The Interrogation of Abu Anas al-Libi

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This image from the FBI website shows Anas al-Libi. Gunmen in a three-car convoy seized Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Anas al-Libi, an al-Qaeda leader connected to the 1998 embassy bombings in eastern Africa and wanted by the U.S. for more than a decade outside his house Saturday in the Libyan capital, his relatives said. (AP Photo/FBI)

This image from the FBI website shows Anas al-Libi. Gunmen in a three-car convoy seized Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Anas al-Libi, an al-Qaeda leader connected to the 1998 embassy bombings in eastern Africa and wanted by the U.S. for more than a decade outside his house Saturday in the Libyan capital, his relatives said. (AP Photo/FBI)

In a time when the current administration appears to favor kills over capture as well as “catch and release“, last Saturday Abu Anas al-Libi (Zawahiri’s man in Libya) survived President Obama’s kill list to be captured instead of droned upon:

Since President Obama stepped into the White House, his administration has had a rather consistent reaction when it located an accused terrorist: drop a Hellfire missile on the guy’s head. Saturday was different. U.S. forces got the drop on an al-Qaeda operative named Nazhi Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai. But rather than drone him, those forces put him in cuffs. That not only marks a rather dramatic departure from what has been standard Obama administration policy. It could open a new chapter in the struggle against Islamic terror.

Al-Ruqai, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Anas al-Libi, is accused of helping plan the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. He was captured on Saturday “under military authorities” and “is currently lawfully detained under the law of war in a secure location outside of Libya,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement. The operation was approved by President Obama and was reportedly carried out with the assistance of FBI and CIA personnel. “Wherever possible, our first priority is and always has been to apprehend terrorist suspects, and to preserve the opportunity to elicit valuable intelligence that can help us protect the American people,” Little said.

Capture may be the priority, but it’s not the norm. The Obama administration has killed far more suspected terrorists and militants with drones and special operations strikes than it has brought back to face justice in the U.S. courts system.

Purportedly, al-Libi is being detained and interrogated aboard the USS San Antonio. Given that President Obama upon his 2nd day in office “killed” the CIA interrogation program, what kind of interrogation process do you speculate the HVT to be going through?

The NYTimes labeled him an “intelligence gold mine, possessing perhaps two decades of information about Al Qaeda” in an article last Sunday. Apparently, al-Libi’s rendition is modeled after the 2011 capture and prosecution of Warsame, who was interrogated for about a week aboard a black site naval ship (the USS Boxer) before being read his Miranda Rights, and then successfully moved from military detention to criminal prosecution, as well as apparent cooperation, thanks to standard interrogation techniques (which is what HVTs under the Bush-era CIA interrogation program typically went through, as well; EITs were only applied to about 30 of 100 who were resistant to standard techniques).

“You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.”

President Bush

Secretary of State John Kerry is justifying the “kidnapping” of al-Libi as “legal”.

Do the Geneva Conventions apply to the detention of al-Libi? Not if the Obama Administration is following the Bush team definition for “unlawful enemy combatant”:

Obama Administration lawyers must have concluded that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Warsame and al-Libi, or that they are not POWs, or that they are not being interned.

The Bush Administration, of course, was much criticized (including by officials now in the Obama Administration) for holding al-Qaida detainees under the laws of war (rather than as criminal suspects) and for not applying the Geneva Conventions to them. The Bush Administration was accused of “cherry-picking” among the laws of war — relying on the laws of war for detention authority but not applying the Geneva Conventions. But, as I have explained previously, despite affirming its commitment to the Geneva Conventions, the Obama Administration has not applied the Conventions as a legal framework differently than its predecessor and, in particular, has not treated al-Qaida detainees as POWs under the Third Convention or as Protected Persons under the Fourth Convention.

As with its drone program, if the Administration wants domestic critics and U.S. allies to support unprecedented counter-terrorism policies, it should explain the legal rules it is applying, and why the combined law-of-war/criminal law enforcement model is permissible under international law.


“My guess is that the Obama Administration does not consider al-Libi to qualify as a POW because al-Qaida is not a party to the Geneva Conventions,” which apply only to countries, not necessarily non-state actors. Bellinger has referred to the Obama administration’s approach to Warsame and Libi as the “combined law-of-war/criminal law enforcement model.” According to the Times, Libi’s interrogators aboard the USS San Antonio still must adhere to the Army Field Manual, which prohibits torture.

