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Haftar claims head-of-state immunity to avoid US lawsuits

Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar has said he deserves immunity from a pair of civil lawsuits in the US accusing him of atrocities and indiscriminate killings because he is Libya’s head of state, the Associated Press reported Friday.

The report said that Haftar, who lived in Virginia for years, did not initially respond to the lawsuits in Virginia, and a magistrate in one of the cases had recommended that the plaintiffs be awarded a default judgment.

“But earlier this month, lawyers representing Haftar sent a letter to the judge saying he wanted to defend himself. Haftar’s opponents who support the lawsuits against him say he changed tactics in the lawsuit after suffering military setbacks that might at some point force him to flee Libya.” The report adds.

In court motions filed Thursday, Haftar’s lawyers said he “merits head-of-state status that would render him immune from civil suit under US law.”

“The US actually supports the United Nations-backed government that has been fighting Haftar. But Haftar’s lawyers point to an April 2019 phone call President Donald Trump placed to Haftar in which Trump reportedly praised him for his efforts to fight terrorism.” The Associated Press added.

Faisal Gill, a lawyer for plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits, rejected the notion that Haftar deserved a head-of-state immunity, saying an off-hand comment from President Trump is not official US policy.

Haftar has made other arguments seeking dismissal of the suits, including claims that he has not been properly served notice of the lawsuit and that the issues delve into a “political question” which courts are unsuited to resolve.

Haftar’s lawyers also said the allegations of indiscriminate killing and torture are not valid and that the US law designed to protect torture victims is “not intended to create liability for collateral civilian casualties resulting from legitimate military operations undertaken in a civil war.”

Family members who say their loved ones were killed or tortured by Khalifa Hifter’s forces have filed two separate lawsuits against him in federal court in Alexandria.

The lawsuits seek millions of dollars in damages that could be recovered from property Haftar, a dual US and Libyan citizen, and his family still own throughout northern Virginia.

A hearing on the motions to dismiss is scheduled for September 15 in Alexandria, according to the Associated Press.

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