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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Libyan Terror Suspect|Speaks of Hunger Strike

MANHATTAN (CN) - It has been almost exactly one year since the FBI took custody from the CIA of a Libyan suspected of plotting two U.S. Embassy bombings.

Born Nazih Abdul Hamed al-Ruqai, the suspect more commonly known by his nom de guerre Abu Anas al-Libi stands accused of helping in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa that left more than 200 dead and thousands injured.

Al-Libi spent roughly six days with the CIA's so-called High-Value Interrogation Group aboard a Navy warship in Tripoli, the U.S.S. San Antonio, before the FBI took custody of him.

At a Wednesday morning hearing before U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, FBI Agent George Corey testified that he was on the Air Force jet on Oct. 12, 2013, as al-Libi was wheeled on via gurney for the next phase of his interrogation.

Al-Libi may have been hooked up to an IV at the time, but Corey said he was too far away from the gurney to recall that detail.

It is undisputed that al-Libi signed a form waiving his right to be silent and speak to an attorney before agreeing to an extensive interview with Corey and his colleagues en route to Stewart Air Force Base in New York.

Corey said that the "enhanced" form, written in Arabic, contained an additional precaution informing al-Libi: "If you previously made statements, it is likely that those statements will not be usable against you in a U.S. court."

The form bears al-Libi's signature under his birth name and the initials "N.R." next to every line.

Al-Libi's lawyer Bernard Kleinman insists that the waiver should be deemed invalid because his client's CIA grilling left him confused, disoriented and fearful that he would wind up in Guantanamo Bay instead of New York.

Federal prosecutors call this nonsense, however, saying al-Libi received ample notice of his rights and upcoming New York trial before talking to the FBI.

Corey was the lone witness Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fee called to the stand to testify about al-Libi's treatment in FBI custody. Corey discussed how he informed al-Libi of his rights, with prosecutors submitting Arabic and English translations of the form into evidence.

"I told him that this would be a conversation between two men," Corey said.

The subject of Guantanamo came up during testimony indirectly.

"He asked if we were taking him to a military court or a criminal court," Corey recalled.

The agent said that he responded that they were going to a New York criminal court, adding that he did not get the impression that al-Libi feared going to Cuba.

Regarding al-Libi's hunger strike, Corey said the suspect told him about his protest. The agent added later that he assumed al Libi's hunger strike was the reason for the IV.

Corey replied in the negative when Judge Kaplan chimed in to ask whether al-Libi mentioned how long his strike had lasted.

Though he looked "tired," al-Libi also appeared "alert" and "cognizant" enough to proceed with the interview, Corey said. The agent nevertheless noted that he and his colleagues "helped [al-Libi] down the steps" after the plane landed to "make sure he didn't fall down."

Like the prosecution, Kleinman only called one witness: his client.

Al-Libi, who has been battling cancer, has shortly cropped hair and gaunt face that stands in stark contrast to his bushy, salt-and-pepper beard. He had a sour expression and appeared impatient for much of his testimony.

Kleinman had many of his questions to his client cut short because of the prosecution's objections that he was leading the testimony.

Judge Kaplan had the same idea when the attorney asked al-Libi where he thought he was headed.

Al-Libi replied: "I thought it was Guantanamo."

"You're leading, counsel," Kaplan said. "The objection is sustained. The answer is stricken."

Though that ruling removed the only explicit reference to the military prison in Cuba, its specter hovered over the proceedings.

Al-Libi's hunger strike fell months after Guantanamo hunger strikes catapulted the Cuban prison once again into public attention. The protests reached their height in May and June 2013, sweeping more than half of the detainees with more than 100 strikers.

By the time of al-Libi's strike, the Guantanamo protesters tapered off to a little more than a dozen, according to Pentagon data collected by the Miami Herald.

Al-Libi testified that he did not know how long his hunger strike lasted.

"I did not wear a watch," he said. "I did not know the time."

Al-Libi also denied being informed that he was New York-bound.

"I did not hear that," he said.

The Libyan commented that interrogators in his home country use "the same method" as in the United States - with an important difference.

"At least here they have the dignity not to hit me and raise their hand against me," he added.

Judge Kaplan reserved decision on whether to suppress al-Libi's FBI statements.

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