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Human Rights Advocates Urge Probe in Death of Libyan Prisoner


Human rights groups are calling on Libya to conduct a full investigation of the reported suicide of a prisoner whose apparently-coerced testimony on al-Qaida was cited by the Bush administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The Libyan, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, was captured by U.S. forces fleeing Afghanistan in 2001 and had been in Libyan custody since 2006.

Human rights advocates in the United States and Europe say they're suspicious of Libyan press reports that al-Libi committed suicide in custody, and are calling on the Libyan government to allow a transparent investigation of the death.

The 46-year-old Libyan national reportedly ran an al-Qaida-affiliated training camp for Islamic militants in Afghanistan before being taken into U.S. custody after American-led forces invaded the country and ousted the Taliban government in 2001.

According to Human Rights Watch, al-Libi was sent by the CIA to Egypt under the procedure known as rendition, where under torture he gave false testimony about al-Qaida links to Saddam Hussein's Iraq that was cited by former Secretary of State Colin Powell in his February 2003 U.N. address making the case for the Iraq war.

The New York-based rights group, which has been joined in a call for an investigation of the death by the British rights group Justice, says both Libya and the United States should reveal what they know about al-Libi and related cases.

Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Stacy Sullivan says her organization supports the convening of a U.S. commission of inquiry into the CIA's secret prisons and tactics during the Bush administration, and that the new administration's resistance to the idea is not encouraging.

"We would like to have a thorough investigation that would also look into the role of every single organization that would also shed light on the secret CIA program and rendition. The Obama administration has not supported this. They're opposed to a commission of inquiry and it's a huge disappointment. We think it's a big mistake," she said.

Briefing reporters here, State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States is looking into the death of al-Libi, but provided no details.

On the broader issue of detentions, he cited the new administration's decision to close the controversial Guantanamo Bay, Cuba prison facility and said it does not, as a matter of policy, hand over detainees to countries where they might be mistreated.

"We have a process in place and the first step in the process leading to the closure of Guantanamo is a review of all the cases. And this review is taking place at the lead of the Department of Justice. The Department of State is a player in this interagency process. As a general rule, we would not send prisoners to any country where we would have a well-founded fear that these detainees or prisoners could suffer some kind of abuse," he said.

Sullivan says Libya's record on treatment of prisoners is not good, but that authorities there did allow her organization's researchers to visit Libyan prisons in April.

She said two staffers had a brief prison encounter with al-Libi April 27 in which he declined to be interviewed, and asked where the rights advocates were when he was undergoing torture in U.S.-run jails. A Libyan newspaper reported his death earlier this week.

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