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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Aruba School Captives

Mercenary Myths I 
October 24/25, 2011
last edits Nov. 12

The African Threat That... Wasn't?
The myth of well-paid units of African mercenaries flown in by the thousands to brutally crush the protests was aired by day three of the armed insurgency. They were paid thousands of dollars, it was reported, to commit barbarity native Libyan's just couldn't commit against their own, and also helped "prove" the military had primarily defected this early in protest. As such, the claim was doubly crucial to setting the stage for intervention - it was justified by the paid repression, and would be easy considering the lack of domestic support Gaddafi was thought to enjoy.

Among the early stories supporting this meme, one of great importance was the large force flown in to crush the uprising in al Baida. As told, more than 300 fighters from Chad were intercepted at the airport by angry mobs who overwhelmed them, killed many, and detained most of them. These were held in the Aruba school in Shahet, a small town between the airport and al Baida, and were after a few days shown to the world as proof of what the people of Libya were up against.

One article I was presented with, by Nick Meo for the UK Telegraph, set this investigation off brilliantly. The main captive spoken to and shown there is "Mohammed" (family name not given), "a boy of about 16 who said he had arrived looking for work in the southern Libyan town [of Sabha] only two weeks ago from Chad, where he had earned a living as a shepherd."[1] He was presumably just one among many of these mercenaries from Chad (the rest presumably from Niger, Mali, Sudan...), and picked for the headlining spot due to his youth. If he's under 18, Gaddafi was also using child soldiers among these African mercenaries.

In Sabha he was recruited to support the government in what was called "a demonstration" in the capitol. As for where young Mohammed was flown to, I checked the article and as I suspected:
Instead of Tripoli, he was flown to an airport near the scruffy seaside town of Al-Bayda and had a gun thrust into his hands on the plane. [1]
That would almost certainly put him on the first, last, and only batch of alleged Afro-mercs flown into L'Abraq airport, about eight miles east of al Baida. They came in from Sabha, they were mostly black, and were greeted by an unwelcoming party quickly upon arrival. I have a post on this battle, from the colorful point of view of a "demonstrator" named Said. It's based on an article from Der Spiegel English, February 26, that said in part:
Farj and Said were fighting on the front lines against the Gadhafi regime when they were gunned down. On Friday one week ago [Feb.18], the two were taking part in a protest in Bayda with 23 other friends when they heard a disturbing rumor making the rounds. A giant Ilyushin transport plane had landed at the airport carrying 400 African mercenaries. The demonstrators knew immediately what the mercenaries' mission was. As they had in other cities, the well-paid unit was to brutally crush the protests, if necessary by firing indiscriminately into the masses. Said and Farj rushed to the airport.
[When they] arrived at the airport with hundreds of other insurgents, armed only with wooden clubs and steel rods, the mercenaries opened fire with their machine guns.
Yet somehow these same overwhelmed underdogs took the air base completely by the 20th at the latest, while securing the town of al Baida itself a day or two earlier. The mercenaries remaining were taken captive. Fifteen of them were publicly lynched in al Baida between Feb 18 and 19, confirmed by eventual NTC strongman Mustafa Abdel-Jalil. There were others however, totaling at least fifty. The Guardian reportedon February 18, the third full day of protests:
Amer Saad, a political activist from Dernah, told al-Jazeera: "The protesters in al-Bayda have been able to seize control of the military airbase in the city and have executed 50 African mercenaries and two Libyan conspirators." [3]
Another 22 men apparently captured at the airport, a combination of Arabs and Blacks in a mix of military, internal security, and civilian clothes, were executed by rebel forces sometime prior to February 23. The possibility that this mass killing, and related capture operations, were carried out by Afghan-trained al Qaeda operative Ibrahim al-Hassadi is explained at the previous link.

A majority of the mercenary unit remained alive in custody, however, were shown to the media, and even checked out by a relevant expert from Human Rights Watch, Peter Bouckaert. He found that what they had "were, in fact, 156 soldiers from the south of Libya," Radio Nehterlands Worldwide reported, "and not from another African country. After talking to them he found out that they were all black Libyans of African descent."[4]

Bouckaert said, on March 2, that those remaining were released. It was done quietly. The first part of this story is remembered far more clearly than the second part. And further, there's little to contradict the prisoners who uniformly swore they had only ever agreed to join counter-protests, never to kill anyone.

How did this disconnect come about? The truth seems to be somewhere between the Telegraph and HRW versions, and will emerge as we consider these and other sources to suss out the situation.

