Khalifa Haftar took part in the coup that brought Muammar Gaddafi to power in 1969, but he was captured in 1987 during a Libyan war against Chad and later released in 1990 in a deal with the U.S. government. Haftar lived in exile for 20 years in Virginia and attained U.S. citizenship.

The Libyan families of slain men filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, against U.S. citizen Khalifa Haftar for carrying out an indiscriminate bombing campaign in the outskirts of Tripoli that has claimed the lives of their relatives.

Abdulhakim Tunalli, brother of Msaddek Tunalli, who was killed outside Tripoli by Haftar’s forces spoke to Inside Arabia.

“My brother along with his comrades were helping people to evacuate the area in Ain Zarah, a southern Tripoli neighborhood because it was inhabited mainly by women, children, and the elderly. After making sure no one was left behind they were fleeing the targeted area when Haftar’s forces bombed them, and my brother was killed.”

Legal Basis for the Lawsuit

Tunalli said the U.S. law allows the Libyan families to file a lawsuit against a U.S. citizen if he committed atrocities and killed citizens abroad.

The court filings state that, “The terrorist activities committed by Defendant Haftar constitute a violation of the laws of nations prohibiting torture, mass murder, indiscriminate destruction of civilian property and genocide.”

Faisal Gill, the attorney representing the Libyan families told Inside Arabia that Haftar is a war criminal and that being an American citizen provides a strong legal basis for the lawsuit.

“Under the U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victim Protection Act, there is a legal basis to sue people who commit such acts of atrocities that general Haftar has been committing. The lawsuit against Haftar is for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and gross violations of human rights,” Gill said. “The fact that he is a U.S. citizen makes his legal situation even worse.” 

Next Step

The families are seeking $100 million in punitive damages and financial compensation and $25 million for pain and suffering caused by Haftar’s forces’ attacks on their relatives, killing and injuring many of them.

Gill told Inside Arabia that the next step will be to serve the warlord Haftar a court summons.

“There are several ways; either to use the official court mechanism to serve him a notice overseas or to serve him the court summons if he comes to the U.S., and as soon as he receives the notice, the lawsuit will be activated. If he does not fight it, or does not respond, we can swiftly get a so-called a default judgement and win the case,” Gill said.

Gill added that he is confident of winning the case. Because Haftar’s family is still living in the U.S. and he has property and assets in America, the Libyan families filing the lawsuit can take general Haftar’s U.S. assets if they prevail in their lawsuit.

Gill stresses that the lawsuit is not symbolic, but a real case and controversy. He hopes that the civil lawsuit will become a criminal case in which general Haftar could be tried criminally by the U.S. Department of Justice for these alleged war crimes.

Congressional Pressure

Five House Democrats and two Republicans have called on the Trump administration to launch an investigation into Haftar’s conduct, which they perceive as a violation of the law of war. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey is one of the House Representatives demanding such an investigation.

“I will follow through on this and other measures to ensure that the international community does not forget Libya’s conflict and that the U.S. government remains committed to prosecuting war crimes and grave injustices,” Malinowski said.

Abdulhakim Tunalli is hoping that congressional pressure will help the lawsuit.

“I believe that a congressman like Malinowski, who was an Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, is the right person to proceed because he has frequently stated that he will follow up with the Justice Department to open an investigation into the war crimes that U.S. citizen Khalifa Haftar has committed,” Tunalli told Inside Arabia.

Essam Omeish, President of the Libyan-American Alliance has called on the Trump administration to expedite the investigation into Haftar’s war crimes.

“The Libyan people have suffered enough under the heinous transgressions of this war criminal, and the U.S. government and its legal system must intervene to put a stop to his unspeakable crimes.”

Omeish told Inside Arabia that “Warlord Haftar has been the biggest impediment to the peace and prosperity of Libya: his actions have derailed the democratic process in Libya and his war crimes have inflicted much suffering upon all Libyans who yearn for peace, stability and democratic transition in Libya.”