[Debate] Lawless Libya: "widespread torture and abuse" (Video + Transcript)
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Mon Apr 16 17:40:07 BST 2012
Vijay Prashad says that "it was this [NATO] intervention that has made
the creation of a new Libya very problematic," but "NATO made them do
bad things" doesn't explain the pattern of conduct by the so-called
"revolutionaries" (since it's basically the same before and after the
beginning of the bombing). Is "[t]he first obligation of the Left . .
. to defend a popular uprising against any state that seeks to use
overwhelming force against it" even if those rising up against the
state (whose use of force was exaggerated by the warmongering media as
Prashad himself notes) are practicing "widespread torture and abuse,"
especially the torture and abuse of the most disadvantaged class of
people such as racially-discriminated against migrant workers?
It's been six months since Muammar Gaddafi met his very savage death
there. Dateline goes back tonight to see what has been happening since
the fall of the dictator. With the active military support of NATO and
the US for the uprising, a democracy was supposedly going to flower in
the desert at the height of the Arab Spring. Now it seems that more
thorns have grown than petals. Yaara Bou Melhem has just returned from
Libya where she reveals a disturbing pattern of abuse and torture of
prisoners, supposedly Gaddafi’s former supporters, but for many it
seems their only crime in the new Libya was to be born black.
REPORTER: Yaara Bou Melhem
The new Libya can be an unforgiving place, nowhere more so than in the
city of Misrata. I'm being shown around a rebel controlled jail.
About 900 prisoners are detained here. These men were rounded up by
rebels during the bloody civil war and its aftermath.
AHMAD SMEDA, PRISONER: I need the justice. Now, no justice.
Ahmad Smeda claims to have been the bodyguard of Seif Gaddafi, the son
of Libya's late dictator. Like many others here he is being held
indefinitely and without charge.
REPORTER: (Translation): No idea how long you’ll be here for?
AHMAD SMEDA (Translation): A day, a year, ten years, 20 years. And no
one tells you what you are accused of.
But Ahmad may be one of the lucky ones. The cruelty metered out to
Muammar Gaddafi set the tone for what was to come. In the past six
months there has been a backlash against those seen to have supported
his regime. Human rights groups have reported widespread torture and
REPORTER: Do you know of torture going on inside the prisons?
AHMAD SMEDA: Sometimes
REPORTER: In this one?
AHMAD SMEDA: Yes.
The authorities insist no-one is maltreated in this prison but
elsewhere the evidence is undeniable. Video after video has emerged
of the torture of perceived Gaddafi loyalists, most of them far too
gruesome to broadcast. In some cases the brutal treatment appears to
be based solely on the colour of the victim's skin.
We are on our way to the internal displacement camp in Tripoli and we
are going to speak to one of the wives of one of the men that appear
in this video that's been circulating on social media sites. It is
quite shocking - it shows 14 prisoners in a cage being made to eat the
Gaddafi loyalist flag.
GUARD (Translation): Eat the flag, you dog! Eat it! You Tawarghi
dog! You filth!
It's a humiliating display of revenge by Misratan rebels. The
prisoners are black Libyans from the town of Tawargha, a former
Gaddafi stronghold. Rebel Commanders have consistently claimed that
many of Gaddafi's soldiers were mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa.
As a result black Libyans are being persecuted irrespective of whether
they supported his regime or not.
Many have found shelter in the Janzour refugee camp set up on the
grounds of a former naval base. One of the camp leaders is taking me
to see Rabdee Karimah, whose husband Rabih, appears in the video.
RABDEE KARIMAH (Translation): That’s him, he is the one sitting alone
in short sleeves.
His hands bound, he is singled out for abuse by his captors.
GUARD (Translation): You, Come here, come here, you dog. Eat the
flag, eat the flag you dog!
RABDEE KARIMAH (Translation): The footage is really terrifying, he is
not part of the battalions and he has no weapons. He is innocent.
Gaddafi may belong gone but the rebels are still hunting down
suspects. In February they attacked the Janzour camp, killing 7 and
wounding dozens more.
SISTER (Translation): It entered here and exited from here.
These sisters from Tawargha, lost their brother and uncle and both
were badly injured.