The Captives, in General: Two Classes
The Telegraph's Meo, on February 27, described 50 prisoners in one room, and up to 100 elsewhere in the prison. [1] They were described as "Libyan loyalists of the dictator and black African recruits," with no numbers provided for each category. A picture caption called them simply "foreign fighters captured by local Libyans." [1]

New York Times reported on them on February 23, and specified 76 crowded into the one classroom and specified "teenagers from Chad were among about 200 people detained in a school, people the government apparently sent to put down the uprising." [5]

Chadians in captivity.  David Dengers photo,
Wall Street Journal (source link
The Wall Street Journal ran a photo series on the 24th, featuring the Aruba school prisoners. The caption beneath one photo read "pisoners, who say they are Libyans from Sabah, Tripoli, and Fazan were captured in fighting against anti-Gadhafi forces." Another photo (at right) shows four people - three young men and a bearded, gray, older man, and said "captured pro-Gadhafi fighters told the photographer they were from Chad, seeming to confirm previous reports that Col. Gadhafi has employed foreign fighters to swell the ranks of his army and put down the uprising against his rule. [6]

It should also be noted that all those shown in these other photos aren't so much purely black African looking as a melange of that and of mixed race, some seeming to be dark Arabs.

Time's reporter Abigail Hauslohner went to Shahet and  the re-purposed Aruba school. For her nuanced February 23 report, she reported on the number of prisoners: "roughly 200." "Given their claim that there were once 325 of them," she said, "the remaining men consider themselves lucky."[7]

"There are snipers among them, but they won't talk," a guard told Hauslohner, pointing into the room-full of 76 men. On their identity, she wrote "there may not be a single or clear answer to who exactly the Aruba School prisoners are," but offered the following:
[M]any of the prisoners at the Aruba School are dual nationals — Libyans with roots in Chad or Niger. And some are entirely foreign. Three men, two 19-year-olds and an 18-year-old, crossed the porous Saharan border from Chad into Libya's south just a few weeks ago, looking for work. They wound up on the Aruba School floor, they say, after being told by a taxi driver in Sabha that they could get a free plane ride to Tripoli.[7]
Three truly foreign teenagers ... She doesn't specify this is the full number of foreigners, and without even an exact count of the "roughly 200" captives, she couldn't do so. In fact, the number seems to be a bit higher than that, at least about seven. This is explained below.

To clarify the narrative below, it seems the eventual prisoners flew in on two separate aircraft. The first one's passengers were taken to a secure facility nearby before being captured there, and the second one was intercepted at the airport. An important distinction I can't clarify is the full original number: did the cited 325 refer only to the original Ilyushin rumored to carry 400? Is the total 325 or that plus however many were on the second flight?

And finally, note the downward trend in their numbers over time. The initial 325 (or perhaps something like twice that) became an unclear number captured alive. This then became "roughly 200" on the 23rd, about 150 on the 27th, and 156 whenever Bouckaert saw them. The missing 50 or so could be from transfers, early release, execution, or "other." And at least about 125 were shaved off the top, one way or another, before outside eyes got anywhere near them.

Captive: Mohammed
The youngest captive cited by Hauslohner was 18, and Chadian. The NYT had seen an unstated number of "teenagers from Chad." The Telegraph showed three submissive, shamefaced young men [direct link], and spoke with one, Mohammed as introduced above, the hooded one in the center. The one on the left could be one of those shown to the Journal, in different clothes, but the guy to his right is someone new, as is Mohammed. That makes ate least six or maybe seven men we've seen in photos singled out as Chadians, and predominantly very young or, in the one case, pretty old.

Mohammed's age is given as "about 16." The Telegraph reported this summary of his account:
"A man at the bus station in Sabha offered me a job and said I would get a free flight to Tripoli"
In halting Arabic, Mohammed, the young Chadian, tried to explain how he had ended up on the wrong side in somebody else's revolution. [...] "I wanted a better life, not war and destruction," he said. [...] "I didn't really know what was going on. They told me to do these things and I was really scared when the shooting started."

From his mumbled, incoherent account it was clear that he didn't really understand himself how it had happened.
Note that these men apparently weren't hired for money, but willing to do this just for a free flight to Tripoli, presumably one-way. As a place with better job opportunities, this is an inducement, and would raise the question of how sincere their protesting really would be. But it's also not quite the same as directly paying for fake protesters, or anything like securing mercenaries of any caliber, who'd be negotiating terms and getting down-payments, etc.

