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Was Tortured CIA "Ghost Prisoner" Murdered?

The suspicious death of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was tortured into lying about an Iraq-al Qaeda connection, raises a series of troubling questions.

This article provides an overview of the story of the death of U.S. "high-value detainee" Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, his "extraordinary rendition" by the CIA, and the torture that led to his false confession about a connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. It draws on my article announcing his death, and another article two weeks ago, Even in Cheney's Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low, and it focuses, in particular, on Cheney's role in using torture to manufacture a case for the invasion of Iraq, and in sidelining the FBI, who, in another world, might have secured useful intelligence from al-Libi and brought him to trial in the United States.

From Libya comes news of the death of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former "ghost prisoner" of the United States, whose false confession about a connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein -- extracted under torture in Egypt -- was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

The news will only add to the woes of the senior Bush administration officials who conceived the program of "extraordinary rendition" and torture within days of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and then, in a netherworld of secret memoranda, sought legal justification for their actions.

The fig leaf for the administration's activities was the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the founding document of the "War on Terror," passed by Congress in that first hectic, horrible week after the attacks, which authorized the President "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons."

Behind the scenes, however, an extraordinary amount of quasi-legal maneuvering -- and the silencing or sidelining of critics in numerous government departments, the intelligence services and branches of the military -- was required in an attempt to cover up and justify a policy that actually involved a comprehensive flight from domestic and international law.

In the last six weeks, we have learned more than ever before about the extent of the Bush administration's torture program, through revelations contained in a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, based on interviews with 14 "high-value detainees" held in secret CIA prisons, in the memos issued by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, which purported to justify the use of torture by the CIA, and in the Senate Armed Services Committee's report on the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo.

While the Obama administration -- and, specifically, Attorney General Eric Holder -- is still avoiding the most obvious response to this wealth of disturbing material, by appointing a Special Prosecutor to investigate the whole sordid saga, former Vice President Dick Cheney is still gobbling up airtime as though he were still in the White House. On Sunday, in an interview on CBS News' "Face The Nation," he insisted that information extracted through the use of what are euphemistically referred to as "harsh interrogation techniques" had saved "perhaps hundreds of thousands" of U.S. lives.

Cheney has been on the attack since leaving office, but has stepped up his rhetoric since the OLC memos were released, recently calling for the release of other memos which, he claimed, would "show the success of the effort," and adding, "There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity."

Whether Cheney's claims can be corroborated remains to be seen, but it is doubtful. In December, while he was defending his involvement in the approval for the use of waterboarding (a form of controlled drowning) on three "high-value detainees" -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri -- Vanity Fair published an article in which other informed sources explained to the journalist David Rose why they doubted such claims.

Disputing Cheney's claims that the interrogation of KSM had produced "a wealth of information," former FBI agent Jack Cloonan said, "The proponents of torture say, 'Look at the body of information that has been obtained by these methods.' But if KSM and Abu Zubaydah did give up stuff, we would have heard the details." Rose added that a former CIA officer asked, "Why can't they say what the good stuff from Abu Zubaydah or KSM is? It's not as if this is sensitive material from a secret, vulnerable source. You're not blowing your source but validating your program. They say they can't do this, even though five or six years have passed, because it's a 'continuing operation.' But has it really taken so long to check it all out?"

The most damning opinion, however, was offered by FBI director Robert Mueller: