefore under no circumstances should anyone think that it would be lawful for the US to use internal disputes as an excuse to opportunistically incite civil unrest or invade that country as a result of stating that the leader had performed any form of crimes against his own people. Opportunistic military intervention and invasion of a foreign country and exploitation of its resources is not the same as giving objective legal advice from a distance to people who are aggrieved so that they can make a valid legal claim to the Hague.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia Patterson wrote:

    Andy, I thought everyone knew that Osama bin Laden was on the CIA payroll when he was fighting in Afghanistan just as was Saddam Hussein from when he was a teenager, and therefore they were just easy bogey-men to prop up and then kick down when their time was due, ala CIA mafia style. Prop them up, frame them then nail them. That’s been standard procedure for decades.

    PS – re whether or not these guys are all evil bogeymen – like Fern says above – the US has people on death row who do crimes and Israel routinely assassinate small children and the US does not intervene and the UK parliament is now about to attempt to amend the laws to remove the international laws on war crimes that are part of the the UK legal system to allow Israelis already proven guilty of war crimes by the UN Goldstone Report to walk around the UK scot free. So why the need to intervene in Libya? I think answer no. 2 = oil – is the correct one.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes I agree re: oil, Lilia. Just thinking it would have been different if Gaddafi had fallen easily, as with Ben Ali and Mubarak.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia Patterson wrote:

    Sure, I am just wondering if the whole new version of CIA strategy via the NED to ‘promote human rights’ and to ‘promote concern about the human rights of people under corrupt leaders they propped up for years’ is just a new way for the CIA to re-brand itself after Halliburton got all the deals to build all the torture chambers to extract confessions from and then they realised that the confessions wouldn’t stand in court because they were extracted under torture, and that this would therefore expose the whole Halliburton/international torture chamber network, which the Clintons are also part of (as shareholders).
    ‎(NB Hallburton are also conveniently diversified with 200+ related services to deal with the oil industry as well).

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    As for bin Laden in Afghanistan, no I don’t think everyone knows that bin Laden was on the CIA payroll. Most of the billions sent to Afghanistan by the US was filtered to the Afghan resistance through the Pakistanis, who favored their assets, hence the ridiculous situation whereby Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (already anti-US) received the lion’s share of US money — and remains, to this day, an implacable enemy of the US in Afghanistan.
    The Saudi government initially matched — and then exceeded — US funds, and were responsible, along with numerous individuals in the Gulf, for supporting the Arab mujahideen. On this basis, bin Laden became a problem for the Saudis and the US when he turned against the Saudi government after the 1st Gulf War, for allowing US troops to set up bases on the sacred land of Saudi Arabia.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    Wow. It doesn’t take a degree in Psychiatry from Harvard to see that Gaddafi is insane. It doesn’t say much for the mental state of anyone who buys into his bizarre ranting either – or are people really that desperate for justifications… how sad.

  25. marie antoinette says...

    During the recent Egypt Revolution here and danger, the USA advertised they care of their citizens here and were sending evactuation planes. But what they didnt advertise is that it was not free service to rescue us, it was a loan with high rates you would become indepted and have to pay more to them and it only took you to Europe and deserted us stranded with no money for hotel or flight to usa. So when i wrote to the US State for information they wrote me back that if i dont have a job and income and money then i should just stay in Egypt and NOT come back to USA! Haha after i worked over 22years in USA System and they took all my taxes and all into their system they dont want me if im a burden on their pocketbook they are willing to endanger their citizens life if they cant get more money milked from them after they stole my $400,000 house, my 1million net worth and all my assets from me, by signing my name off deed etc. impersonating me. Now im 51yrs old woman with no income so they dont want me and risk my life and are glad im quiet and in 3rd world strugging to survive and egypt’s burden. so much for USA caring for their people abroad.

  26. Torture and Terrorism: In the Middle East It’s 2011, In America It’s Still 2001 « Dandelion Salad says...

    […] two former Guantánamo prisoners have been released, and as I explained in a recent article, “Deranged Gaddafi Blames Ex-Guantánamo Prisoners for Unrest in Libya, Even Though Only One Ex-Prison…,” one of these men is still imprisoned in Tripoli, and the other, freed last summer, is […]

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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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