Captive: Ali Osman/Osman Ali
Time's reporter, Hauslohner, spoke mostly with one of the Libyan captives, "Ali Osman, head of a state-affiliated youth organization." He was perhaps one of the recruiters, being the one who knew how many people there were to start with.
[Ali] says they fell victim to invitations to attend a pro-Gaddafi rally in Tripoli, only to wind up on an army base in al-Baida. [...] Ali insists they are innocent. "We were brought to the airport in Sabha and told we were going to participate in peaceful protest in Tripoli to support Gaddafi," he says. After a 1.5-hr. flight late last week, he was surprised when the plane landed at Labrak.
"At the same time, there were people outside who lost their relatives in the clashes, and they were shouting. One tried to attack us. People at that time didn't know who's Libyan and who's a foreigner."
And even more people, worldwide, remain grossly confused about it to this very day. The New York Times had the name the other way around, as "Osman Ali," and adds a stop to their journey, in Benghazi.
He said he and his fellow prisoners, along with hundreds of other people, were asked to attend a pro-Qaddafi rally in Tripoli last week, and then were put on a plane.

They were flown to Benghazi, he said, and were then sent to an army base that was surrounded by angry citizens.
Captive: Othman Othman
The Telegraph, who was given the most shame-faced lineup of them all, described this Libyan captive as "The man most responsible for Mohammed's ordeal – excepting Colonel Gaddafi himself." And of course excepting the armed, angry, rumor-poisoned mobs who actually captured him and killed at least 125 of his cohorts. Having recruited Ali and the others, Mr. Othman "was a small cog in a cruel machine of repression," Meo observes, "although possibly a willing one."
"I am sorry for what happened," said Othman Fadil Othman, a Gaddafi loyalist from the southern town of Sabha, just across the Chad border. [...] It was Mr Othman who had approached Mohammed at the bus station in Sabha as he rounded up recruits. Now Mr Othman was desperately trying to excuse himself.

"Gaddafi betrayed us all. We were told we were being sent east to stage demonstrations in favour of Colonel Gaddafi. I didn't know there was going to be an attack on the protesters."
It seemed more likely that Mr Othman was trying to save his skin than tell the truth.
Consider the last two witnesses together. Both seeming like organizers of this "mercenary unit," and with oddly similar names, it's worth wondering if Mr. Othman Othman and Mr. Osman Ali (or Ali Osman) are the same guy. The one spoke to two reporters on the 23rd, the other to a different one four days later.

Either way, it's worth noting how little word we've heard from the masses, the recruits. Their recruiter(s) and the youngest kid only were singled out to speak with the media, it seems, and few if any others spoke out of line (in itself interesting).

Change of Plans: How They Were Most Similar To Mercenaries
The detour to fighting in al Baida, after an agreement to go to the capitol for demonstrations, is generally framed, by the media and Mr. Ali, as the real plan of the Gaddafi regime all along and a trick on the recruits. But that's a leap of imagination that fails to account for the rapid and very real turn of events on the ground that could well have forced a genuine last-minute plan change.

On the 18th al Baida, above all other cities, was in chaos. "Protesters" there had begun rioting late on the 15th (along with az Zintan and Benghazi), and started burning police stations on the 16th. By mid-day on the 18th it was reported that two police officers at least had been killed there by hanging, and apparently the growing mobs had become armed with professional weapons of war (from a couple defectors, it seems). There was suddenly, on the day after the Day of Rage, a real danger they would soon conquer a whole city.

As Mohammed and the others signed up, presumably back on the 16th or so, the one plan made most sense: show loyalists from across Libya gathered in Tripoli as well, in crowds waving green flags and perhaps counter-rioting against any escalations. Shaken by early rumblings there, this idea might hold until some point on the 18th, when panic might set in at developments all over, but especially al Baida.

So the recruits were taken there, and particularly, Mr. Osman/Ali told Hauslohner, to the army base there. This suggests a military purpose had been chosen for the men from Sabha. It's possible they were to be armed and then sent out to fight the insurgents, but considering the situation there, it's doubtful 300 armed amateurs could do much to help.

At that point, it would makes the greatest tactical sense to focus all energies on secure installations, especially those with weapons. The mob's interest in and use of them was now known, and inside the base were more of the same - tanks, rockets, machine guns...

