A human rights group says it has uncovered new evidence that U.S. personnel used torture, including waterboarding, while interrogating Libyan Islamists during the Bush administration.
The report released Thursday by the New York-based Human Rights Watch
features interviews with 14 Libyan dissidents captured and detained in foreign countries, including Afghanistan. HRW located the Islamists after the rights group found abandoned documents about several detentions in the office of former Libyan intelligence chief Musa Kusa in September of last year.
Laura Pittner, the author of the HRW report, told VOA by telephone that the Islamists were tortured before American agents handed them over to then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
"The U.S. failed to distinguish between those Islamists who were at war with the U.S. and those who were at war with their own repressive regimes," Pitter said.
Two of the detainees featured in the report, "Delivered in Enemy Hands: US-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gadhafi's Libya," told the group they were either waterboarded or tortured by a technique similar to waterboarding, which caused them to feel like they were drowning.
Alleged victim Mohammed al-Shoroeiya described the waterboarding he said he endured in an on-camera interview with Human Rights Watch.
"It flips around and you get disoriented," al-Shoroeiya said. "Your head is down. Your feet are up. They start to pour water to the point that you feel you are suffocating."
"It's like a mock execution," Pitter said.
The Bush administration claimed that only three terror suspects in U.S. custody - accused al-Qaida members Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - had been waterboarded. None of these are Libyan.
Pitter's report casts doubt on these claims, but CIA spokesman John Tomczyk defended the agency's treatment of detainees during that time period.
"Although we cannot comment on these specific allegations, the Department of Justice has exhaustively reviewed the treatment of more than 100 detainees in the post-9/11 period - including allegations involving unauthorized interrogation techniques - and it declined prosecution in every case,” he told VOA.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has condemned waterboarding as torture and banned the technique's use in interrogations.
Human Rights Watch also says that the "scores" of documents it uncovered in Libya show there was a "high level of cooperation" between the Gadhafi government in Libya and the United States and Britain in sending the Libyan dissidents back to Libya.
Pitter said the need to "recognize where mistakes happened" and "make clear that it isn't going to happen again" is in the interest of U.S. national security.
"You're not supposed to return people to places where there's a known risk of torture, and it was very clear at that time that Gadhafi's record on torture was horrific," she said, citing international law that requires hearings to determine the risk of torture before captives can be extradited.
Tomczyk noted that the context during that time is "worth revisiting." He said that by 2004, the U.S. government had convinced Gadhafi to renounce Libya's weapons of mass destruction programs and to help stop terrorists who were actively targeting Americans.
“It can't come as a surprise that the Central Intelligence Agency works with foreign governments to help protect our country from terrorism and other deadly threats," he said. "That is exactly what we are expected to do.”