MANHATTAN (CN) – A Libyan terror suspect grilled for six days on a Navy warship by the CIA should not be held to what he later told the FBI, his lawyer told a federal judge on Wednesday.
U.S. Army Delta Force operatives snatched Anas al-Libi from his vehicle outside his home in Tripoli, Libya, on Oct. 5, 2013, and brought him aboard the U.S.S. San Antonio, where an interagency team known as the High-Value Interrogation Group badgered him for a week while denying him contact with the outside world.
When the FBI took custody of him roughly one week later on Oct. 12, agents handed al-Libi an Arabic form that would waive his Miranda rights.
Al-Libi signed the form within hours but revoked that waiver the next day and pleaded not guilty the next week to charges that he assisted in the attacks on two U.S. Embassies in 1998.
The twin al-Qaida bombings killed more than 200 people and injured thousands of others in Kenya and Tanzania.
Al-Libi’s trial is scheduled to kick off next month, but the parties appeared in court Wednesday to consider whether prosecutors can share the defendant’s FBI statements with the jury.
“He was held under extraordinary circumstances,” al-Libi’s lawyer Bernard Kleinman told the court.
Abducted after his morning prayers, al-Libi spent 16 hours in an undisclosed location in Tripoli before being shuttled by a Zodiac military boat to the warship, Kleinman said.
The lights were on at all times during his six-day interrogation, and he slept on the floor of a cold cell when not being questioned in a separate “pod,” the lawyer added.
Agents allegedly blindfolded him and forced him to wear noise-canceling earmuffs during his initial capture, and whenever al-Libi was taken between his holding and interrogation pods.
At one point, an unidentified agent warned: “It’s only going to get worse,” al-Libi’s lawyer said.
Al-Libi now contends that he only signed the waiver because he was disoriented and afraid that he would be transferred to a CIA black site or Guantanamo Bay if he did not comply.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan pointed out that al-Libi’s treatment was far lighter than those terrorism suspects faced years ago.
“He does not claim that anyone laid a hand on him,” Kaplan noted. “He does not claim any firearm was exhibited.”
There was no claim that al-Libi was put into “stress positions,” the judge added, referring to one of the brutal interrogation techniques repudiated by the Obama administration as torture.
“He would have preferred to have been given a bed rather than a blanket on the floor,” Kaplan noted wryly.
Kleinman agreed that all of that was true.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin disputed what he brushed off as the “so-called facts” the defense attorneys proffered.
Al-Libi knew that he was headed for criminal prosecution in the United States, and he identified his interrogators as CIA agents based on “surmise and conjecture,” the prosecutor said.
Kaplan said al-Libi may have been disoriented “at best” since “anybody allegedly in his line of work has read about CIA black sites.”
If handed a waiver under such conditions, “a reasonable person might say, ‘This is all just another trick,'” Kaplan said.
With trial set to begin on Nov. 3, al Libi and his co-defendant Khalid al Fawwaz sought a postponement to scrutinize electronic evidence that defense experts have found problematic because of classification, technology or language barriers.
Kaplan said that jurors already have received their summonses, and he criticized the lawyers for making these requests on the eve of trial.
He seemed skeptical about granting any of the motions before him, but he reserved decision on the matters.
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