Africa, Middle East, Top Stories

Libyan strongman Haftar gets a legal team to fight human rights charges

A Libyan strongman accused of torture and extrajudicial killings now has a legal team to defend him.

Khalifa Haftar is being represented by former federal prosecutor Duncan Levin (from law firm Tucker Levin) and Edward Ungvarsky (from Ungvarsky Law) in two lawsuits filed in federal court in Virginia, where Haftar used to live. The legal representation is spelled out in a July 31 letter from Levin to Judge Leonie Brinkema.

Haftar’s escalating legal troubles come as his self-declared Libyan National Army (LNA) has ended its Washington lobbying amid a string of battlefield defeats, Foreign Lobby Report first reported June 25. The charges against him stem from his ongoing offensive against the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli and from an earlier campaign in Benghazi.

In one case, the families of two men reportedly killed when their neighborhood was bombed during the LNA’s attack on Tripoli last year filed suit in June 2019 seeking $125 million in damages for wrongful deaths. The other was filed in February 2020 by two Libyans who say Haftar’s forces kidnapped and murdered several of their family members during their 2014 attack on the eastern city of Benghazi.

Haftar’s sons Khaled Haftar and Saddam Haftar, co-defendants in that second case, are not mentioned in the letter, suggesting they remain without lawyers.

Haftar intends to “answer to the complaints and reports and recommendations in these matters with formal motions or other responsive pleadings,” Levin wrote. He added that Haftar may seek to consolidate the two cases “in light of the similar factual and legal issues involved.”

Kevin Carroll, a lawyer representing the Benghazi plaintiffs, responded today by asking the court to reject the request to allow Haftar to ” enter these matters and respond substantively and procedurally to the complaint” since he should have done so much sooner in the proceedings. “Defendants were properly served … and this case has received widespread media coverage, including in the Middle East,” he wrote.

“I think he’ll be allowed to answer and we’re going to have a motions battle.”

Faisal Gill, a lawyer for Tripoli plaintiffs suing Haftar

Carroll, a former executive director of the US Council on Transnational Organized Crime, also rejected the request to consolidate the cases, arguing that their only commonality is the allegation that Hifter violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Still, Levin and Ungvarsky will likely get the opportunity to argue on their client’s behalf despite their tardiness, a lawyer for the Tripoli plaintiffs told Foreign Lobby Report.

“He should have responded months ago,” said Faisal Gill. “However, given the seriousness of the case, the international implications and the fact that just about every court prefers to have a resolution on the merits instead of a default judgement, I think he’ll be allowed to answer and we’re going to have a motions battle.”