The least logical choice would be to say "screw the bases, let's try to re-take the streets," or even "since we can't do that either, let's just try to kill some more people before they overwhelm our pathetic forces." They're expendable third-rate troops, it could be argued, and aren't fit to play guards. You don't use cheap blacks, a few of them Chadians, on guarding valuable bases or keeping an arsenal out of rebel hands, such reasoning goes. They should be out there doing the dirty work, hacking and blasting the people apart. Later on, their severed heads can be lobbed over the walls of the base before it's overrunby "the people," 325 stolen guns stronger. The remaining personnel inside would be captured and/or killed and the weapons taken to help attack the next city.

It should be quite clear how perfect that plan is - for rebel fiction-writers.

Mercenary Violence in al Baida: By and Against
The Telegraph, no surprise, lays out this most illogical scenario and enhanced the idiocy of it.
Gaddafi's commanders told the ragbag army they had rounded up that rebels had taken over the eastern towns. The colonel would reward them if they killed protesters. If they refused, they would be shot themselves [by the commanders?]. The result was bloody mayhem.
About fifty people were killed in Al-Bayda city and twenty more in a village near the airport. Dozens of anti-Gaddafi militia were killed or wounded during a terrific firefight at the airport where 3000 local men gathered to attack mercenary reinforcements as they disembarked from a plane. [1]
Of course, the armed mob -of 3,000 - stood between them and any protesters to shoot. At that point, the insurgents are the aggressors, and self-defense actually comes into play for the "mercenaries." There are no videos of photographs of this violence to let us see even a bit of the verifiable truth of this battle. The given death toll, "dozens" out of 3,000  compared to about 125 from among 325, supports that the rebels were well enough armed by then to take care of themselves and need no boo-hooing.

Violence by and against these "Mercenaries," as explained by Meo, is the following:
The Sunday Telegraph was shown video footage shot on mobile phone cameras of a young protester being shot in the head by a secret policeman during a demonstration, slumping lifeless to the ground with blood pouring from his head. 
Another showed a captured mercenary lynched from a street lamp after he had surrendered. A third film showed a black African hanging on a meathook, with angry young men crowding round to stare at his corpse.
The counter-violence is clearly against them, but the opposite isn't clear at all. He only was able to call on one supported incident, the shooting during a funeral procession on Sharia Omar al-Mukhtiar. I've actually seen two non-combatants shot down in that same procession. If we take the obvious version, the shots were fired by the forces down the street. These were mostly blue-clad internal security men (not secret) with someone in different uniforms, maybe mercenaries, color unclear from the distance in question. It wasn't from any of the captives under study here, because this shooting happened on the 17th, the day before they were flown in. And further, the obviousversion doesn't explain the two guys in magenta and red jackets with a black, rifle-shaped object and a sheet metal privacy wall (a handy sniper's nest) filmed on the rooftop another of the videos was filmed from.

Besides, there's some evidence these alleged mercenaries were captured before taking up arms or even necessarily agreeing to do so.  Ali says he was offered a gun, but as the New Times reported "Mr. Ali said he and the other men never picked up weapons, but, he added, “We’re ashamed of what we did.”" [4] By Time's account, however, Mr. Osman may have taken a gun:
The men were put on buses and taken to an army base in al-Baida. Then, says Ali, a protest outside the base turned into an intense firefight between those outside and those inside. At some point, the soldiers on the base offered the men from Sabha weapons. "They told us the people of this city want to kill you because there are rumors that there are mercenaries among you," Ali says. By the night of Feb. 18, soldiers began to defect, joining the revolution. And that's when soldiers turned to the men from Sabha and said they should run, or they might be killed, Ali says.

He surrendered when ambulances pulled up and the people inside were informed that they wouldn't be hurt if they laid down their weapons. He and a group of other prisoners were taken to a nearby mosque and guarded by local elders, he says.
The killing of mercenaries started on the 18th, as those with Osman were brough to the base. Reports claim the rebels took the base that day, and so their captives were most likely taken there, as the part about "the people inside" suggests. If they were to come out and kill, they never got to it.

Mohammed said he was armed on the plane. We know one plane was intercepted, apparently before being off-loaded even, so this is probably like the guns offered the others at the besieged army base. Why there were guns on the plane is a good question. Apparently the military shift was decided before loading and takeoff, rather than mid-flight. Maybe the authorities hoped to re-supply the army base as well as increasing the security force there.

Ilyushins are large planes, capable of carrying tanks as well, which Der Spiegel reported were used in the airport battle. But the fighters were mostly novices, it seems. They wound up with guns, just in time to look more like mercenaries, despite their civilian clothes and bewildered looks. Some fought, I'm sure. But whether it was the pitched battle with protesters fighting with sticks as described to Der Spiegel, I rather doubt it.