Speaking of the NYTimesMonday piece in speculating on Obama-era interrogation practices:

Q. Who is conducting it?

A. The interrogation is almost certainly being conducted by a high-value interrogation group, which includes members from various government agencies. The F.B.I. leads the group, with help from specialists from other agencies like the C.I.A., the State Department and the Defense Intelligence Agency. The groups were conceived in 2009 as part of President Obama’s revisions to the interrogation policies that he inherited from President George W. Bush. Such panels are made up of regional specialists with expertise in the language, culture and background of the suspect, and they may be assisted by agents and analysts who were already tracking him.

Q. What techniques may they use?

A. Under an executive order issued by Mr. Obama in 2009, they must obey the restrictions of the Army Field Manual, which was written to comply with the Geneva Conventions and forbids torture and lesser forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The manual largely permits a variety of “rapport building” techniques, including direct questioning, the “good cop, bad cop” routine, tricking a detainee into revealing more information, inducing him to brag about his exploits, appealing to his emotions or threatening him with severe legal consequences (though threats of torture are not allowed) and offering incentives for cooperation. It requires that a detainee receive at least four hours of continuous sleep every 24 hours.

The article notes what Mata often used to point out- that President Obama was using Bagram as Club Gitmo Eeast:

Q. Why did the United States put him on a ship?

A. The Obama administration lacks a clear place to house newly captured Qaeda detainees for intelligence interrogations. It still wants to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; though Congress has blocked it from doing so, the administration has held the line at adding any new detainees there. For a time, the United States brought some detainees to the prison at Bagram Air Base, in Afghanistan, but it has now largely transferred that facility to the control of the Afghan government, which does not want to deal with detainees from elsewhere. Were Mr. Ruqai to be brought to a military base on land somewhere, it could raise legal issues with the host government, and were he to be brought onto United States soil, he could arguably have an immediate right to a lawyer. Holding him — and possibly transporting him — on an American vessel in international waters avoids potential diplomatic and legal headaches.

So because the administration shot itself in the foot by closing down CIA black sites, it’s now using Naval ships to conduct its own brand of interrogation. And because of all the public debates and outcry, Congressional lawmakers demagoguing the issue, al-Libi is most likely aware of the self-imposed boundaries and constraints we are under in dealing with HVTs, and might have received training in interrogation resistance. The Army Field Manual is certainly freely available for his reading pleasure; and because the OLC Memos were released, the old EITs that were approved during the Bush Administration would be largely ineffective today because they are no longer secret. Terrorists would know what to expect, and realize that it’s mostly “smoke and mirrors” bluff- even though the moral high ground walkers prefer to label it as “torture”.

After the intelligence interrogation and debriefing, comes the criminal interrogation team:

Q. What will happen next?

A. If the Obama administration follows the model it set in 2011 in the case of a Somali man, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, after the intelligence interrogation is finished, it will give Mr. Ruqai a break of several days, allow the Red Cross to visit him and send in a “clean team” of fresh F.B.I. interrogators who have not been briefed on what he said to the interrogation group. The new team will read him a Miranda warning, including whether he waives his right to be questioned with a lawyer present, then ask him a new round of questions intended to gather evidence that could more clearly be used against him in court.

Mr. Ruqai is likely to be transferred to the Southern District of New York, where he has been indicted on conspiracy charges stemming from the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. The same court was used for several other defendants in that conspiracy. Mr. Ruqai’s case is part of the same series of indictments on which the government prosecuted Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first Guantánamo detainee to be tried in the federal system, and on which two others suspected of being Qaeda operatives were extradited from Britain last year and are now facing trial.

Marc Thiessen supposes that al-Libi could be a treasure-trove of information regarding ties between Sunni al Qaeda and Shia Iran:

The Obama administration has killed scores of high-value al-Qaeda terrorists with drone strikes, so the live capture of Abu Anas al-Libi is a big deal. When terrorists are vaporized from the sky, all the intelligence in their brains is vaporized with them. Now, for only the second time since Barack Obama took office, we have captured a senior al Qaeda leader alive outside of Iraq or Afghanistan. We thus have a rare chance to interrogate a “core al Qaeda” leader.

So what can al-Libi tell us? Much of the commentary has focused on what he knows about al Qaeda’s operations in Libya and north Africa, which is certainly important. But al Libi is also a potential treasure trove of intelligence on one area of al Qaeda’s operations about which we know little: al Qaeda’s network in — and relationship with — Iran.

Al-Libi worked directly for Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri in Sudan in the early 1990s, where he helped plot the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania — an attack that was carried out in direct collaboration with Iran. In 2011, the US District Court for the District of Columbia found the government of Iran liable for those bombings, declaring that the attacks would not have been possible without “direct assistance” from Iran, which trained al Qaeda on how to blow up buildings.