SECOND SISTER (Translation): When they fired in the air and we didn’t
stop, they started shooting at us deliberately. Before my brother
died he was talking to a rebel, telling him to throw his gun away –
then one of the rebels shot him.
SISTER (Translation): One of the rebels came to me. He came holding
his pistol and he pointed it at my leg – he said “You want Muammar,
you helped him, you slaves, if Muammar dies, you are going to die”.
The brutal treatment of Libya's black minority is rooted here. The
siege of Misrata was the bloodiest of the nine-month long uprising.
Gaddafi's troops launched a vicious assault from a loyalist town of
Tawargha. Rebels say some of the Tawargians joined the fight. But the
bulk of the town's mainly black population was caught in the middle.
MOHAMMED SWEHLI, SWEHLI BRIGADE (Translation): Of course, the
experience of Misrata was painful, painful indeed. Some people from
Tawargha made very big mistakes, and until now they haven’t been
Mohammed Swehli is a Commander of the one of the major Misratan Rebel
Brigades. His men are hardened fighters and they are keen to show it.
REPORTER: Is that a hand grenade?
REBEL FIGHTER (Translation): Okay, have a look here. There, I’ll give
it to you. Take it.
There, take it.
The Commander denies the incidents of torture are widespread.
MOHAMMED SWEHLI (Translation): We are confident that the rebels are
honourable rebels. They’re not bandits, they’re not militia groups.
They are true rebels. It could be that someone in a particular
circumstance, or who may not be educated, he might torture someone, he
might commit that. But these are individual occurrences.
I want to see how the town of Tawargha has fared since the uprising.
My journey takes me from Misrata in north-west Libya, 40 kilometres to
the south. What I find is shocking. Tawargha was razed after Gaddafi
was deposed and its residents forced to flee. This is what is left of
the town of Tawargha - it's been completely destroyed and it’s more
than 40,000 inhabitants are unsure if they can ever return. In the
ruins that remain looting still takes place. It's dangerous to film
openly here. The rebels would rather the world didn't see the evidence
of their retribution. Tawarghans are now scattered across the country
in internal displacement camps.
SALEM AL TAWARGE, BENGHAZI CAMP: The government is so weak, just to
stop and watch what happened and watching in silence while people die.
The head of this camp in Benghazi says his community is being
collectively punished for crimes committed in Misrata during the war.
SALEM AL TAWARGE: So why are you doing that with all the city? You
are talking about 40,000 or 41,000 people here, just punish all of
At the edge of the camp I meet two young men who endure horrific
treatment in a Misratan prison.
PRISONERS (Translation): This is my back. It was burnt with the
vodka. They poured vodka and lit it.
And this is when they beat me with electric cables.
They called me slave.
This is torture from the plastic cuffs. Plastic cuffs.
REPORTER (Translation): What was your accusation?
PRISONER (Translation): Just Tawarghan.
REPORTER (Translation): And you?
PRISONER (Translation): The same story.
EMMANUEL GIGNAC, UNHCR: The Tawarghans are feeling discriminated.
They feel they are not being properly protected.
Emanuel Gignac runs the UN's high commission for refugees in Libya.
EMMANUEL GIGNAC: We get regular reports of, you know, severe
maltreatment of people, even killings, but it looks like, yes, in many
cases it is revenge. It is carried out by individuals that are not
The abuse of detainees forced Medicins Sans Frontier two withdraw its
operations from Misrata in January. The group said that by treating
prisoners in between interrogations, it was effectively keeping them
alive for the next torture session.
OSAMA AL JUWALI, MINISTER OF DEFENCE (Translation): What happened in
Misrata was very painful. As a result the young men’s reaction may be
irrational and that can lead to incidents of torture
Libya's Defence Minister Osama al Juwali says in time the perpetrators
will face justice, but he says torture is not a problem confined to
OSAMA AL JUWALI (Translation): What happened in Libya is incomparable
to what happened in Abu Ghraib for example or in Bagram or in other
secret prisons that belong to advanced countries, in democratic
countries where law prevails.
For the families of those who have been arbitrarily arrested, it's an
anxious wait. Five of Nuri Faraj Jaballah's relatives are being held
by the rebels.
