Former Gadhafi prisoner recounts interrogation by Canadians
From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Sep. 28, 2011 8:11PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Sep. 28, 2011 8:20PM EDT
Mustafa Krer says that the Canadian intelligence officers who came to Libya to interrogate him while he was in Moammar Gadhafi’s prisons were generally polite but insistent.
“It was always the same – not exactly the same questions, but the same meaning and goal,” recalled Mustafa Krer, a Libyan-Canadian who spent eight years in prison under the ousted Libyan dictator.
“They were trying to convince me I was a terrorist and doing something bad to Canada,” he said, “and that’s not true and never could be true.”
Mr. Krer, speaking by telephone Wednesday from Libya, said he was questioned several times by agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service while serving time as a political prisoner for membership in a group that was trying to overthrow Col. Gadhafi.
His allegations are the first to name CSIS as one of the Western counterterrorism agencies that were given access to prisoners in Libya’s notoriously brutal prisons, where former detainees say they were regularly tortured and beaten.
Human Rights Watch, which described Mr. Krer’s case in a report released this week, said there was no evidence that the U.S., British or Canadian agents who conducted the interrogations mistreated Mr. Krer.
But the group, which has been examining a horde of documents found at the offices of the former Libyan security services, said CSIS and other agencies co-operated with the Gadhafi regime despite established evidence that it tortured the prisoners in its jails.
Mr. Krer, now 46, said he joined a militant anti-Gadhafi movement called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group while studying engineering in the mid-1980s, during a violent crackdown that featured public hangings of suspected dissidents in downtown Tripoli and the university campus in the capital.
He fled to Canada in 1989. There, he supported himself with a series of odd jobs and raised money for the LIFG, which claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt on Col. Gadhafi in 1996.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the LIFG was blacklisted by the United Nations as an al-Qaeda affiliate, a link that Mr. Krer disputes. But his ties to the group put him squarely on the radar screen of counterterrorism officials.
He returned to Libya in 2002, lured by Col. Gadhafi’s promise to forgive dissidents, but was hauled to prison straight from the airport. A year later, he said, he was interrogated by CSIS agents who had an encyclopedic knowledge of his phone calls and his movements while in Canada.
“I remember they asked me about the people who did 9/11. I didn’t know these people,” he said. “The CIA and CSIS and other agencies were trying to make out that this Libyan Islamic group was like al-Qaeda. It is not. It focused on Libya, just on Libya.”
Mr. Krer was released from prison in 2010. During the anti-Gadhafi revolution, he fled again, this time to Tunisia, fearing he would be rearrested. He returned to his home in Sabratha, about 60 kilometres west of Tripoli, in early September.
A few days ago, he went to Tripoli to visit Abdul Hakim Belhaj, one of the LIFG founders and now the top rebel military commander in the capital. The two men were cellmates on and off in Libyan prisons.
He learned that one of his former prison guards was in rebel custody. “So I went there and I shook hands with the guy and told him, ‘See how times have changed,’” Mr. Krer said.
He said he has nothing but affection for Canada and no passion for revenge against his one-time torturers. “You see, our revolution now is not like the Gadhafi regime,” he said. “We are trying to build a good country, based on reconciliation. If we do the same as them – if we torture, kill or harass people – we will only be copying what was before us.”
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• CSIS questioned Canadian in Libya, rights group says
Canadian spies teamed up with the Gadhafi regime to question a Canadian jailed in Libya, a prominent human-rights group says.
Canadian Security Intelligence Service officers travelled to Libya several times to interview the prisoner between 2002 and 2005, Human Rights Watch says. The New York-based group will circulate a statement on Wednesday revealing that it has obtained documents on this obscure case from an abandoned intelligence complex in Tripoli.
Mustafa Krer, 56, immigrated to Canada from Libya in the 1990s. He was jailed as a terrorism suspect when he returned to his homeland almost a decade ago. Released only last year, he hopes to return to Canada in coming months.
He maintains that Western intelligence agencies, including CSIS, came to put questions to him after the Libyans locked him up in 2002. “Seven Canadians and seven Libyans – I was there, and they did it together,” he is quoted as saying in a Human Rights Watch statement. He says he was tortured by Libyan guards when no outsiders were looking.
This account is “deeply troubling,” said Andrea Prasow, a lawyer for the group. “CSIS did not torture Krer, but they must have known the Libyans probably did.”
CSIS has long insisted it neither arranges arrests nor condones torture. It defends its partnerships with foreign spy services, even ones controlled by repressive dictators, as necessary to save Canadian lives.
The Globe and Mail reported this week that a Conservative government minister thanked Libya for putting its “extensive intelligence networks” to work for Ottawa in 2009.
Federal agents, including CSIS, had been in Africa earlier that year working their contacts in hopes of rescuing two captive Canadian diplomats. The two hostages were released after 130 days in the Sahara. Yet U.S. envoys cabled Washington to complain that Canadian officials facilitated a secret ransom deal that enriched terrorists and jeopardized West African security.
Canadian court documents alleged that Mr. Krer was a Libyan Islamic Fighting Group member and was spotted meeting some al-Qaeda-linked suspects in Canada.
CSIS spokeswoman Tahera Mufti said in an e-mail on Tuesday that she couldn’t address specifics, but pointed out the LIFG “is an organization listed as an entity associated with al-Qaeda” by the United Nations.
Mr. Krer doesn’t deny that he has LIFG ties – in fact, he recently told a reporter he was a fundraiser for the group in its nascent phases.
While several of his former comrades became al-Qaeda militants, others are leading the rebel militias that NATO warplanes are backing in the effort to rid Libya of Moammar Gadhafi.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, several Arab-Canadians were put under CSIS or RCMP surveillance and accused of having ties to al-Qaeda. Many were jailed when they flew to their homelands.
Some are suing Ottawa for complicity in torture.
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