In Libya, Massacre Site Is Cleaned Up, Not Investigated

Kareem Fahim (Surt) - In the parched garden of the Mahari Hotel, volunteers on Monday scrubbed signs of a recent massacre. They collected dozens of bodies, apparently of people executed on the hotel grounds several days ago, but left other evidence behind, like the plastic ties that were used to bind the hands of victims and shell casings, scattered on the dead grass in patches of blood.
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In Libya, Massacre Site Is Cleaned Up, Not Investigated

The volunteers said the victims included at least two former Qaddafi government officials, local loyalist fighters and maybe civilians. The killers, they believed, were former rebel fighters, belonging to anti-Qaddafi units that had used the hotel as a base in recent weeks. It appeared to be one of the worst massacres of the eight-month conflict, but days after it occurred, no one from Libya’s new government had come to investigate.

The interim leaders, who declared the country liberated on Sunday, may simply have their hands full with the responsibilities that come with running a state. But throughout the Libyan conflict, they have also shown themselves to be unwilling or incapable of looking into accusations of atrocities by their fighters, despite repeated pledges not to tolerate abuse.

The lack of control came into sharp focus last week, when former rebel fighters arrested Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. In videos of the capture on Thursday morning, victorious fighters were shown manhandling Colonel Qaddafi, who appeared to be bleeding and distressed but conscious. This was moments after he was pulled from a large drainage pipe where he had hidden after a NATO air assault destroyed part of his convoy. Subsequent video shows his bruised corpse, with at least one bullet wound to the head.

On Monday, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the chairman of the Transitional National Council, as the interim governing body is known, announced the formation of a commission of inquiry into the death of Colonel Qaddafi.

In his announcement, Mr. Abdel-Jalil acknowledged that pressure from foreign powers and rights groups — including some that supported the rebellion — had prompted the decision to investigate how Colonel Qaddafi wound up dead with a bullet to the head. Mr. Abdel-Jalil referred to “demands of the international community” for an investigation.

But it was unclear from his comments how much authority the committee would have to pursue an investigation and whether anyone might be held accountable. He also suggested that anti-Qaddafi fighters may not have been the ones who killed him, hinting that the fatal bullets might even have come from Colonel Qaddafi’s own supporters. That suggestion is sharply at odds with the video evidence that has surfaced of Colonel Qaddafi’s death.

As in several previous instances during the uprising when anti-Qaddafi fighters were suspected of abuses or of extralegal killings, the leaders of the rebellion face a delicate balance as they try to bolster their own legitimacy by courting or coddling powerful militia leaders. The interim leaders have also failed to establish a chain of command among the armed militias, despite repeated attempts to form a national army.

Some of the anti-Qaddafi fighters have been accused of arbitrary arrests and torture, and others have been implicated in killings. In August, Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes, the rebel’s top military commander, was killed in Benghazi along with two of his aides, Mr. Abdel-Jalil also said then that there would an investigation, asserting that no one, not even the highest officials, would be immune.

At the time, Mr. Abdel-Jalil suggested that Colonel Qaddafi’s loyalists might have been responsible, even as his colleagues conceded that rebel fighters were the chief suspects in the killings. No one has been prosecuted for the killing.

On Monday, in offering his new theory for how Colonel Qaddafi may have died at the hands of his own disciples, Mr. Abdel-Jalil suggested that they may have feared he would implicate them in atrocities if he had survived and been put on trial.

“Let us question who has the interest in the fact that Qaddafi will not be tried,” he said. “Libyans want to try him for what he did to them, with executions, imprisonment and corruption. Free Libyans wanted to keep Qaddafi in prison and humiliate him as long as possible. Those who wanted him killed were those who were loyal to him or had played a role under him. His death was in their benefit.”

This theory appeared to be an attempt to deflect sharp international questions about the government’s handling of Colonel Qaddafi’s final moments. The body, which has been on public display since Thursday in the western city of Misurata, was scheduled to be buried on Tuesday in a secret location in the desert, according to a Transitional National Council official, Reuters reported. Saying that the “corpse cannot last longer,” the official said Muslim clerics would attend the ceremony.

The colonel’s death has ended the fighting for now, but abuses by former rebel fighters continue: they were seen looting generators, cars and an exercise bike in Surt on Monday.

The Mahari Hotel, which overlooks the sea, was filled with suspicious signs about the killers, but nothing conclusive. The names of anti-Qaddafi brigades were scrawled on a whiteboard in the lobby, including brigades called Tiger, Lion, Panther and the Sand. Several of the brigades listed were from Misurata.

At a graveyard near the hotel, a local doctor looked after the massacre victims, photographing the bodies and pulling a tooth from each victim, collecting evidence for the men’s families and for a criminal trial, should one take place. He ordered an assistant to splash water and spray insect repellent on the decomposing corpses that were waiting for burial.

Several of the victims wore fatigues. The hands of one man, who looked to be in his 20s, were bound behind his back. Several victims wore bandages, leading the volunteers to speculate that they had been patients at the city’s main hospital who were detained when the former rebels captured it.

Another doctor, watching, shook his head. “What kind of democracy costs all this blood?” he said.

The doctor, who requested anonymity because he feared retribution by former rebel fighters, said that if the killings were not investigated, the inaction would fuel dangerous resentments. “There will be no peace in Libya for years,” he said.

Kareem Fahim - The New York Times

Article 21 May 2021 10:14

I read your article on Foreign Policy with keen eyes and interest. While whining from public officials does not deserve response from any sensible citizen of the Republic of Somalia, I felt compelled to counter false narrative with more objective analysis.