US judge rules in war crimes lawsuit against Libya’s supporters

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FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A Virginia judge has entered a default judgment against a Libyan military commander after he repeatedly failed to appear to testify in a federal lawsuit alleging war crimes.

The exact amount of the sentence against Khalifa Hifter, who has lived in the United States for decades, will be determined at a later date. Because Hifter and his family own extensive property in Northern Virginia from his time in the country, plaintiffs say they are optimistic that they will be able to collect any awarded judgment.

At a hearing Friday in the US District Court in Alexandria, Judge Leonie Brinkema accepted recommendations from a judge who said the plaintiffs should be given a default judgment.

The judge’s report cited Hifter’s repeated refusals to participate in scheduled testimonies about his role in the struggles that have plagued the country for the past decade.

Three separate lawsuits were filed against Hifter by different plaintiffs. Some say family members were killed in military bombardments carried out by Hifter’s army in civilian areas. Others accuse Hifter’s troops of capturing, torturing and killing family members.

In court filings, Hifter attempted to claim freedom of action as head of state. After Hifter failed to appear for his final scheduled testimony in May, his attorneys filed a motion to withdraw from the case, saying he had stopped communicating with them and stopped paying his legal fees.

Once a lieutenant to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Hifter defected to the United States in the 1980s and lived in northern Virginia for many years. after the lawsuits. It is widely believed that he worked for the CIA during his time in exile.

He returned to Libya to support the anti-Gaddafi forces that rebelled against the dictator and killed him in 2011. For the past decade he has led the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, which controls much of the eastern half of the country, with support from countries including Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

A government backed by the United Nations has controlled the capital in Tripoli with widespread support from Turkey. A truce between the warring factions in 2020 was supposed to lead to elections in December 2021, but they never took place. Negotiations about new elections were unsuccessful. One point of contention was whether military personnel and dual citizens should be banned from running for the country’s top post, conditions that would bar Hifter as candidates.

The lawsuits were suspended last year after Brinkema raised concerns they were being used to disrupt the country’s presidential election, in which Hifter was running.

She reintroduced the lawsuits when the elections were postponed with no foreseeable postponement.

Esam Omeish, president of the Libyan-American Alliance, which supports a group of plaintiffs, praised Brinkema’s ruling, saying it “should send a clear message to the international community to stop supporting a war criminal and would-be dictator in any proposed Libyan settlement.” .”

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