Report Claims U.S. Tortured Qadhafi's Opponents on Bush's Watch

Human Rights Watch alleges subjects were waterboarded, delivered to dictator under Bush's watch.


A Libyan man takes pictures of the courtyard of Abu Salim prison, in Tripoli, Libya. Human Rights Watch released a report Thursday, Sept. 6 detailing the abuses in secret prisons under the Bush administration-era program of detention and rendition of terror suspects.

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The Bush administration detained opponents of Muammar Qadhafi, interrogated and allegedly tortured them in Afghanistan, and delivered them to Qadhafi's prisons in Libya, according to a report by Human Rights Watch released Thursday.

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Using documents made available since the fall of the Qadhafi government, and testimony from 14 former detainees, the report alleges that the CIA and its allies arrested members of a Libyan Islamic opposition group, held them without charge, and subjected them to torture or near-torture. The report also alleges two previously unreported cases of waterboarding the militants, contradicting a claim by U.S. officials that only three terrorism suspects had ever been waterboarded in U.S. custody.

The report's author, Laura Pitter, claims the enhanced interrogations and renditions--transfers of suspected terrorists to areas with more lenient torture laws--underscore the secrecy of the Bush administration's counterterrorism activities.

"Not only did the US deliver [Qadhafi] his enemies on a silver platter but it seems the CIA tortured many of them first," said Pitter, a counterterrorism adviser at Human Rights Watch. "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."

The report comes just a week after Justice Department concluded its final investigations into allegations of torture by the Bush administration. The last such case, wrapped up last week, involved the deaths of two CIA detainees in Afghanistan, one who froze to death and another who died after allegedly being subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques while in custody. The Justice Department's investigation concluded that no one would be criminally charged for the alleged abuses.

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The Human Rights Watch report details the experiences of members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, who joined the U.S.-backed rebels in their opposition to the Qadhafi government, which was eventually overthrown. Using documents found in the office of former Libyan intelligence chief Musa Kusa following the overthrow, the nonprofit tracked down LIFG members targeted by the U.S.-led renditions.

Three of the LIFG members described being waterboarded, while others described being chained to walls naked, beaten, and denied sleep for days at a time. While many of the techniques were approved by the Bush administration as lawful, the waterboarding descriptions contradict the administration's claim that only three suspects had been waterboarded--none of whom were associated with Libya.

Seth Cline is a reporter with U.S. News and World Report. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter.