Will John McCain never learn? On Wednesday, the 2008 presidential hopeful was busy banging the drum for increased American presence in the civil war raging in Libya. Arguing that a stalemate in the conflict between Libya’s leader Colonel Moamer Gadaffi and rebels in the country’s east would harm American interests, McCain suggested that “we could do the same thing that we did in the Afghan struggle against the Russians. There are ways to get weapons in [to the rebels] without direct US supplying.”
Little does McCain know (we have to hope), but he was advocating for aiding and arming some of the same people that were actively trying to harm the United States just a few short years ago. As an embassy cable released months ago by WikiLeaks made clear, some of the rebels fighting Gadaffi got their chops battling American forces in Iraq as insurgents following the US invasion in 2003. And now this week comes word that one of the rebel leaders was a former detainee in Guantanamo Bay.
By his own account, Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda bin Qumu has a long and sordid history, including close ties to the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden. Born in Derna in 1959, bin Qumu
Served as a tank driver in the Libyan armed forces as a private. The Libyan Government states he was addicted to illegal drugs/narcotics and had been accused of a number of crimes including: murder, physical assault, and distributing narcotics. He was sentenced to ten years in prison. In 1993, he escaped from prison and fled to Egypt. He traveled to Afghanistan (AF) and trained at Usama Bin Laden’s (UBL) Torkham Camp. After participating in the Soviet jihad, he moved to Sudan (SU). Detainee worked as a truck driver for Wadi Al-‘Aqiq, one of UBL’s companies in Suba, SU.
Bin Qumu was considered such a nuisance to the Gadaffi regime that the Libyan government persuaded the Sudanese to push him out of the country. “He left Sudan sometime in 1997, using a false Mauritian passport. He travelled to Pakistan (PK), where he resided in…Peshawar.” Soon, according to bin Qumu’s own narrative, he “joined the Taliban movement…and fought with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and was wounded in the leg.”
In a strange twist, the assessment notes that following his injury, bin Qumu returned to Peshawar and worked with the Qadaffi Foundation, run by Moamer’s now-reviled son Saif al-Islam al Qadaffi. The report’s author, Brigadier General Jay Hood, apparently did not hold the foundation in particularly high regard, noting that their work in Pakistan involved “relocating extremists and their families.” Nevertheless, it was the Qadaffi Foundation itself who tipped off bin Qumu’s whereabouts to Pakistani authorities.
Note: The Qadhafi Oragnization operated out of the Libyan Embassy and worked to secure transportation to Libya for any Arab fleeing the region, including Al-Qaida members. There appeared to have been an agreement between the governments of Libya and Pakistan that allowed the Pakistanis to interview the Arabs before they left. Detainee was likely detained by the Pakistani’s [sic] and turned over to US forces against the Libyan government’s wishes due to discrepancies in his story.
The report goes on to list the various reasons bin Qumu poses a threat to American national security. Among other things, the report notes that
Detainee has a long-term association with Islamic extrewmist [sic] jihad and members of Al-Qaida and other extremist groups. Detainee refuses to disclose complete information regarding his past, associates, and activities…The Libyan Government considers detainee as “dangerous man with no qualms about committing terrorist acts. He was known as one of the extremist commanders of the Afghan Arabs”…[which] refers to Arab Mujahideen that elected to stay in Afghanistan and Pakistan following the Soviet Jihad…Detainee is an associate of UBL’s from Sudan. Al Shweikh, possibly a reference to Ibn Sheikh Al Libi, recommended detainee to UBL. UBL reportedly knows detainee’s brother very well. Detainee drove a truck for one of UBL’s companies while living in Sudan.
Curiously, given bin Qumu’s intelligence value, which the report lists as “high,” the assessment makes clear that the Libyan’s continued detention at Guantanamo Bay would be inappropriate.
JTF GTMO recommends detainee by [sic] Transferred to the Control of Another Country for Continued Detention…Based upon information obtained since detainee’s previous assessment, it is recommended he be transferred…to his country of origin (Libya) if a satisfactory agreement can be reached that allows access to detainee and/or access to exploited intelligence. If a satisfactory agreement cannot be reaced for his continued detention in Libya, he should be retained under DoD control.
The recommendation to transfer bin Qumu back to Libya likely reflects the emerging relationship between the George W. Bush administration and the Qadaffi regime after it agreed to give up its nuclear ambitions in late 2003.
A satisfactory agreement was reached between the Washington and Tripoli, and bin Qumu was returned to Libya in September 2007. He was released in 2010 under the auspices of an amnesty granted by Qadaffi to anti-regime prisoners. Today, bin Qumu is one of several prominent leaders Senator McCain has advocated supporting in the fight against Qadaffi.
The New York Review of Book’s Nicholas Pelman caught up with bin Qumu in eastern Libya’s rebel enclave Derna just the other week.
In a small alleyway near the town’s main bank, Sufian bin Qumu, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, nursed his Kalashnikov, hailed the United States as a protector of the weak, and pronounced the US-led bombardment “a gift from God.” Solitary confinement in the prisons of Muammar Qaddafi or at Guantanamo Bay seemed to make many Libyans garrulous and extroverted, as if compensating for the years of lost human company. But bin Qumu’s six years under Guantanamo’s arc lights—he had been detained in Pakistan after the September 11 attacks—and three years in a Libyan cell the size of his cubbyhole look in Darna have turned him into a recluse. He is convinced that Western intelligence agenicies are still hunting him. His hennaed hair is combed flat, ain a style uncommon in Libya, as if he were wearing a toupee. A pair of fluffy white slippers embroidered with cats lie on a rattan bookcase. Neighbors fend off intruding journalists by saying he has left for the front. “You know I know who you are,” he says a touch disconcertingly when we meet. He asks me to put away my tape recorder, saying it reminds him of his interrogators.