But there's not much ordinary about Belhaj. As a young man in the late 1980s, he was one of scores of jihadists in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group that went to fight in Afghanistan. His military prowess soon made him a commander among his fellow fighters. After the fall of the Taliban, Belhaj left Afghanistan and was arrested in Malaysia in 2004. After some questioning by the CIA, he was sent back to Libya and jailed.His interview wasn't an exclusive. Belhaj has been explaining his past affiliations to many reporters lately in an effort to combat the notion that a jihadist just helped take over Libya.
Belhaj was released from Moammar Gadhafi's notorious Abu Salim jail last year. He and dozens of others of LIFG fighters negotiated with the Gadhafi regime for their freedom -- in return for denouncing al Qaeda and its philosophy of jihad.
And he talks a pretty good game.
For instance, he says he was in Afghanistan in the 80s to fight off the Soviets--just like the United States--but wasn't a Bin Laden follower. Then, when Gaddafi cracked down on his LIFG group in Libya in the 90s after some attacks, they were forced to move to Afghanistan but only to train for a return to Libya to overthrow the tyrant, not as part of any global jihad aimed at reestablishing the caliphate. They fled after 9/11 but the CIA picked him up anyway and tortured him.
Yahoo provides a bit more:
"Yes, [Belhaj] said, he was detained by Malaysian officials in 2004 on arrival at the Kuala Lumpur airport, where he was subjected to extraordinary rendition on behalf of the United States, and sent to Thailand," the New York Times' Rod Norland writes. "In Bangkok, Mr. Belhaj said, he was tortured for a few days by two people he said were CIA agents, and then, worse, they repatriated him to Libya, where he was thrown into solitary confinement for six years."Unlike the Robertson piece, this one explains that he pledged loyalty to Taliban leader Mullah Omar while in training in Afghan, although that itself is not evidence he advocated 9/11--it might have been a requirement to maintain the safe haven. Then again it might have been voluntary.
After all, the Taliban protected bin Laden and both came under US attack from Clinton during the 90s. In other words, in the starkest of terms this cat was technically part of the enemy that helped facilitate 9/11. And he wasn't the only member of LIFG:
In a 1999 interview, LIFG spokesman Omar Rashed lamented that the Libyan people had not "passed beyond the stage of sentiments to the stage of action," and hinted at a shift in focus, as bin Laden had done, from regime change at home to international jihad. "The United States no longer relies on its agents to constrict the Islamic tide; it has taken this role upon itself," he said, in language reminiscent of al-Qaeda propaganda. Yet now he's asking everyone to believe he was shocked, shocked about the 9/11 attack and fled Afghanistan only to be picked up in another hotbed of Islamic terrorism and
By this time, many operatives of LIFG (and a likeminded group, the Islamic Martyrs' Movement, also founded by Afghan veterans) had already chosen to follow the path of bin Laden, who relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996. Former LIFG member Abu Anas al-Libi, for example, was a key planner of al-Qaeda's 1998 bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Another is Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (Al-Qaeda members frequently adopt a surname identifying their country of origin – "al-Libi" is Arabic for "Libyan"), the former commander of bin Laden's Al-Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan. Abu-Hafs al-Libi (a.k.a. Abd-al-Hakim al-Jiritli) served as one of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's chief lieutenants until his death in October 2004.
So is he a terrorist or a freedom fighter?
It's hard to say, since he seems to cover most of his bases. But there's an old saying--when you lie down with dogs you tend to get their fleas, and the dogs in his case are enemies of the United States.
Anyway, most of mainstream America is just now getting this exciting new revelation about those we spent almost a billion to help, but one American who knew all along was the one sitting the the office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Is it any wonder Obama dithered in supporting NATO at the outset, knowing who was part of the rebel forces and knowing there were still WMD materials and surface-to-air missiles stored in the country? A pessimist could certainly look at this entire Arab Spring thing and see the possibility of Islamist governments from Cairo to Tunis, a sort of reforming of the caliphate that would fulfill a bin Laden dream.
These new revelations also better explain the recently revealed secret strategy meeting between former State Department official David Welch and Gaddafi representatives in Cairo. The details came from captured regime documents in Tripoli; the New York Times is reporting today about other documents that seem to detail cooperation between Libyan intelligence and CIA/MI6 in rendering terror suspects to Libya. If only the Times would have put as much energy into reporting on the captured Iraqi regime documents, many of which were on letterhead.
At any rate, don't be surprised if rebels find some documents pertaining to the most famous Libyan AQ terrorist of them all, Ibn al-Shake al-Libi, the guy whose training camp the LIFG fighters were using in Afghanistan and the one who supposedly told his Egyptian torturers that Saddam was conducting training for AQ fighters at Salmon Pak, which showed up in Powell's UN speech, which led to war in Iraq.
After the war he recanted, which was immediately believed by everyone on the left (and Lawrence Wilkerson), saying he was only feeding the west what they wanted to hear because hey, he wanted an attack on Iraq, too. He was rewarded with some time in blacksite world and later transferred to the same prison Belhaj resided--Abu Salim--where he supposedly hung himself in 2009, proving that Bush lied or something (everyone knows Iraq had no relationship with Islamic terrorists).
Speaking of the Department of State and documents, there are now thousands of Wiki Leak diplomatic cables floating around the net, all of them 'unauthorized' (as if any of them in the past have been authorized for release). Perhaps some of those cables might contain answers to the burning question of terrorist vs freedom fighter, who knows. One thing is sure--the NY Times and WaPo are now condemning their willy-nilly release instead of making them major multi-page features. Maybe that's because they can't guard against incriminating information coming out against their political heroes. There's something to be said for controlling the narrative.