Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Qawalish Water Basin Massacre, via ... New York Times?

July 21, 2011

News of Abuses
With a little illegal help with air-dropped weapons, rebel forces in the western Nafusah mountains have in July been able to expand their holdings from Az Zintan outward to towns like Qawalish, aka Gualish, between Mizdah and Gherian in the desert of southwestern Libya. There the liberators discovered a number of "African mercenaries", and trumpeted to the world as supporting the claim they'd been making since February 18. As NPR found, Gaddafi's army was "hiring sub-Saharan Africans" to replace those lost in the war, but upon inspection "they aren't the fearsome mercenaries described by many rebels." They were all amateurs, culled from Libya's body of undocumented workers, and simply didn't exist as a force before April at the earliest.

It seems that the rebels were less forthcoming with some others among the town's defenders, and we have New York Times columnist C.J. Chivers and his towering photographer Bryan Denton to thank. He wrote on July 10 about abuses during the taking of Qawalish, whose entire population had fled in advance, as if the Mongols were coming. It then became evident why - Chivers witnessed open and massive looting (especially of grains, animal feed, and straw, possibly "punitive," he thought) and burning certain homes (especially of the loyalist Mashaashia tribe). They drained the only gas station of fuel, and then burned the place. Sounds a bit punitive, and highly criminal, to me. He also noted:
What was obvious and beyond dispute by Sunday was only this: Whatever their motivation, the behavior of rebels in Qawalish, who have been supported by the NATO military campaign against Colonel Qaddafi, was at odds with the NATO mandate to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and at odds with rebel pledges to free and protect the Libyan population.

Moreover, the leadership of the Free Libyan Forces, for all the statements otherwise, appeared to lack the ability or inclination to prevent these crimes.
The rebels say they plan to push further through the mountains soon, toward the city of Garyan. Will the villages along the way suffer Qawalish’s fate?
On July 12, Chivers reported back with the supportive findings of Human Rights Watch, adding news of reprisal beating across the area.
Col. Mukhtar Farnana, the region’s senior commander, said that reprisals were not sanctioned and that he did not know any details about them.

But Human Rights Watch said the same commander shared details with its investigators and conceded that rebels had abused people suspected of being collaborators as towns changed hands.

“People who stayed in the towns were working with the army,” the organization quoted him as saying. “Houses that were robbed and broken into were ones that the army had used, including for ammunition storage.” The commander added, “Those people who were beaten were working for Qaddafi’s brigades.”
Maybe some of them were patriots like that - it might just take a team effort, civilian and government, to turn back the no-longer civilian rebel forces and their multi-government outside support, and its air power presence. The local commanders might have hit on something their soft-hearted patrons don't realize - maybe starving out these cities and clearing them of loyalist people - everyone if necessary - is the only way to free those towns the way NATO and the rebels want. Destroying villages to save them is nothing new.

Nothing New
Daniel Larison at the American Conservative, on July 11, called Chivers' dispatch "a balanced, detailed report," but astutely noted:
The depressing thing about Chivers’ report is that this sort of behavior from an ill-disciplined insurgent force advancing into likely hostile territory is completely unsurprising and entirely to be expected.
Indeed, amazing and relevant as the reportage is, the public shock comes across as naive. These atterns especially apply in Libya, 2011, where the spirited, "Allahu Akbar" shouting, weapon-confiscating, absolved-of-everything buggers at first gleefully filmed themselves butchering their captives, as can be seen in their own Rebel Atrocity Videos. Most of their victims were military, but some were foreign workers, and at least one was a truck driver from the Warfalla tribe. Mr. Hamza al-Gheit Fughi, was executed in March; the assassins filmed themselves painstakingly removing his head with a knife, for refusing to denounce Gaddafi.

By and large, these artifacts of cruelty show black-skinned men beaten, hanged, shot, hacked, burnt, degraded, displayed, and always called African mercenaries. If what the experts have found so far holds across the field, none of them were mercenaries, but those things did happen to them.

Aside: NATO's foot soldiers in old barbary are barbarians. 
To the shores of Tripoli they're pointed, ready to wash it in blood if need be. 
Between red blood shed and funeral black, they're doing their part in earnest 
to add their colors to the new flag.
(any poet who wants to re-work it, go ahead) 

These recordings were made all across Libya, but most relevant here (see below) are two examples, both from the Nafusah region we're considering here, of victims' bodies tossed out like garbage. This crime adds insult to injury, since Islamic law mandates a proper burial within 24 hours. An internal security soldier was tortured and killed by rebels, in crucial Az Zintan, on February 19. Shown to the world as an Afro-Merc (Chad), his body was found again and filmed two weeks later in the desert. Another twelve or more alleged mercenaries (Nigeria) - but in civilian clothes - were filmed in late May, long-dead and mummified in the desert south of Zintan.

