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 killing of their relatives.
The federal judge in the state of Virginia, where Haftar lived before returning to Libya, ruled that he had not cooperated with the court and that he was ordered “standard” to pay damages to the families.
Haftar, a two-time US-Libyan 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 amount of damages.
Nevertheless, Friday’s ruling represents a major setback for the military leader.
“The judiciary 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 TBEN.
The civil lawsuits, filed in 2019 and 2020, allege that Haftar, as head of the east-based Libyan National Army, authorized the indiscriminate bombing of civilians during his failed 2019 campaign to take Tripoli, resulting in death of the plaintiff’s relatives.
They are prosecuting Haftar under a 1991 US law called the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows civil lawsuits against anyone who, in an official capacity for a foreign nation, commits torture and/or extrajudicial killings.
The court had paused the case ahead of the Libyan elections in December 2021, but resumed the case after the vote was postponed again.
Haftar has also unsuccessfully tried to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming immunity as head of state.
Oil-rich Libya has been embroiled in a bitter power struggle since the fall of dictator Moamer Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, with a major division between the east and west of the North African country.
Two governments are vying for power: one in Tripoli and another supported by Haftar’s army, which controls parts of the east and south.
Haftar, 78, is a Soviet-trained soldier who assisted in the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power. After taking a senior military position in the Libyan war with Chad, Haftar was taken prisoner of war and subsequently disavowed by Gaddafi.
He was eventually offered political asylum in the United States, where he lived for 20 years and acquired U.S. citizenship, as well as, according to the Wall Street Journal, several million-dollar properties.