REPORTER: Do you fear for them? Are you afraid for them?
NURI FARAJ JABALLAH: Yes, I am very worried for them what happens to
them there in the prison in Misrata.
REPORTER: What have they been accused of.
NURI FARAJ JABALLAH: Because they are from Tawargha. I hope that
they get set free and soon.
I head to Misrata to try to track down Nuri's family. We hand their
names to a prison official who helps us find three of them.
NURI’S COUSIN (Translation): They saw us as a group in the families
camp, they selected a few and took us away. They brought us here
because we are Tawarghi.
They say they are being well treated, but no-one has told them what
they are accused of. They haven't even been questioned.
NURI’S COUSIN (Translation): They say, if you are innocent you go,
they say in three days if you are clean you go. It has been 7 months
and nobody has interrogated us and we don’t know why. There is a big
group they haven’t interrogated. We just want to know what is our
They are far from alone. Without a functioning legal system in Libya,
thousands of prisoners from a civil war are caught up in a legal
REPORTER: Do you want the central government to step in and charge
you with something or release you from jail?
NURI’S COUSIN (Translation): We wish. We’re here unjustly and the
longer it takes, the more damaging to you because you are innocent.
In the power vacuum that exists here the rebel factions still control
many of the jails. They are flush with weapons and refusing to disarm.
Persuading them to join the armed forces and police has already proved
problematic. Libya's interim rulers find themselves outgunned by those
they seek to control.
REPORTER: Do you have confidence in the central government? Did you
understand the question?
MOHAMMED SWEHLI: Yes.
OSAMA AL JUWALI (Translation): The rebuilding of trust in the
state’s institutions and in the army requires effort and requires
time. And this is amongst the things that makes the rebels hold on to
Militia groups are now a law unto themselves. In Benghazi armed
Islamists desecrated Commonwealth war graves including 50 Australian
headstones and fierce tribal clashes in the Saharan south has shown
just how volatile this country remains - and now there is another
challenge. It was here in Benghazi that the revolution was born and
the tribes of the east are asking for their share of control -
unilaterally declaring a federal state. Abu Bakr Bayira, is one of the
organisers of the conference.
ABU BAKR BAYIRA, FEDERALISM PROPONENT: We recommend to the
transitional government and we’ll see if they come and discuss this
and they negotiate with us we might reach an agreement. –If they say
no then we will try to close our borders and defend our resolutions.
We will create a separate state in this region.
The militias of the east stand at the ready to fight, most of the
country's oil wealth and water comes from here. Tripoli can't afford
to have it break away and Libya can't afford another war.
CROWD (Translation): No, no, no to federalisation! Tripoli is the capital….
The move has polarised the country, sparking angry protests. The
interim government has outright rejected it.
ABU BAKR BAYIRA: Libyan s paid a very high price during these few
months fighting Gaddafi troops. We hope we don't have to repeat this
bitter experience again between Libyans.
It's only been six months since Gaddafi's regime was toppled - forging
a new Libya from the bloodied Ashes of the last was never going to be
OSAMA AL JUWALI (Translation): Unfortunately, in the war that took
place, Gaddafi and the battalions that were with him used
unconventional means which caused and instilled hatred and resentment
in the people’s souls. We don’t expect these things to go away
quickly. Human souls need time for the wounds to heal.
EMMANUEL GIGNAC: It's an issue of you know rights and justice. If
this is not happening in Libya, what future you can give to a
democracy, equality and justice?
But for some Libyans there is much to overcome before they can start
SISTER (Translation): We want our houses, we want our land even if
they are burnt, we want our land.
REPORTER (Translation): Would you go to another place?
SISTER (Translation): Never! My city is my city. We're asking the
world to find a solution for us. We want to go back to our city. We're
sick of being homeless. The searching, arresting our brothers and our
families. I mean seriously, I'm a Libyan how can they treat us like
strangers, as refugees? I'm a refugee in my own country.
MARK DAVIS: Looks like they got rid of the mad and just stuck with
the bad. You wouldn't want to be black in the new Libya. Elections are
scheduled for June, amid fears of a split between the country's east
YAARA BOU MELHEM
OSAMA AL FITORI
Original Music composed by VICKI HANSEN
10th April 2012
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