ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A Libyan military commander who once lived in Virginia sat for a deposition Sunday in a U.S. lawsuit in which he is accused of orchestrating indiscriminate attacks on civilians and torturing and killing political opponents, according to an advocacy group that supports the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs who sued Khalifa Hifter had been waiting for years to question him directly about his role in fighting that has plagued the country over the last decade.
Hifter, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army, is a defendant in three separate federal lawsuits in Virginia accusing him of killings and torture in that country’s civil war.
Once a lieutenant to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Hifter defected to the U.S. during the 1980s and spent many years living in northern Virginia. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile.
Plaintiffs believe that he and his own family own significant property in Virginia, which could be used to collect any judgments entered against him in the U.S.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema had entered a default judgment against Hifter in July after he failed to show up for earlier depositions. Last month, though, Brinkema agreed to set aside that ruling if Hifter sat for a deposition by Nov. 6.
Hifter's U.S. lawyer had asked the judge to reconsider the default judgment, saying Hifter's duties as a military commander made it difficult for him to schedule a deposition. They also expressed concern that Hifter's political opponents would use the deposition against him or that the questions would touch on sensitive political or military issues.
In an affidavit Hifter submitted in September, he said the Libyan authorities to whom he answers as commander of the Libyan National Army did not want him to participate in a deposition “because it would be used by plaintiffs and political opponents in the media.”
He also said he is a still a candidate for the Libyan presidency if and when those elections can be held.
“The false charges in this lawsuit have been used by my political opponents to undermine my candidacy and disrupt the peace process,” Khalifa said in the affidavit.
Robert Cox, Hifter's U.S. based lawyer, did not return a call and email Monday seeking to confirm details of Sunday's deposition.
Libya has been wracked by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled Gadhafi in 2011. Over the past decade, the oil-rich nation had been split between a Hifter-backed government in the east that receives Russian support, and a U.N.-supported administration in Tripoli.
Esam Omeish, president of the Libyan American Alliance, which supports one group of plaintiffs, confirmed Sunday's deposition and called it a “historic precedent.”
“This is a giant step towards holding him liable in this civil suit and the beginning of exposing the crimes of this warlord, who has been the biggest obstacle towards Libya’s peace and stability," Omeish said in a statement.