Gaddafi used torture squads in bid to preserve rule

KHOMS, Libya,  (Reuters) – Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi  deployed special squads which held suspected opponents in  shipping containers, tortured them for information about  insurgent networks and disposed of their bodies in unmarked  graves in a campaign to smash the revolt against his rule.

Muammar Gaddaf

Evidence gathered by Reuters in the provincial town of  Khoms shows an organised system of repression with methods   including delivering electric shocks to suspects’ genitals,  keeping them for weeks in baking heat with only a few sips of  water a day, and whipping them with an electrical cable while  their hands were bound with plastic ties.

It was all part of a deliberate strategy, said Nabil  Al-Menshaz, an official in the rebel council which took over  Khoms after Gaddafi’s rule there collapsed last month. “They  wanted to frighten the people, so if anyone was thinking of  going over to the rebels, they would change their minds,” he  said.

The brutality of Gaddafi’s forces in the capital, Tripoli,  in the final, chaotic days before rebels overran the city has  been well documented. Dozens of bodies were left lying in the  streets, and witnesses described prisoners being massacred  before their gaolers fled. Thousands more were killed in battles  in cities like Misrata and Zawiyah.

But accounts from Khoms paint a different, and in some ways  even more sinister picture. Months before the rebel victory, and  out of sight of the outside world, Gaddafi was operating a  system of torture – separate from the army and police  – that  was so well-organised the units has their own command structures  and bureaucracy.

On a wall at a construction site just outside Khoms that one  of the units used for detaining suspects, pro-Gaddafi forces had  scrawled in red crayon the name of their unit: “Soqur Al-Fatah”  – or “Hawks of Al-Fatah,” a reference to the 1969 Al-Fatah  Revolution that brought Gaddafi to power. Underneath that, in  the same handwriting, someone had written the words: “Death  Group.”

 PATTERN OF REPRESSION     

Apart from the ancient Roman ruins on its Mediterranean  shore, Khoms, 120 km (75 miles) east of Tripoli, is a typical  provincial town. The campaign of repression carried out there is  likely to have been repeated in other Libyan towns that, until  Gaddafi’s rule collapsed late last month, were under the control  of his forces.

“It would be consistent with what we are hearing about the  repression that was going on, and the general effort to  terrorise people,” said Peter Bouckaert, Emergencies Director  for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The repression began in early summer, soon after secret  insurgent cells in Khoms began harassing pro-Gaddafi security  forces.

“We made small explosive devices which we threw at the cars  of Gaddafi forces,” said Al-Menshaz. “We made little wire spikes  to burst car tyres. We attacked the houses of people who were  with Gaddafi with small, home-made bombs.”

The backlash followed quickly.

Mohammed Ahmed Ali, a 54-year-old teacher of Arabic, said he  was arrested on May 20 for taking part in an anti-Gaddafi  protest. He was brought to a construction site near Khoms.  Vacated by the multinational firm that had been building housing  units there, it had been taken over by the “Hawks of Al-Fatah”  unit.

A sign left over from the construction work greets people  arriving at the site with the words: “Safety First.”

Here, Ahmed Ali was put inside a 40-foot long shipping  container.

Nine other detainees were in his container, and there were  more in another next to it; he thought about 10 people. Every  few days, his guards took him out and brought him to a  one-storey dormitory block that previously housed the  construction workers.

Now back at the site to recount his experience, he showed  the room where pro-Gaddafi soldiers interrogated him, trying to  force him to confess to organizing the protest in which he had  taken part. He lifted up his shirt to reveal deep welts  criss-crossing his back, where he said he was hit with clubs and  electrical flex.

In another room, with a metal scaffolding pole in it, he  showed how, his hands tied around his knees, he was suspended  from the pole and beaten again.

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