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Shout it from the rooftops--Al-Libi--keep his torture story alive

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Until Sunday, a man named al-Libi was living proof that torture doesn't work. Now he's dead proof! According to reports coming out of the Middle East and landing on progressive websites here, the government of Libya is claiming al-Libi "committed suicide" on Sunday in a Libyan jail. Read about it here at Andy Worthington's website.

It's up to us to keep al-Libi's story alive. News of his death comes as the usual suspects--Dick Cheney, Fox News, even some at Newsweek--suggest that waterboarding and other tough interrogation techniques made us safe during the Bush years. 

There's one compelling reason we should not embrace this cold, sly notion. Al-Libi (Al-LEE-bee). It means "the Libyan," and there are many people so named in the Arab world. The fact that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi is not the most famous of them all is an indictment of American media and politics, for his lies, obtained under torture, led to the death and displacement of millions. I keep waiting for Obama to utter al-Libi's name. What's he waiting for? Until he and others do, it's up to us to shout it from the rooftops.

Won't you join me? It's not hard to say. Al-Libi. So shout it out. In doing so, we just might rescue the soul of the nation. Email me at to find out how making al-Libi famous could turn the debate over torture.

Al-Libi was not a nice man. He was a terrorist and a trainer of terrorists. Yet even he should never have been tortured, not only because torture's wrong, which it is, but because, according to ABC News and others, the lies al-Libi told to end his CIA-sponsored abuse were used to bomb, invade and occupy Iraq, a terrible mistake in the opinion of most, and one for which we've paid and continue to pay dearly.

Though never mentioned by name, al-Libi’s false statements turned up in Dick Cheney’s August 2002 VFW speech in Nashville laying out his bogus case for war against Iraq ( according to the Guardian and many others. And they turned up in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address. And in Colin Powell’s 2003 speech to the United Nations. Those speeches laid down the justification for a war that led to millions of wounded, killed and displaced Iraqis, thousands of American casualties, a doubling of the national debt, loss of prestige by America in the eyes of the world, and much else I can document. Many believe the war led to our current economic miseries. It's an even bet whether Obama will be able to extricate us from these disasters.

Why are so few of us telling you about al-Libi? Why isn't Congress telling you? Why isn't the national media? For that matter, why isn't Obama? If anyone ever needed proof that torture is not only evil, but a bad idea all around, the case of al-Libi proves it. If you don't believe me, read the July 5, 2004, article, "Iraq and Al Qaeda" in Newsweek by Michael Isikoff.

Why are opponents of war, torture and kidnapping so slow to make their case about just how badly torture may backfire? Is it because they were taken in by Bush's false allegations and would rather gloss over that sad fact than to make al-Libi central to their argument against torture? Is it because they've so long lived in fear of being called disloyal or soft on terrorism? Is it from a misplaced sense of respect for Bush/Cheney/Rice/Rumsfeld/Powell? Maybe so. I'll grant them credible intentions.

Whatever fig leaf they've been hiding behind, the record is clear that al-Libi was under custody of U.S. secret forces in 2001 when CIA agents blindfolded him, duct-taped him, loaded him onto an airplane, told him as they closed the door on the plane that flew him off to Egypt that they planned to rape his mother while he was away. Interrogators in a secret hell-hole Egyptian prison buried him in a casket-sized box, took him out and beat him repeatedly as they asked him to "admit" that Saddam Hussein was teaching al-Qaeda to make chemical and biological weapons and that Saddam was not above giving them nukes. None of this was true.

According to articles in The New Yorker (, The New York Times (, Newsweek ( and others, Al-Libi gave them what they wanted. Later he recanted, and said he told the lies to end the pain of torture. A Republican dominated Senate Intelligence committee long ago confirmed that no ties existed between Saddam and al-Qaeda, and further reported that, far from working together to attack U.S. interests, Saddam and bin Laden regarded each other as enemies.

Just how aware Bush and Cheney were that they wrung lies from a tortured man to justify the war in Iraq should long ago have been exposed.

Many talking heads parrot unproven claims that we've disrupted terror plots through use of "aggressive interrogation techniques." Yet research shows that prior to the CIA-sponsored torture, al-Libi was providing good, solid information thanks to traditional measures employed by the FBI. He was not alone, as I can show you. Yet al-Libi's case is the most striking because of there's no doubt the Bush Administration tortured him into telling us lies the president then used to start a war.

Don't let this central fact of history get lost. Join me in saying aloud, to friends and relations and strangers all across the net, one name. Let al-Libi be the last word in the debate over torture. He's no longer living proof that torture turns us into brutes, endangers our civil liberties, our highest values, our fighting men and women, the lives of civilians across the globe and rolls yet more brutality down the ages. No, now he's dead proof. We deserve answers about just what happened to him. Let's make his story famous by making him famous.

Shout it from the rooftops.


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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, short story writer, freelancer, and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of literary stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the (more...)
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