Predictable Brutality: Bottom of the Basin 
There is an allegation in a video, which I was alerted to in comments below, that at least four civilians were executed in their home in reportedly empty Qawalish, while al-Jazeera was filming (from the outside, and apparently ignored the deaths inside). Otherwise, the reportage so far doesn't seem to reflect the killing of any civilians, loyalist or otherwise, in this region. But it does now reveal killings of those in the line of duty, along the lines of their earlier known rampages, as seen on Youtube.

Since March, we've seen less of those atrocity videos, because the rebels either got more civilized, ran out of victims or steam, or became more discreet about their abuses. Chivers' next finding suggests the last option is closest to the mark. A photo-based piece collaborating with Denton, it chronicles their discovery of "the rotting remains of five men whose bodies had been hidden in a cement basin on the road outside Qawalish." Again, clearly not a proper burial. The text, with one photo, is as follows:
Most of the pictures in that sequence are too gruesome to publish here. The dead men appeared to be wearing the olive green uniforms of pro-Qaddafi forces. 

There were signs suggesting they had been executed and then lifted atop the basin and dropped down this hatch and hidden away from view. One of the men had his pants bunched down around his ankles. Another appeared to have been beheaded, though the orientation of the bodies made this not quite possible to verify without entering the basin
Who were these men? Who killed them? Why? None of this was clear. A sixth rotting body was buried under one of the olive trees to the left.
More recently yet, he added this on the rebel response:
Since those reports, questions surrounding what happened to these men have found traction among other news agencies, and reports from other journalists are forthcoming. And since then the site has been bulldozed.
The corpses, apparently, have been covered with this mound of soil, below, which is a few meters away from where the remains were first found. Rebels now say the dead men were given proper Muslim burials. We’ll leave to you to decide if the grounds in these images looks like a proper, religious or respectful burial.
An Equally Predictable Denial
What happened to these men remains an open question. But official rebel sources have made their position clear, insisting that these are the remains of Qaddafi soldiers killed and hidden by other Qaddafi soldiers. The evidence for that claim is, principally, that the rebels say so. The possibility that some of rebels might have done this to their enemies has been rejected outright.
This as well is nothing new. It was the "protesters" who were well-known for using fire as a weapon against government buildings in February. But whenever charred corpses were found in those days, they were filmed and shown as victims of Gaddafi's mercenaries - soldiers burned alive for refusing to shoot innocent protesters. The world just needed to see the horror for themselves, they explained in apology for so shocking us. When 21 soldiers were were found in al Baida, bound and with their heads blown off, the same story was given, and still accepted, despite video proof the rebels themselves ordered the killings.

Chivers also added the dumpers chose their spot poorly, the basin being visible from the main road to Qawalish. Upon simply walking up to this odd spot, "the blood stains on the concrete, and tire treads on the soft soil" were clear, along with a scrap of green clothing, and even a picture of a handsome black-skinned man in uniform, perhaps one of the victims. These things they photographed but left, and they're all gone now.

He closes with a promising sign that freedom and openness are finally, at such great cost, coming to Libya - now that the rebels are being called the government of the place by people like Barrack Obama. No more massacres, cover-ups and lame excuses, and government minders controlling the press. As Chivers and Denton saw the bulldozed area on the road days later:
we tried to stop to learn more. Our driver refused, announcing that he was under orders from the rebel military leadership not to allow us near the site. It seemed, he said, that doctors were worried that journalists might be exposed to unhealthy conditions near the rotting remains. This did not quite pass the sniff test, so we pressed. Then came a different answer — the rebel military council had simply told him, without notifying us, that he was not to take us there, and that was that. That was Saturday.
Either way, we know enough for now to know what's needed next are these things:
- The rebel authorities need to get those bodies identified,buried properly, and their families noted.
- Wherever they live, CNN should ask these families how they feel about the condolences of the new "government of Libya."
- Find out if anyone else is missing.
- Start pressing the rebels there for straight answers. Do they, or do they not, work for us? How many were killed in Qawalish and the other towns and hastily stashed around? Six only is suspiciously low.

Update August 10:
It seems Mr. Chivers and Denton saw the bodies first in the well, but not after they were removed. Between their removal and burial of whatever sort, it seems the bodies were laid out and observed by, among others, a reporter from the UK Telegraph. They reported on Jul 20, a day before I first got this thing up, a story completely in line with what the New York Times people saw. Five bodies werein the basin, no more (I forgot to check if they even mentioned the sixth guy buried under a tree). The five looked like government soldiers, and had been floating face-down. The body Chivers said "appeared to have been beheaded" was “cleanly decapitated.” The other with "his pants bunched down around his ankles" is confirmed with "the trousers of another had been ripped down to his ankles, a way of humiliating a dead enemy." There is a photograph attached to the article of some men standing around looking, with only one of the victim’s hands visible in the foreground. The site was bulldozed, the Telegraph confirmed, the burial situation unclear, and an investigation was in order.