Final Assessment
A handy list of criteria making a mercenary is available here. Let's use its points to assess if these 325 guys flown to al Baida were mercenaries. It lists six criteria spelled out in the Geneva conventions and clarifies that "all the criteria (a – f) must be met, according to the Geneva Convention, for a combatant to be described as a mercenary."[8]
(a) is especially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
They say it was for peaceful counter-protests. The agreement should be the benchmark. So unless they're lying, it's no on (a).
(b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
The degree and nature are in contention, but it seems some of these guys wound up fighting and killing people with weapons. (b) is a fit.
(c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
Getting out alive seemed to be Ali's motive, but Mohammed specified they were also promised rewards (in addition to survival), plus not getting shot by the Gaddafi people either. Kind of forces the decision whatever you believe, and makes (c) kind of irrelevant here.
(d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
The Chadian teenagers' precise residency status could be questioned, but otherwise this is a fail. Again, all but a few, it seems, were Libyan citizens. This seemed the crucial criteria to Bouckaert, andwith good reason it seems. By this one qualification alone, if none of the others, these guys can't reasonably be called mercenaries.
(e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict;
Bouckaert called them soldiers, but this appears to be honorary, from the attempt to use them as such and the reasonable impression the rebels held of their quarry as serious fighters. The simplestexplanation for allof this is that these men were hired to protests like they say, and the switch to fighting was impromptu as protests turned to war around them. So by this, they could be considered possible mercs, depending how the other criteria pan out. In this case, they do not.
(f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

So these guys cannot be called mercenaries, and legally must, therefore, be treated according to certain norms. Not that it mattered to the lynch mobs of al Baida. As Karim Fahim drily noted for the New York Times, "nothing set off both anger and talk of brutal revenge like the mercenaries," or even unfounded rumors of them. "Cellphone videos were passed around among friends, showing black men, dead or being beaten." [5]

Big Update, November 9:
I've been alerted to a video of some of the Aruba school captives, which I've analyzed separately. It shows about fifty of the prisoners being displayed and harangued in Shahet on Feb. 21. The image at right is a still from that video, whowing an injured black man being handled roughly. The video was posted as "mercenaries surrender."

Here I'll add some details I missed before, primarily from a follow-up article by Abigail Hauslohner, run on Time's website on March 1. This relates her second visit to the school, on February 28. Peter Bouckaert is mentioned, and his recommendation to release the remaining 156 prisoners had been lodged and complied with by then. Hauslohner verified that by speaking with a couple of guards and the last, oddball, prisoner, named Omar.
"If they're wearing civilian clothes, it's difficult to tell who they are — if they're mercenaries or not," concedes Ahmed Noori Esbak, one of Omar's guards, and a prominent resident in town who says he fought pro-Gaddafi mercenaries in the streets two weeks ago.
The town's men say the prisoners were released in large part due to the murkiness of their situation. [...] 
"We released them because they're all Libyans and we want people in the West and other regions to stop holding people from the East. It could start a tribal war otherwise," [threatened]Ahmed Salem Salah, a teacher-turned-prison guard. 
The Libyan citizens aside from Omar, it was reported, were released to their families. Even the "at least five Chadians" had, well, gone somewhere:
"Even those five Chadians," [Esbak] says of the five who were held at the Aruba School, "We're not sure they were mercenaries." But no one is sure where they are. The men at the school say the five were transferred somewhere because there were no relatives to pick them up. But in town, no one seems to know what exactly has happened to them.
On the 28th, Hauslohner wasn't allowed to speak to the two black men arrested just that day, but spoke with Omar, a skinny dark-skinned kid whose familywas from the country's south. He was flown in from Tripoli, however, not Sabha, and arrived two days ahead of the other two planeloads. "Omar says he was sent to the town of al-Baida in eastern Libya to participate in a pro-Gaddafi demonstration on Feb. 16. His captors say the skinny teen from Tripoli was sent here to fight. But in the fog of Libya's liberation war, no one may ever know for sure." He was among those capturedat the army base, as opposed to the airport.

Omar was a well-trained member of the infamous Khamis brigade, he said. This is an aspect of the prisoners I didn't mention above but should have. When Haulohner visited the prisoners on the 23rd, she wrote that some prisoners "raise their hands when asked if they're members of "Khamees' battalion" — an allegation spread widely beyond the school's walls." The elite brigade run by col.Gaddafi's son Khamis was a much-mentioned unit that rebels would frequently blame for various acts of brutality.

