ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A Libyan military commander who lived for decades in northern Virginia failed to show up for a deposition Monday in a federal lawsuit in which he is accused of war crimes.
Khalifa Hifter had been scheduled to appear for seven hours in a long-sought video deposition where he would be asked about his role in alleged extrajudicial killing and torture of Libyan civilians in the country’s decade-long civil war.
He is a defendant in three separate civil lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Hifter tried unsuccessfully to have the lawsuits tossed out, claiming immunity as head of state. Then, on the eve of his deposition last year, U.S. 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, Brinkema reinstated the lawsuits after the elections were indefinitely delayed.
Hifter’s failure to appear Monday was confirmed by Esam Omeish with 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 Hifter to gather information relevant to their case. Lawyers met Friday at the federal courthouse in Alexandria to hash out the rules for conducting the deposition.
Over the weekend, though, Hifter said his official duties made it impossible to sit for a deposition and asked for a one-month delay, Omeish said.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said that was unacceptable and said they will seek a default judgment against him for failing to appear.
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, where he and his family continue to own extensive property, according to the lawsuits. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile.
He returned to Libya to support the anti-Gadhafi forces that revolted against the dictator and killed him in 2011. Over the last decade, he led the self-styled Libyan National Army, which has controlled much of the eastern half of the country, with support from countries including Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
A U.N.-supported government has controlled the capital in Tripoli, with extensive support from Turkey. A cease-fire 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.
Hifter’s lawyer in the U.S., Jesse Binnall, did not immediately return an email Monday seeking comment.