The Shores of Tripoli: Torture in the Service of Arms and Oil

The new Michael Isikoff story in Newsweek about the macabre torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi confirms, once again, one of the underlying truths about George W. Bush's gulag: He does not have people tortured in order to extract information from them; he has them tortured in order to manufacture false information which can be used to advance his agenda of aggressive war and domestic tyranny. This has long been plain, but the Isikoff story, based on reporting he did with David Corn, drives it home most vividly:

Libi, who ran one of Al Qaeda's biggest training camps, was the principal source for former secretary of State Colin Powell's claim to the U.N. Security Council that Saddam Hussein's regime had helped train Al Qaeda in chemical and biological weapons. But as first reported by Newsweek three years ago, Libi later recanted his story about Iraqi weapons training, forcing the CIA to withdraw all its reporting based on his assertions...

[But] quotes from declassified CIA operational cables...suggest that Libi had been brutally tortured by the Egyptian intelligence service and coerced into making his claims about Iraqi WMD training for Al Qaeda. The cables indicate that Libi told agency debriefers in February 2004 that he "fabricated" his story about the weapons training only after his Egyptian interrogators crammed him into a tiny box for 17 hours. His account appears to be the first public description of a controversial  "aggressive" interrogation technique called a "mock burial," in which interrogators make their subjects believe they are being buried alive in a bid to elicit information.

Libi's torture-extracted confessions had absolutely nothing to do with protecting America from terrorism or finding out useful information about al Qaeda's operations. The Bush Regime clearly cared nothing about that. Instead, the falsehoods were trumpeted far and wide by Bush and his goons to foment war fever for the coming invasion. (The goon squad was led by that saintly bagman, Colin Powell, who wilfully ignored all caveats and eagerly regurgitated the torture products on the floor of the UN -- and now spends his days wringing his hands like Lady Macbeth ("Out, damned spot! Out, I say!") and fretting to reporters that he was played for a dupe.)

But Libi disappeared after his forced fabrications were exposed. So where is he now? All signs point to Libya, the land of one of Bush's newest best buddies, the torture-loving tyrant Moammar Gadafy:

Noman Benotman, a former Afghan jihad fighter who knew Libi and who is now a London-based Libyan political opposition leader, told Newsweek that during a recent trip to Tripoli, he met with a senior Libyan government official who confirmed to him that Libi had been quietly returned to Libya and is now in prison there. Benotman said that he was told by the senior Libyan government official-whom he declined to publicly identify-that Al Libi is extremely ill, suffering from tuberculosis and diabetes. "He is there in jail and very sick," Benotman told Newsweek. He also said that the senior official told him that the Libyan government has agreed not to publicly confirm anything about Libi-out of deference to the Bush administration. "If the Libyans will confirm it, it will embarrass the Americans because he is linked to the Iraq issue," Benotman said.

And by a strange coinkydink, guess who else is Libya right now? Why, it's our old friend, Tony Blair, on the first leg of his farewell world tour. Blair flew to see his "trusted friend" Gadafy after publishing a withering blast at the British people for their "dangerous" commitment to civil liberties, their "choice as a society to put the civil liberties of the suspect first." As the Guardian's Jackie Ashley noted:

In yesterday's Sunday Times, [Blair's] analysis of the terrorist threat was uncharacteristically angry. After three suspects on control orders disappeared, criticism of the security services was "absurd". Judges such as Lord Hoffman, who had opposed tougher rules on civil liberties grounds, were "misguided and wrong". In fact, according to the outgoing prime minister, the whole damn country is wrong too.

If you think that's an exaggeration, here he is in his own words: "Over the past five or six years, we have decided as a country that, except in the most limited of ways, the threat to our public safety does not justify changing radically the legal basis on which we confront this extremism ... I believe this is a dangerous misjudgement."

Careful, Tony. This is coming close to Brecht's famous quip about the East German people letting down the government, and the consequent need to dissolve the people and elect another.

And you wonder why George Bush loves this guy? Have there ever been two leaders more simpatico than these preening, piety-dripping, self-proclaimed Christian statesmen, with their boundless enthusiasm for foreign tyrants and their inveterate scorn for the liberties of their own people?

But of course, Blair didn't come to Libya simply for a hail-and-farewell to Gadafy, with whom he is on a first-name basis in  "a relationship of trust," as the Guardian notes. No, he had bigger fish to fry -- the same fish that lay behind the tortures that Bush has so avidly inflicted on his Terror War captives: arms and oil.

Blair's main purpose in the visit was "to witness the signing of BP's biggest ever exploration deal, worth $900 million, to exploit 17 gas wells. The deal marked BP's return to Libya after its assets were nationalised by Colonel Gadafy in the 1970s," the Guardian reports. Business Week followed up:

BP's Chief Executive Tony Hayward said the agreement was the company's biggest exploration commitment. "Our agreement is the start of an enduring, long-term and mutually beneficial partnership with Libya," he said in a statement. Libya's proven oil reserves are the ninth largest in the world, while vast areas remain unsurveyed for new deposits. Since the country emerged from international isolation, western firms have rushed to sign exploration deals.

These deals were the driving force behind Gadafy's "return to the community of nations" in 2004 after decades as a pariah state. The ostensible reason was Gadafy's agreement to give up his shambolic and primitive nuclear weapons program and -- eventually -- dismantle his arsenal of chemical weapons. This was touted by Bush and Blair at the time as one of the first fruits of their rape of Iraq: the flashing of their mighty swords in Mesopotamia had convinced the Libyan strongman to get his mind right, they said. Actually, the complex negotiations with Libya on opening up its oil fields to Western companies had begun long before the Iraq invasion. But as we know, the Christian statesmen never let the sordid truth get in the way of their pretty, self-serving lies.

So BP is in like Flynn, and Blair was there to seal the transaction. But oil for the boardroom boys was not his only object; the masters of war -- the arms dealers and blood moneymen whom Blair has served with slavish devotion throughout his decade in office -- were also high on the agenda. As the Guardian notes:

Mr Blair also said that a big defence deal between the two countries, in which Tripoli will buy British missiles and air defence systems, would be finalised in the coming months.

There are of course many aspects to the hydra-headed Terror War, many motives driving its various players, much chaos and contradiction in its seething cross-currents. But you can always find the inextricably linked interests of arms and oil at the center of the blood-choked murk. And you will also always find leaders -- fine, upstanding, God-called champions of civilization -- willing to countenance anything -- torture, deception, aggression, corruption -- to advance those interests.