Even if the claim of membership by the prisoners is true and not coerced, all Hauslohner can cite for the implications came from the NTC's shifty strongman MustafaAbdel-Jalil, who "says that each son controls a unit of Libya's military. "Every one of Gaddafi's sons has an army and does whatever he wants with his army," he says."

More details of the ordeal, as per Omar:
As Omar tells it: the day after he arrived at the base in al-Baida, a group of minibuses came to transport him and 70 others into town for a protest. He claims to be one of nine who didn't make it onto the bus — there wasn't enough room — and he was forced to stay behind. When fighting between those on the base and those outside ensued, he says he never picked up a gun, but those around him did. Later, after a three-day firefight, 70 men surrendered when the rebels overran the base and a "sheikh" outside told them to come out and give up. This was a different 70 from the men he arrived with, Omar says; many of his fellow captives were men flown in from Sabha. Says he, "Whoever went in the bus [that first day] to the protest never came back."
I'd also like to pass on additional images I learned of from reader Felix, hosted at Felix Features. (Coincidence?) Some show the airport after the battle, somes how Omar and other captives, and aone usefulimage of the 27th shows the same Mohammed, the kid of "about 16" that the Telegraph introduced us to that same day. Lounging unhappily with one of his photo mates and what looks like the old man from another photo. The kid is described there as "18 year old Mohamed Al-Madani, from Chad." He'd be among the five, then, who seems to have just vanished.

But as we've seen, the rest of the Aruba School prisoners were Libyans. Robbed of their original claim of "African mercenaries," the rebels used the truth of the situation to lob another accusation at the regime  - trying to start a tribal war,for some evil reason.
But they also say they feared retaliation from the tribes who were most strongly represented among their prisoners; tribes like the Fezzan of the southwestern Sahara, which Omar belongs to, or the Gaddadfa, Gaddafi's tribe. "We released them because they're all Libyans and we want people in the West and other regions to stop holding people from the East. It could start a tribal war otherwise," Ahmed Salem Salah, a teacher-turned-prison guard explains. If the Libyan opposition is to get through this period of turmoil, liberate Tripoli, and reach the final goal of a united, Gaddafi-free country, he reasons, now is not the time to hold grudges.

"If this was Gaddafi's system, we would have killed them and buried them in secret," Esbak adds. The guards all agree that the liberated East is far more humane.
This rationalization, do recall, comes from the same people who used their fellow citizens' skin color, ignoring the explanations they surely heard in their native Arabic, to brand them as the lowest of foreign killers. This is the same camp who then used that cover to lynch at least fifty, and perhaps hundreds of their countrymen before compassionately letting the rest go. More humane indeed - than the cartoon villain Gaddafi being re-continuously created with every new lie. Lucky they set their own bar so low.

Nov. 12: I was alerted to another video of the captives in apparently the same placeas the video showed. Dated Feb. 19, it's included in this compilation (part II) of Shahet videos:

It's pretty much the first half of the video, with at least one recognizable prisoner in both videos (here at 1:46, guy in black, same one being harangued by grinning dude above). More wrapped head injuries are present in this view, and more accusatory pointing. The real prize is a packet of two blue pills (erectile? it's not proper Pfizer brand Viagra at any rate...) One's been taken, and the remaining pill and empty bubble are shown along with papers as if it mattered. Months before the concerted effort to sow the idea, on day day four of protests, they had "proof" that Gaddafi's Afro-mercs were there to rape. 

[1] "African mercenaries in Libya nervously await their fate" Nick Meo. Photo: Julian Simmonds. The Telegraph. February 27,2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8349414/African-mercenaries-in-Libya-nervously-await-their-fate.html
[2] Der Spiegel English. Feb. 26. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,747909,00.html
[3] Ian Black and Owen Bowcott. "Libya protests: massacres reported as Gaddafi imposes news blackout." The Guardian. February 18, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/18/libya-protests-massacres-reported
[4] http://www.rnw.nl/africa/article/hrw-no-mercenaries-eastern-libya-0

[5] Karim Fahim. "Rebels Hope for Qaddafi’s Fall but Remain Fearful" New York Times.February 23, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/24/world/africa/24rebels.html?_r=1
[6] "Inside Libya – A Photographer Reports" Photo journal: photographs by David Degner, text by Jon Levy. The Wall Street Journal. February 24, 2011.
[7] Abigail Hauslohner. "Among Libya's Prisoners: Interviews with Mercenaries" Time. February 23, 2011. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2053490,00.html#ixzz1bgB3gDjQ
[8] http://www.mercenary-wars.net/law/definition-mercenary.html