What might prove more interesting than six killed soldiers is the separate Qala'a massacre, revealed August 7, from about 30 miles away at Qala'a. For this we have video, but no clear date or details, of 30-34 slaughtered civilians. Rebel supporters instantly asserted this was the government's work, but some say the rebels did it. I think a wee bit of study is in order, and perhaps quite a bit, if needed. This puzzle might be easy to solve.


  1. In the video linked below, the rebells are blamed to have opend a house by force and killed four residents in al-Qawalish while al-Jazeera was on the spot. Maybe the victims shown in the Video are some of those found in the basin?


    The video could have been cut together for propagandistic reasons, anyway it might be worth a closer look.

  2. Of topic here, but worth to be mentioned: There have been a lot of accusations against the libyan army concerning the use of land mines in recent days.
    Actally the rebells call that the main reason for their minor advances in the NATO-supported attack on Brega. In fact, the rebells have been mining the Adjdabija-Brega area themselves(!) in april and didn't make any records. BBC and HRW reported:


  3. Thanks for the tips. I wouldn't be surprised if those four were killed by rebels, or if it was spliced. They don't look like the 5/6 military men described by Chivers.

    Land-mines, off topic yes, but interesting. Again, HRW has it covered... what's up? The imperialist tools human rights groups who started out bemoaning the gov. massacre by mercenary of hundreds of "protesters" are starting to report more on the level.

    This makes me think that if four civilians were also executed, it will be reported soon.

  4. Yes, there seems to be a slow change in the attitude towards the rebells. I think there are probably political and strategic reasons now which makes it opportune to seek a little bit more "neutral" position. And to get this, HRW is helpfull now.
    The report about the rebells mining areas between Adjdabia and Brega is alredy from april, it was one of the very few critical reports about the rebells at that time. And it didn't get any attention, of course.

  5. If you scan down the comments below the quoted Telegraph piece of 20 July by Ruth Sherlock, The headless corpse, the mass grave and worrying questions about Libya's rebel army ,there is a comment by libyansrevolt - the only activity by this commenter I can find:

    This article is factually incorrect. I was in Libya near Yefren last week and witnessed this happening. The bodies were discovered on approximately 12th July and it was unknown how long they had been in there.
    The water tank they were in is a reservoir which supplies drinking water for a few households. There were 5 bodies that were unidentifiable as they had been so badly decomposed and the smell from this reservoir was so great that nobody could go in and get the bodies out.
    To give you an idea of how difficult it is logistically, these reservoirs are built in the ground with a manhole type cover on the top. They are about 3-4 metres deep and maybe 4x4metres.
    So a ladder was put down and several people tried to get them out but the bodies were so decomposed that they fell apart and it was difficult for anyone to get near due to the smell. Somebody even brought along a gas mask with oxygen supply but that didnt make a difference.
    The water level was thought to be quite low as they were near the bottom, they thought there was only 30-40cm of water.
    In the end, because they couldnt get them out, it was decided by senior members of the council that they would be buried inside this tank. A big digger was brought and the aim was to fill the tank with earth. When the first large amount of earth was dropped in by the digger the earth all sunk to the bottom and displaced the bodies so the water level rose. They realised that they could now get them out so 4 or 5 more loads were put in until the bodies came right out of the manhole.

    They tried to identify them but all that could be seen were that they were all libyan and wearing some kind of military uniform (some of the rebels also wear a similar type so they didnt know) - no identification paper. Many of them had gunshot injuries or worse.

    So basically the rebels did not try to cover anything up nor was it their intention, they just simply didnt have the facilties to do anything. They even discussed possibility of getting tissue samples for DNA analysis later but where would they get test tubes from or store such things. In the end they took many pictures of them all in the hope that they may be identified later and then buried them at a nearby spot.

  6. I call bullshit on that guy. All he can cite from being there is how the thing's built, which anyone can see from Bryan Denton's photos, and that the bodies fell apart because they were so old, had to have been dead long before rebels got there. Maybe that's why a head already fell off.

    Wrong. The only thing we can see is the hand in the photo shown by the Telegraph. The hand shows signs of having been in the muddy water, not above (makes a big difference) and should show the standard decay, but looks completely intact, no more than a few days old, probably. If that body still had its head, it'd be identifiable. If not, some sword-wielding Islamist cut it off.

  7. Wonder why he/she spent so long on that disinformation comment?

    Incidentally, there is a piece from 8 July on the Scout Camp at Qawalish which pinpoints the scout hut with co-ordinates and alleges that mines were laid there: Government Lays More Mines in Western Mountains Strange place for a minefield, and who carried out the de-mining, if indeed it had been mined. The tree farm seems to be at the start of this video uploaded by coolins335 (TV prog?) from Canada on 7 July. (what's happening at 0.30?)


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