Libya: new leaders, old torture

Latest reports are that resistance in the Gaddafi loyalist stronghold of Sirte is "crumbling” after a sustained attack from the National Transitional Council forces (I keep seeing photos of their fighters casually decked out in baseballcaps, with heavily-protected Western journalists right next tothem. A bizarre juxtaposition …).

Sowhat next? Well, fighting in Sirte aside, I get the impression that mediaattention is already fading fast with Libya. This is a pity and a worry. Myunderstanding of history is that after a revolution you often get horriblereprisal attacks and score-settling.

InLibya this is already happening. The uncomfortable truth is that NTC forces -or at least armed groups operating as anti-Gaddafi fighters – have beenkilling, abducting, and torturing people they identify as Gaddafi’s men.

Somedia and political interest in Libya seems to be ebbing away just as thingsare getting more complicated. “Gaddafi v rebels” was always a clear andcompelling narrative. If the rebels themselves are carrying out killings andcommitting abuses, this “complicates” a picture that’s solidified during monthsof media coverage and political commentary.

I’vealready blogged about the danger of revenge attacks in post-Gaddafi Libya, andnow there’s new evidence of abuses being meted about by the NTC forces andtheir supporters in makeshift prisons. For example, one Libyan man in his 30shas told Amnesty of what happened when he was grabbed in a Tripoli street bysome rebel soldiers who accused him of killing an anti-Gaddafi protestor. Heprotested that he’d done no such thing:

“Thethuwwar did not believe me, and they beat me every day. They used woodensticks, electric wires and rifle butts. They took me to each classroom whereothers were detained and ordered other detainees to beat me. They also tied myhands and feet to a bed and kept beating me for hours with a whip and a stick…While handcuffed and blindfolded, they placed a burning candle on my head untilit burnt my hair. This was done to stop me sleeping… They did not spare amoment to punish me for a murder that did not commit. I want justice."

Likemany others - Amnesty researchers spoke to 300 such prisoners – the man was heldin an improvised place of detention, on this occasion at Shat al-GhanshirSchool in the capital. Others have been held at the Ali Ureith school (pictured), also in Tripoli, and some have been imprisoned at the al-Madina al-Kadimafootball ground, again situated in Tripoli. The torturers at Shat al-Ghanshir displayed some of theperverted ingenuity you sometimes get with torturers – forcing other detaineesto beat him, putting the burning candle on his head (pain plus sleepdeprivation).

Overallthere are now an estimated 2,500 people being held by the NTC. It seems the detentions have ranged from the methodical (in Tripoli’s Janzur suburbcouncil officials told Amnesty that “arrests” were being made on the basis oflocal lists) to the totally random. But both approaches are alarming and insome cases the results have been absolutely horrifying.

TheNTC are saying they’re aware of the torture claims and are worried aboutmilitias doing this in their name. Hmm. It’s a fine line between “awareness”and connivance in the abuse. The reputation of the NTC is already beingtarnished and it surely needs to act quickly to stop further deterioration.

Ifand when Sirte falls (and Bani Walid after it) and Gaddafi remains stubbornlyelusive, international media and political interest in Libya is likely to taperoff still further. The worry then is: who will be there to record what’shappening to the losers in Libya’s 17 February revolution?

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