  1. Adam - there are 10 photos from the same room, photos from the shoot for Abigail Hauslohner's article in this photo gallery by Yuri Kozyrev for Time.
    There are hundreds of photos of Benghazi as one would imagine. One interesting one is concerns the Benghazi explosion,photographed 5 March. The site where on the evening of March 4, a huge deposit of ammunition exploded and killed approximately 20 people outside of Benghazi. Rebels claim that it was Gaddafi's forces that did this, others fear that it was an accident caused by the rebels themselves. Benghazi is now in the hands of the rebels. On 17 February 2011 Libya saw the beginnings of a revolution against the 41 year regime of Col Muammar Gaddafi. Photos of the aftermath of the explosion are in this series with the subtitle

    Another photographer, Mads Nissen shot the Charred remains are stored in the morgue of Jalo general hospital in Benghazi. with the subscript The hospital claims that they were Gaddafi's soldiers killed and set alight by protesters. On 17 February 2011 Libya saw the beginnings of a revolution against the 41 year regime of Col Muammar Gaddafi. ">alleged charred remains, much later on February 28 at Jalo Hospital in Benghazi
    Nissen also reckons in this photo that 150-200 civilians were killed in Tobruk (no video confirmation anywhere) area alone,showing allegedly a former Captain who has changed sides and looks out over Tobrus firmly in rebel hands.

    The burnt out Barracks in Benghazi are here on 1 April(Guy Martin) but earlier, the base is seen on 26 Feb badly damaged with stores of weapons in rebel hands

    Kozyrev also photographed Stranded African Workers at a temporary camp in Benghazi on 1 March: Stranded foreign workers from west Africa stand in a temporary camp. Thousands of foreign laborers have been stuck in Benghazi without transportation out of the country

  2. The question remains, what is the Aruba school. The only reference to it in english or arabic is in connection with these stories.

  3. I forgot to mention the photo shoot of 28 February from Jalo General Hospital (sic) taken by Mads Nissen, showing, allegedly Charred remains are stored in the morgue of Jalo general hospital in Benghazi مستشفي الجلاء *** The hospital claims that they were Gaddafi's soldiers killed and set alight by protesters. On 17 February 2011 Libya saw the beginnings of a revolution against the 41 year regime of Col Muammar Gaddafi. But also showing allegedly The body of a dead soldier, which the hospital and the rebels claim to be a foreign mercenary, at the morgue in Jalo general hospital in Benghaz and also A man rests on coffins in front of the morgue at Jalo general hospital in Benghazi. They contained parts of ten people that came to the hospital. The hospital claims that they were Gadaffi's soldiers, but after they refused to shoot on civilians in the first protest of the revolution, they were killed and set on fire. All nicely posed. This is Al Jalaa,or Al Jala'a hospital where crimes were clearly committed (see the latest version of the sword wielding execution video)
    (guy wielding a hacked off human leg with shoe...)
    and more showing injuries caused by machetes etc. eg
    same chap here at end..
    (I digress...)

    مستشفي الجلاء ***

  4. Tiny correction, the Al-Q operative , self proclaimed emir of Derna / Dernah was not Ibrahim, but Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi as in your earlier link and more extensively here

  5. There is a YouTube video uploaded by katosha007 on March 27 which is titled

    اسرى مطار الابرق Prisoners Labraq Airport , with subtitle
    بعض المرتزقة والليبيين الذين تم اسرهم في معركة مطار الابرق شرقي ليبيا بعد استسلامهم للثوار

    "Some of the Libyan mercenaries and their families who have been in a battle Abraq Airport east of Libya, after surrendering to the rebels."

    Is this also the Aruba school? Seems they are being asked where they are from. Not sure if the footage is elsewhere.