Since 9/11, we have been able to strike al Qaeda with drones and special operations forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and East Africa. But the one al Qaeda network that has been virtually unmolested, and about which we know little, is al Qaeda’s network in Iran.

By 2006, over half of what we knew about al-Qaeda arose out of the CIA interrogation program, including the standard interrogation of around 70 HVDs in the program, and EITs upon 30 others, only 3 of which were ever waterboarded. Information and knowledge was gleaned, opening up avenues to obtaining even more information and knowledge (which weren’t gleaned from EITs- yet might trace its success back to the original CIA program).

I have no problem with “rapport-building” interrogation techniques among others preferred by most professional interrogators in law enforcement and intelligence agents, as the line of first resort (someone remind these Islamists– as if they care- that the current administration runs a softer, kinder, gentler approach to interrogation). But after that, should an HVD prove resistant to standard techniques and trained against their effectiveness, what then? There are no additional tools in the toolbox, thanks to EO 13491.

I also have no problem with “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”, as defined by the Bush-era OLC memos, for those hardened terrorists that do not fall for standard interrogation techniques.

I pray that Obama-era interrogation practices successfully yield valuable intelligence information out of al-Libi.

Innocent lives depend upon it.

If he doesn’t break, maybe he truly is just an innocent pizza worker?

7 Responses to “The Interrogation of Abu Anas al-Libi”

  1. 1

    Nan G

    Obama campaigned for his cousin Odinga when he ran for president of Kenya.
    When Odinga LOST he began a reign of terror killing Christians and other non-Muslims, not pausing until he was offered a co-leadership role as appeasement.
    While running it became known, through a leaked document, that Odinga had made a deal with ISLAMISTS to bring in Sharia when elected.
    When Odinga tried to deny that news story, his Islamist allies put out more facts about him and their deal.

    I think Obama has been killing Islamist terrorists because he has so much desire to assist Islam in America that he has to keep these particular ones from talking.
    He has demonized the very linking of terrorism with Islam.
    He has bent over backward to protect Muslims in America, even demonizing NYCity’s operation to keep watch on Muslims through their Mosques.
    Islamist Ali Abunimah met Obama before he was elected.
    He quoted Obama from a 2004 gathering in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

    [Obama] was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

    As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.” Obama referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, “Keep up the good work!”

    Obama has since then learned he can never ”be more up front,” about his agenda with regards Israel, the ME and Islam.
    But he is carrying on and if a few Islamic terrorists have to be droned to death to keep him looking good on paper, so be it.

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    By his actions, can we assume Obama doesn’t want us to have the inside intel on Islamic Radicalism?

    Fighting a war or driving a car with your eyes closed is an exercise in stupidity.

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    Will this actionable intelligence pressure point from Pelosi and Dutch be enough to push Repubs into caving on big govt budget and bounty prize sky’s the limit debt?

  4. 4



    Foreign Policy morning brief:

    Top news: Militiamen briefly abducted Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan on Thursday, apparently in retaliation for consenting to an American Special Forces operation aimed at capturing a suspected al Qaeda militant over the weekend. Zeidan was kidnapped before dawn at a Tripoli hotel and released by early afternoon. His captors, according to a statement from the prime minister’s office, were members of a semiautonomous militia hired by the government to provide security in the capital.

    The prime minister’s abduction followed comments by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, insisting that “the Libyan government was aware of the operation” that captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Liby, who is wanted in connection with the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Zeidan denied that his government had advanced notice of the U.S. raid and issued a statement demanding an explanation for “the kidnapping of a Libyan citizen” on Libyan territory.

    The episode underscores both the vulnerability of Zeidan’s government and the seriousness of the security vacuum that has replaced Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, overthrown by rebels and NATO forces in 2011.


    The number of drone strikes approved by the Obama administration on suspected terrorists has fallen dramatically this year, as the war with al Qaeda increasingly shifts to Africa and U.S. intelligence craves more captures and interrogations of high-value targets.

    U.S. officials told The Washington Times on Wednesday that the reasons for a shift in tactics are many — including that al Qaeda’s senior ranks were thinned out so much in 2011 and 2012 by an intense flurry of drone strikes, and that the terrorist network has adapted to try to evade some of Washington’s use of the strikes or to make them less politically palatable.

