Deranged Gaddafi Blames Ex-Guantánamo Prisoners For Unrest In Libya


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.

Whle 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

Andy Worthington is an 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). Worthington is the author of "The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison"

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