The danger of revenge attacks in Libya

There are no shortage of horrible ways to die, but suffocating to death in a scorching hot steel container must be among the worst.

This is what happened to 18 men at a construction site in al-Khums (75 miles east of Tripoli) in June. A 19th man also later died of kidney failure.

These 19 and another ten – evidently a mix of rebel fighters and ordinary people who may have been involved in anti-government protests – were deliberately trapped in two metal shipping-type containers by pro-Gaddafi forces and apparently left to die. Many of them had also been tortured beforehand, including with electric shocks.

The temperature in the containers was searingly hot, in excess of 40 degrees. They had no water and the only ventilation was from bullet holes in the containers. They were banging on the sides, praying and drinking their own urine. Several died foaming at the mouth.

It's almost too horrific for words (more info here, and a Sky News report here).

This terrible story of brutalities committed by pro-Gaddafi forces is just one of many to emerge in the last week or so. I think there'll be more.

Meanwhile there are now signs of rebel forces indulging in acts of revenge. The Times' Anthony Loyd has a vivid account (£) of the "febrile atmosphere" in the town of Zlitan, in particular at the main hospital. There's a nurse accused of killing wounded rebels (publicly beaten and now at risk of a revenge killing), a wounded pro-Gaddafi fighter who says he was captured and then shot in the leg by his rebel captors.  Other pro-Gaddafi patients have had locals bursting in and berating them, and they’re now terrified of being lynched.

And there are signs that anti-Gaddafi people have been going after black Libyans and migrants from Sub-Saharan African countries in the belief that they fought on Gaddafi's side. See this account from the Independent’s Kim Sengupta, while Amnesty has also heard of cases where black Libyans in hospital in Tripoli have receiving ominous warnings that “their turn was coming”. A thirst for revenge and racism is a toxic mix and the NTC has even issued text messages telling its forces not to mistreat detainees or carry out revenge killings.

When you hear senior politicians like David Cameron or William Hague talk about Libya at the moment it sounds like their straining every sinew to be positive about what's happened, heaping praise on the NTC and its chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil.

Let's hope this post-Gaddafi euphoria doesn't extend to turning a blind eye to rebel abuses now or in the future.

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