Libyan rebels abuse, torture prisoners, rights group says

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 12, 2011 

CAIRO — Libyan revolutionary forces are holding more than 2,500 detainees in makeshift prisons where they're subjected to beatings and languish without charges, the human rights advocacy group Amnesty International said Wednesday.

Despite pledges of speedy prosecutions, the National Transitional Council, Libya's provisional authority since the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi, has yet to try any detainees, Amnesty said.

In at least two cases, Amnesty said, officials in charge of detention centers ignored orders that detainees be released.

The failure of Libya's revolutionaries to respect the rights of some of their detainees has been the frequent subject of news stories in the nearly two months since rebel forces seized control of Tripoli, but Amnesty's report, based on visits to 11 revolutionary jails, is the most systematic examination to date of the former rebels' murky and haphazard detention operation.

Amnesty said the revolutionaries were holding detainees in former prisons, converted schools, football clubs and apartments and noted that there was little, if any, official supervision of the facilities.

The group said its visiting researchers sometimes heard screams and, in one prison, found tools commonly used for torture: a wooden stick, rope and a rubber hose.

"At least two guards in two different detention facilities admitted to Amnesty International that they beat detainees in order to extract 'confessions' more quickly," the report said.

The delay in starting legal proceedings for the detainees appears to be a problem throughout the country. Amnesty said trials of pro-Gadhafi suspects had yet to begin when its team was in Libya last month, even in the country's east, which has been outside Gadhafi's rule since February.

"Investigations into alleged crimes and decisions to detain or release individuals continue to largely fall under the remit of various committees and individuals — some with little or no expertise or knowledge of human rights law and standards," the report said.

Up to half the 2,500 detainees are sub-Saharan Africans whom the revolutionaries suspect of serving as mercenaries for Gadhafi's final fights, the report said. Detainees include nationals of Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Sudan, according to the report.

But how many of those really are mercenaries has yet to be determined. .The regime's use of African mercenaries is documented but also exaggerated, leaving many black workers in Libya at risk for reprisal attacks and arbitrary arrest with no legal recourse.

"All we want is to go home now. It is too insecure for us blacks in this country," said a Nigerian woman who told Amnesty that she and other black workers without valid residency papers were held without explanation and beaten with sticks when they were captured as suspected mercenaries.

Even black Libyans have experienced such race-based retaliation, most notably with the near-total cleansing of the majority-black town of Tawergha, where some residents fought alongside Gadhafi forces in devastating attacks on the neighboring city of Misrata.

Revolutionary brigades from Misrata continue to carry out collective punishment against the residents of Tawergha, which has been informally renamed "New Misrata."

Anti-Gadhafi fighters are razing homes and seizing properties despite the council's admonitions against such practices, which are designed to prevent the displaced residents from returning to Tawergha. A McClatchy reporter who visited the town noticed racial slurs among graffiti on the walls.

At least one Tawergha resident, Saleh Ahmed Abdullah Haddad, 21, had died in rebel custody after being beaten and trampled by his jailers, the Amnesty International report said.

"According to his cellmates, several days after beatings left him paralyzed from the waist down, he started vomiting blood and he died shortly after being taken to the hospital," the report said.

Dr. Osama Jazwi, a doctor attached to a revolutionary brigade in the eastern city of Benghazi, told McClatchy last month that conditions were gradually improving for the detainees, but he acknowledged that abuse was a problem in the transfer process.

Jazwi is the medic for his brigade's "prison," which was a former dormitory for Gadhafi regime authorities. He said he'd complained about poor ventilation, and that the fighters made changes to improve the airflow for the building's 120 prisoners, most of whom allegedly belonged to a loyalist cell that had infiltrated the rebel forces.

"In the beginning, (fighters) brought some people to us and they'd been beaten — not tortured, but beaten — in the transfer process," Jazwi said. "Some of them were beaten quite badly, actually, by the people, the mobs, who detained them."

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