A US judge on Friday ordered the military leader of eastern Libya, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, to compensate Libyan plaintiffs who allege he ordered the torture and extrajudicial executions of their family members.
The federal judge in the state of Virginia, where Haftar lived before returning to Libya, ruled that he had failed to cooperate with the court and had been ordered by “default” to pay damages to the families.
Haftar, a US-Libyan dual citizen whose name is spelled “Hifter” in US legal documents, can still appeal the decision, and future hearings will have to be held to determine the level of compensation.
Nonetheless, Friday’s decision represents a major setback for the military leader.
“Justice has prevailed. Hifter will be held accountable for his war crimes,” Faisal Gill, one of the lawyers leading the cases, said in a statement shared with AFP.
Filed in 2019 and 2020, the civil lawsuits allege that Haftar, as head of the eastern-based Libyan National Army, authorized indiscriminate shelling of civilians during his unsuccessful 2019 campaign to take Tripoli, resulting in death members of the complainant’s family.
They are suing Haftar under a 1991 US law, the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows civil suits against anyone, acting in an official capacity for a foreign country, who commits acts of torture and/or extrajudicial executions.
The court had suspended the case ahead of Libya’s December 2021 elections – but restarted it after the vote was again delayed.
Haftar also unsuccessfully tried to dismiss the suit, claiming immunity as head of state.
Oil-rich Libya has been mired in a bitter power struggle since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, with a major split between east and west in the North African country.
Two governments are vying for power: one based in Tripoli and the other backed by Haftar’s army, which controls parts of the east and south.
Haftar, 78, is a Soviet-trained soldier who took part in the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power. After serving in a high-ranking military position in the war between Libya and Chad, Haftar was taken as a prisoner of war and then disavowed by Gaddafi.
He was eventually offered political asylum in the United States, where he lived for 20 years and was granted US citizenship as well as, according to the Wall Street Journal, several properties worth millions of dollars.