    But the sources acknowledged that a growing desire to close a recent gap in actionable human intelligence on al Qaeda’s evolving operations also has renewed the administration’s interest in more clandestine commando raids like the one that netted a high-value terrorist suspect in Libya last weekend.

    Capturing and interrogating suspects can provide valuable intelligence about a terrorist network that has been morphing from its roots with a central command in Pakistan and Afghanistan (known as intelligence circles as the FATA) to more diverse affiliates spread most notably across North Africa, officials and analysts said.


    The U.S. has carried out nearly 400 drone strikes over the past decade in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, a tactic that killed numerous senior operatives. But al Qaeda leaders have been increasing their own counterintelligence activities and moving to more populated areas in order to increase the risks of civilian casualties, two developments that have made the strikes less politically palatable and effective, analysts and intelligence sources say.

    As a result, the number of drone strikes carried out against al Qaeda suspects in the Middle East and South Asia has dropped by half over the past year. There were 22 drone strikes on targets in Pakistan during the first 10 months of this year, compared with 47 carried out during 2012 and 74 in 2011, according to data compiled by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the leading independent body examining the U.S. government’s secretive drone program.

    But intelligence officials and some national security analysts cautioned against reading too deeply into such data, saying the U.S. remains committed to using drones when it makes sense.

    “Given the clandestine nature of the program, it’s impossible to assess the reasons why the number of strikes has decreased over time,” said Seth Jones, a political scientist who specializes in counterterrorism studies at the Rand Corp., a research institution with headquarters in California.

    “We just don’t have access to the information,” he said.

    Thirst for new intelligence

    With U.S. counterterrorism officials eager to pin down fresh and actionable intelligence on what several sources described as a gradually metastasizing and complex network of al Qaeda affiliate groups concentrated in North Africa, most analysts say it would make sense for the Obama administration to begin favoring capture-and-interrogate missions.

    “Raids allow you to both potentially capture a high-value target and exploit his knowledge through interrogations,” said Daniel R. Green, an al Qaeda and Yemen analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. When U.S. soldiers are on the ground for a raid, Mr. Green said, it means they can “collect additional materials of intelligence value from the dwelling, further assisting in the planning of follow-on operations.”

    Others said heavy reliance on drones has only added to America’s potentially dangerous deficit of human intelligence on al Qaeda. “If you’re not capturing guys to get that intel, then, yeah, you’re going to be missing a part of the picture — if not a large part of the picture,” said Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow focusing on al Qaeda and North Africa at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

    “You can rely extensively on electronic intelligence, but you still need that [human intelligence]to put the full picture together,” said Mr. Joscelyn, who added that recent years have fostered a “fetish within some parts of the intelligence community for drone attacks because they’ve succeeded in taking out some very high-level targets.

    “There are other parts of the American military and intelligence community that understand that drones are not going to win this war,” he said. “Drones are a necessary tactic, but they are not a strategy.”

    Last weekend’s raids in Libya and Somalia are “evidence that there’s more emphasis now on capture than on kill,” said Linda Robinson a senior international policy analyst at the Rand Corp.

    “It is an indication of the shift that was alluded to by the president in May,” said Mrs. Robinson, referring to a speech President Obama gave at the National Defense University in which he stressed that “as a matter of policy, the preference of the United States is to capture terrorist suspects.”

    Mrs. Robinson said there is “recognition that, frankly, you get something from raids, which you don’t get from drones.” Raids allow for capturing a suspect and can lead to an “incredible intelligence dump” from that individual, she said.


    Drones still on the table

    During the May speech on terrorism, Mr. Obama acknowledged the use of drones as a central tactic within his administration’s war strategy and suggested it will continue.

    At the time, Mr. Obama said it “not possible for America to simply deploy a team of Special Forces to capture every terrorist.”

    Citing instances in which doing so “would pose profound risks to our troops and local civilians” and where “putting U.S. boots on the ground may trigger a major international crisis,” Mr. Obama said the secret May 2011 Navy SEAL operation that resulted in the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden “cannot be the norm.”

    In the shadow of such remarks from the president, some analysts say, such raids likely would pose challenges in Yemen, where the Obama administration has relied heavily on the use of drones.

    A raid such as the one that netted al-Libi in Tripoli would be “much more difficult” in Yemen “in part because potential targets are far more inland, thus complicating an attack from the sea,” said Mr. Green, at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    “Also, the Yemeni government is much more capable and would likely detect such a raid, as compared to Libya’s anarchic conditions, and al Qaeda is a much more developed force in Yemen, which will have already adapted to this new tactic by U.S. forces,” he said.

