Libya's Khalifa Haftar a no-show for Virginia deposition accusing him of war crimes

Libyan military commander who lived for decades in northern Virginia has failed to show up for deposition in federal lawsuit

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar tried unsuccessfully to have the lawsuits against him tossed out, claiming immunity as head of state. AP

A Libyan military commander who lived for decades in the US state of Virginia failed to show up for a deposition on Monday in a federal lawsuit in which he is accused of war crimes.

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar had been scheduled to appear for seven hours in a long-sought video deposition during which he would be asked about his role in the alleged extrajudicial killing and torture of Libyan civilians in the country's decade-long civil war.

He has been named in three separate civil lawsuits in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia. Mr Haftar tried unsuccessfully to have the lawsuits tossed out, claiming immunity as head of state.

Then, on the eve of his deposition last year, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema put the lawsuits on pause, saying she wanted to ensure they were not being used to interfere with scheduled elections in the country.

Earlier this year, Ms Brinkema reinstated the lawsuits after the elections were indefinitely delayed.

Mr Haftar's failure to appear on Monday was confirmed by Esam Omeish of the Libyan American Alliance, which supports one group of plaintiffs, as well as by Mark Zaid, a lawyer representing another group of plaintiffs.

Monday was to be the day lawyers in all three cases were to be allowed to question Mr Haftar to gather information relevant to their case. Lawyers met on Friday at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, to discuss the rules for conducting the deposition.

At the weekend, though, Mr Haftar said his official duties made it impossible to sit for a deposition and asked for a one-month delay, Mr Omeish said.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said that was unacceptable and said they would seek a default judgment against him for failing to appear.

Once a lieutenant under Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Mr Haftar defected to the US during the 1980s and spent many years living in northern Virginia, where he and his family still own extensive property, the lawsuits state. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile.

He returned to Libya to support the anti-Qaddafi forces that revolted against the dictator and killed him in 2011.

A UN-supported government has controlled the capital in Tripoli, with extensive support from Turkey, while Mr Haftar rose to be the head of a rival government based out of Tobruk in the east.

A ceasefire between the warring sides in 2020 was supposed to lead to elections in December 2021, but they never occurred. Negotiations to set a new election date ended last month without success.

Mr Haftar's lawyer in the US, Jesse Binnall, did not immediately return an email on Monday seeking comment.

Updated: May 09, 2022, 10:30 PM