Saturday, July 7, 2012

Back to bloody anarchy: Andrew Malone revisits Libya and finds a country riven by torture, mass murder and savage vengeance

On a baking hot day this week, the people of Libya’s most prosperous city flocked to the beach and splashed in the cooling waters of the Mediterranean. Such happy scenes were unthinkable in Misrata a year ago, when the world watched in horror as Muammar Gaddafi’s forces encircled and besieged this port city, unleashing what he called the ‘forces of Hell’.

Firing thousands of tank shells, mortars and missiles into residential areas, the Libyan dictator was determined to smash the uprising in Misrata, only three hours from his underground stronghold in Tripoli, the capital.

To add to the terror, he sent thousands of troops into battle, many of them African mercenaries who had been allowed into Libya in return for their undying loyalty to the despot. Gaddafi told them: ‘Misrata is yours.’ There was carnage. While local men were fighting back against Gaddafi’s troops, their homes were looted and their wives and children kidnapped. Rape was widespread, death everywhere.

Today, a year on from the horrors endured by ordinary Libyans, Misrata’s buildings remain riddled with holes from bullets and tank shells. But shops and cafes are open. There are funfairs for children. And there are those families enjoying the beach.

Yet there is one stretch of sand where no soul ever ventures. This is an area of scrub and dunes just back from the sandy coves.

Called Funduq Al-Jannah - Arabic for Heaven Hotel - it is an execution ground where up to 1,000 of Gaddafi’s fighters were taken by the victorious rebel army, then slaughtered in cold-blooded vengeance.

Everyone in Misrata knows of the events that unfolded at this desolate spot, but no outsiders had been here until I visited this week and heard the full harrowing details of what happened at Heaven Hotel - a bitterly ironic name, as I shall explain.

The killings highlight the bitter divisions and violence in Libya as its people vote today in their first election for a 200-member national assembly that will name a prime minister, enact legislation and appoint a committee to draft a constitution.

For the truth is that, since Gaddafi fell, Libya has been run by a National Transitional Council which has overseen a descent into anarchy.

A report from Amnesty International this week warns the country is in the ‘stranglehold’ of hundreds of militias acting above the law. The organisation says widespread human rights violations - arbitrary arrests, detention, torture (sometimes to death), unlawful killings and forcible displacement of families - are rife in the country.

The levels of repression are reaching those that sparked the revolution against Gaddafi in the first place, and, according to the charity, methods of torture include ‘suspension in contorted positions and prolonged beatings with various objects, including metal bars and chains, electric cables, wooden sticks, plastic hoses, water pipes and rifle-butts’.

‘Some detainees were subject to electric shocks,’ it adds. Read More