    Mrs. Robinson said that “with a raid, of course, you incur more risk for those U.S. forces usually, special operations forces that you’re putting on the ground.”

    “I don’t think there’s a big appetite to go around launching raids unless there is a clear U.S. national security interest to do so,” she said. “The political and diplomatic and atmospheric risks or counterproductive effects have to be very much weighed in the equation.”

    Others pointed to potentially serious legal issues that an increase in commando-style raids likely would bring to the fore for the Obama administration.

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    John B. Bellinger, a Washington lawyer who served as a legal adviser for the State Department and the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, said he believes it is “much to soon to say that there is a new pivot to boots on the ground and capture” missions to replace drone attacks.

    “If there is going to be some new emphasis on capture, it is going to pose legal challenges for the administration because these continue to be uncharted waters, both domestically and internationally,” said Mr. Bellinger. “What the administration is apparently going to try to do is to apply a hybrid model of law of war detention and interrogation coupled with traditional criminal law enforcement prosecution. While that makes a lot of sense, it’s not clear yet whether that will work as a matter of U.S. domestic law or whether it will be any more acceptable internationally than the law of war detention than the Bush administration was criticized for.”

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    Did the Obama Administration endanger the Libyan Prime Minister? Marc Thiessen:

    Leaks have consequences. Just ask Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who was kidnapped in retaliation for allowing the United States to carry out a special operations raid in Tripoli that captured a senior al-Qaeda leader, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known as Abu Anas al-Libi.

    How did the kidnappers know that the Prime Minister had approved the raid? After all, his government denied any prior knowledge of the U.S. action. Simple: The Obama administration told them. A front-page story in the New York Times, “U.S. Officials Say Libya Approved Commando Raids,” reported that “After months of lobbying by American officials, the Libyans consented ‘some time ago’ — weeks or perhaps even months — to the United States operations.” The article, which cites “more than half a dozen American diplomatic, military, law enforcement, intelligence and other administration officials” as sources, notes that “The Libyans’ consent marks a significant step forward for the Obama administration, which has been criticized by Congressional Republicans for moving too slowly to apprehend the Benghazi suspects.”

    I had wondered as well why publicly acknowledge and make public the capture of al-Libi if you’re trying to extract him for actionable intelligence. There’s only a finite window of opportunity before associates of his move locations, change their contact numbers, etc.

    In other words, the Obama administration exposed the Libyan government’s cooperation in a top-secret covert action in order to bolster the president against domestic political criticism.

    It gets worse. The exposure of the Libyan government’s secret cooperation is not the only damaging leak surrounding the Libyan raid. According to the Times, “the United States had hoped to keep secret” the very fact of al-Libi’s capture, “but that leaked out to the news media.” Not only that, the Times revealed that a second raid had been planned, but not carried out, “to seize a militia leader suspected of carrying out the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi.”

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    It is not unusual for a terrorist to “disappear” from his own network’s radar screen for some time. His fellow terrorists may assume he has gone into hiding or stopped communicating for some innocuous reason. But as soon as al-Qaeda learns that one its senior operatives has been captured by the United States, it rapidly deploys countermeasures to control the damage he can do in an interrogation — purging e-mail accounts, shutting down phone numbers, dispersing terrorist cells, shutting down training camps and safe houses and closing other vital trails of intelligence the United States needs to follow. By contrast, if al-Qaeda does not know a terrorist is in custody, these intelligence trails can remain warm for weeks and even months — while the captured terrorist helps us exploit them and roll up other operatives who may not realize they are in our sights. Whoever revealed al Libi’s capture to the media basically told al-Qaeda to shut down vital intelligence trails that could have led us to other terrorists.

    Worse still, the leak that the United States had planned another raid to capture one of the terrorists behind the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi has tipped off that terrorist to our plans. According to the Times, the target, Abu Ahmed Khattala, “has appeared to live his life normally in eastern Libya and has been interviewed by several news outlets.” He clearly believed he was out of America’s reach. Now he knows that is not the case. He has been told not only that the United States can reach him inside Libya, but that we were actively planning to do just that. No doubt he is no longer out in the open “living his life normally,” but has gone into hiding — making his capture all the more unlikely.

    Of course, he need not worry any more. With the leak that the Libyans approved both raids, and the kidnapping of the Libyan prime minister, his government probably will not authorize more such operations for the foreseeable future. As the Times reported even before the kidnapping, “the backlash against a second raid could bring down the government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, which has teetered on the brink of collapse.”

    Even when this administration gets something right, it can’t seem to get it right.

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