  6. This chap, who certainly looks a bit bashed about and shot is talking in a video entitled Colonel in the Libyan army was wounded by (?) killer mercenaries (of) Gaddafi at the airport Abraq - uploaded only on 9 April by MrFreedomLibya.
    عقيد في الجيش الليبي اصيب عندما قاتل مرتزقة القذافي في مطار الابرق

  7. A CNN news video Amnesty International: It's a Bad Time to be a Black man in Libya shows Anmesty International North Africa researcher Diana Eltahawy at 2.48, where she says:
    "Since the very beginning of the conflict in February,widespread rumours,largely unfounded that Gaddafi forces were using Sub-saharan Africans to commit the worst atrocities that were happening in the war.." (goes on to describe consequences for black migrant workers)

  8. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/17session/A.HRC.17.44_AUV.pdf
    Report of the International Commission of Inquiry to
    investigate all alleged violations of international human
    rights law in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya*/1 June 2011
    the crimes investigated

    Libya Conflict Timeline

  9. We left behind our friends from Chad. We left behind their bodies,” he said. “We had 70 or 80 people from Chad working for our company. They cut them dead with pruning shears and axes,
    300,000 of whose citizens were among the 1.5 million black African migrant laborers in Libya at the time of the February revolt.

    February 18th, when they rounded up and executed a group of fifty African migrant workers in Bayda / this is second group , not beheaded, but executed

  10. http://libyancivilwar.blogspot.com/2011/10/mercenary-myths-aruba-school-captives.html
    The Telegraph's Meo, on February 27, described 50 prisoners in one room, and up to 100 elsewhere in the prison/"roughly 200."

  11. The closest thing is the headquarter of the police department and I can smell the fire from here and see it from the roof.
    50 African mercenaries were executed by the protesters in Bayda.

    Some died when protestors burned down the police station in which they locked them up and 15 were lynched in front of the courthouse in Bayda.[4][16]

  12. http://racismdaily.com/2011/08/30/libya-rebels-may-be-killing-black-workers-says-au-head/

    Libya Rebels May Be Killing Black Workers, Says AU Head at last /August 30, 2011

    November 2, 2011/Propaganda in a Time of War
    the doctor produced the papers, which contained text in Arabic, and said they were pay vouchers for the man’s mercenary services, and worth thousands of dinars.

    Look at the date the MSM starts talk in small portions about what really happened

    How many people are killed in the meantime?
    What has been described above was just a small bit of the beginning of the civil war.

    So try figure out how many people in just a few days. And ask yourself if the captured people did arrive home safely.

  13. But there are thousands of empty graves in Benghazi that were planned to be filled compliments of Gaddafi’s huge armored attack.
    The slaughter of the ‘rats’ there was to make an example to the rest of Libyans what the price of peaceful protest was while Gaddafi still ruled.

    pro rebel article/misrata mercenaries/empty massgraves benghazi

  14. Revolt Fever: Libya joins protest club as wave of wrath sweeps Arab world /
    Bayda/ also stay alive & returned safely home?
    Violence spreads against suspected mercenaries in Libya /26 feb

  15. ”They are not the military, they are only ordinary people,” al-Alagi said. While he acknowledged that rebels have made mistakes, he said they cannot be described as ”war crimes at all.”

  16. Revolt Fever: Libya joins protest club as wave of wrath sweeps Arab world /
    Bayda/ also stay alive & returned safely home?
    Violence spreads against suspected mercenaries in Libya /26 feb

  17. There is some interesting early reporting on "African mercenaries" in this AP report from February 18th, hosted by France24:
    Protesters battle security forces in eastern Libya; at least 40 reported dead

    Some quotes:

    In Beyida, several witnesses said local police joined the demonstrators to fight the militias, driving them out of many neighborhoods. The protesters demolished a military air base runway with bulldozers and set fire to police stations.

    "These mercenaries are now hiding in the forests. We hear the gunshots all the time," one witness said. "We don't have water, we don't have electriticy. They blocked many websites."

    Massacres begin the same day:
    Two of the mercenaries were captured by the protesters and were taken to a square in the city and hanged, after they reportedly opened fire on protesters, said one witness. A Switzerland-based Libyan opposition activist, Fathi al-Warfali, said he had reports of protesters lynching 11 captured mercenaries in Beyida, Banghazi and the town of Darnah on Friday.

    The France24 also contains a phone interview with Ali Tarhouni. I will comment on it separately here.

    Here is a link to the Guardian blog from February 18th on Violence in Bahrain and Libya.

  18. witnesses...mercenaries....reportedly...
    The only fact we now for certain is that two black people were publicly hanged and there is even YouTube footage from behind of hundreds of cheering, braying people recording the hangings on their mobile phones and cameras.

    Everything else? Not as described. Because,as Tarhouni implied to France24, the army just melted away from the start. "...units of the Libyan army in Benghazi are joining the revolt...the whole eastern part,there are no forces that belong to the regime..." (18 Feb)


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