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Rights group: US waterboarded Gadhafi opponents, sent them to Libya

Nasser Nasser / AP, file

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi meets with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left in Tripoli, Libya, in Sept. 2008. Human Rights Watch on Thursday released a report painting a more complete picture of Washington's close cooperation with the regime of Libya's former dictator in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

A human rights organization says it has collected evidence of two previously unreported cases in which U.S. agents used waterboarding or a similar harsh interrogation technique on Libyan militants held by American forces in Afghanistan. 

The 154-page report by Human Rights Watch also paints a more complete picture of Washington's close cooperation with the regime of Libya's former dictator Moammar Gadhafi in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. handed over to Libya the Islamist opponents of Gadhafi that it detained abroad with only thin "diplomatic assurances" that they would not be mistreated, and several of them were subsequently tortured in prison, Human Rights Watch said. 


The report features interviews by the New York-based group with 14 Libyan dissident exiles. They describe systematic abuses while they were held in U.S.-led detention centers in Afghanistan -- some for as long as two years -- or in U.S.-led interrogations in Pakistan, Morocco, Thailand, Sudan and elsewhere before the Americans handed them over to Libya.

"Not only did the U.S. deliver his (Gadhafi's) enemies on a silver platter, but it seems the CIA tortured many of them first," said Laura Pitter, counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. 

"The scope of Bush administration abuse appears far broader than previously acknowledged and underscores the importance of opening up a full-scale inquiry into what happened," she added. 

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The documents, which were found in once-secret archives that became public during the Libyan revolution, included classified correspondence between top Libyan officials and officials from the CIA and Britain's spy agencies MI5 and MI6. 

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They illustrate how, between late 2003 when Gadhafi agreed to give up his weapons of mass destruction programs, and the 2011 Libyan revolution, Gadhafi and Western intelligence agencies quietly cooperated in battling Islamic militants. 

Waterboarding is a form of simulated drowning that President Barack Obama and human rights activists have condemned as torture. 

Britain, U.S. defend actions
U.S. and British officials defended their governments' actions. 

"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. That is exactly what we are expected to do," said Jennifer Youngblood, a CIA spokeswoman. 

The former Libyan Foreign Minister - now being debriefed in Britain - will not be given immunity from prosecution, according to the Government. Scottish lawyers have asked to interview Musa Kusa in connection with the Lockerbie bombing. As a senior member of Colonel Gadhafi's regime he could provide important information for the coalition. ITV's Tom Bradby reports.

"The context here is worth revisiting. For example, by 2004, the U.S. government had convinced Gadhafi to renounce Libya's WMD programs and to help stop those terrorists who were actively targeting Americans," Youngblood said. 

A spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office said: "The government has been clear that it stands firmly against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. We do not condone it, nor do we ask others to do it on our behalf. 

"In addition, we have published the Consolidated Guidance which provides clear directions for intelligence officers and service personnel dealing with foreign liaison services regarding detainees held overseas," the spokesman said. 

Slideshow: Moammar Gadhafi through the years 

Some of the other nations that Human Rights Watch alleged to be U.S. collaborators in these operations are the Netherlands, Pakistan, China, Malaysia, Morocco and Sudan. 

The most dramatic, and potentially controversial, of the report's 14 case studies relates to alleged waterboarding. 

Senator John McCain, R-Ariz, says enhanced interrogation measures, such as waterboarding, were not a factor in tracking down 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Human Rights Watch said that testimony from former detainee Mohammed Shoroeiya about how he was allegedly waterboarded repeatedly by U.S. interrogators was "detailed and credible."

Shoroeiya claimed he had been waterboarded while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, and that a doctor was present during the interrogation sessions, the group said. 

It said that a second former Libyan detainee, Khalid al-Sharif, described how he was subjected to a "similar type of treatment," though this did not involve being strapped to a board. 

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Human Rights Watch said both detainees claimed that they were hooded and had ice water poured over their noses and mouths until they felt like they were suffocating -- the sensation associated with waterboarding. 

Claims contradict Bush, CIA
The accounts by the Libyan detainees, one-time members of a militant faction called the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group, contradict claims by former President George W. Bush, former CIA director Michael Hayden and other U.S. officials that waterboarding was only used on three militants in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks -- none of them Libyan. 

U.S. officials expressed skepticism about the waterboarding allegations. And there are apparent differences in how the Libyans describe their treatment and the waterboarding procedures used in three cases that U.S. authorities have confirmed -- those of alleged al-Qaida militants Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. 

In those cases, official investigations reported, the interrogation subjects were doused repeatedly, but in short bursts, with bottled water. 

Slideshow: Life goes on in Guantanamo

"The agency has been on the record that there are three substantiated cases in which detainees were subjected to the waterboarding technique," the CIA's Youngblood said. 

"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," she added. 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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