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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Khoms Torture System and "Death Group"

December 26, 2011

City Details
Khoms, or al-Khums is a coastal city of about 200,000 in Libya's west, about 70 miles southeast of Tripoli. Leader Muammar Gaddafi gave a speech in Khoms July 26 (video), and there was a Pro-Gaddafi demonstration there on Aug 15 (video), with NATO bombing that day, before or after I'm not sure (videovideo).

All this was because Khoms was the last major milestone for Misrata rebels pushing towards Tripoli's eastern flank. The UK Guardian reported on August 19 "By Friday night, however, opposition leaders said [...] their column had reached the outskirts of Al Khums [...which] commands the last significant road junction before the capital. Rebel spokesmen in Misrata said their forces were now in a valley not far from the town." Amnesty International was told the city was only taken on 21 August, when fighting in Tripoli's eastern front had already started. So it seems the city actually fell prior to that day, on or around the 19th.

Of some note with Khoms is the name similarity with the Siryan city of Homs, the third largest city and epicenter of the revolt there. For the Syrian city, Wikipedia gives the Arabic name as حمص‎, and for the Libyan city the slightly different  الخمس. The Syrian entry does however disambiguate, saying "for the city in Libya, see Khoms." And Google Maps actually gives the Libyan city as "Homs." This probably has no cosmic significance, but a literary propaganda tie-in might be detected and exploited by rebel myth-makers. Placing some of their good-vs-evil narratives there might link a minor city in their war to a larger sister city and hint at the "Arab Spring" legacy struggling still to make headway in Syria (with some more direct Libyan help, we're learning), Therefore it's worth noting.

A System of Torture
What's under study here is the allegation the city was turned into a special police state of terror more acute and "instructive" than usual of the Gaddafi regime's cruelty. I do not rule this out, but definitely do not just accept it either. I'm interested in the evidence for it that's been passed onto us from rebel sources via the compliant global media. In particular, I draw on an exclusive report from Reuters.

Exclusive: Gaddafi used torture squads in bid to preserve rule
By Christian Lowe
KHOMS, Libya | Tue Sep 6, 2011 1:17pm EDT
The brutality of Gaddafi's forces in the capital, Tripoli, in the final, chaotic days before rebels overran the city has been well documented [sic]. Dozens of bodies were left lying in the streets, and witnesses described prisoners being massacred before their jailers fled.
Wrong. The Tripoli massacres of just before, during, and/or after the rebel takeover are quite real, but there's been no documentation of loyalist authorship. When there's any evidence beside baseless fighter claims, it's from dubious accounts from miraculous survivors. These are usually at odds with the physical evidence and timeline clues, and often the eyewitnesses even disagree with each other when that's possible (when there's more than one survivor or more than one story).

The reality in the capitol is primarily, if not exclusively, rebel-made massacres. Continuing, then to Khoms, which they conquered just before Tripoli:
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-organized the units has their own command structures and bureaucracy.
The best evidence for this is a video of men being beaten inside a cargo container (which could possibly be faked and, even if real, it could be parked anywhere), and the linked story of the container incident (with 18 bodies, found 60km south, to prove it), which this story includes, as well as the following additions it makes:

A photo is shown of "a man who said he had been tortured by Gaddafi's forces" lifting his shirt to show his back, marked with injuries from something like whips and flails, perhaps. The man is in Khoms, and that's about the clearest proof this provides as support for the story.

Crayon Proof at the Construction Site
The secret unit's headquarters were found, providing more solid proof, it was implied:
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."
An abandoned work yard is an open space where government forces in their final days there, or rebel forces in their first days, might take captives to torture and kill. We have writing on the wall, specifically and literally in crayon (which over here usually means Crayola, for children), as proof of the groups existence. Personally, I don't see why the "death group"would need to remind themselves who was in charge, nor advertise it to anyone else. We hear they burned the containers where 18 suffocated to erase signs of their crime. So why scribble it on the walls and leave it there? I'd consider this closer to proof that someone else wanted to suggest that, but really it looks too stupid to clearly prove either case.

Somewhat better is the more grown-up paperwork at the scene:
Scattered around the building where the torture took place were invoices for fuel received by the unit, and printed forms which were filled out to record what weapons and ammunition had been allocated to unit members.

The forms were printed with the words: ""Temporary General Committee for Defence, Suqur Al-Fatah Security." At the bottom, the documents carried the name of the unit commander, Ali Ayad Beshti.

The official in the new local council, Al-Menshaz, said he believed Beshti had fled to Bani Walid, a town south of Khoms that is still under the control of Gaddafi supporters. "We think they all left in that direction," he said.
That's good evidence that a speciial security unit was set up to deal with the deadly, NATO-supported insurgency - not surprisisingly - and that they bought things, were commanded by Beshti, and had the receipts to prove it. These were either found at the construction site, or found elsewhere and brought there. We can't say for sure.

Fifteen Bodies
The hard proof that killing occurred... somewhere around there:
In a room at the end of a long corridor at the main Khoms hospital is further evidence of the campaign of repression. Fifteen bodies lie on the floor, wrapped in canvas shrouds with a number pinned to each of them. There is no mortuary at the hospital, and the room has just an air conditioner.

The smell of rotting flesh hangs in the air. To approach the bodies, local fighters guarding the hospital each put on three surgical masks, one on top of the other, and douse them in alcohol to counteract the stench.

A fighter steps into the room and pulls the canvas away from some of the bodies. They are wearing civilian clothes. One of them has his hands bound together with a belt. The head of one body is missing.
These had been previously buried, the report adds, and "were brought to the hospital on Sunday night after they were dug up on the edge of the Sidi Muftah cemetery, just outside Khoms." It's not specified what kind of skin they had, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were primarily black. Gaddafi apparently hated black men.
The new local authorities knew that there was a burial site somewhere because, after Gaddafi's forces fled Khoms, residents had been coming forward to report that members of their families had disappeared.

When a resident said he had seen lots of vehicles coming to the cemetery at night a few weeks earlier, they brought in a mechanical digger. They found the bodies buried head-to-toe, in two lines of trenches by the wall of the cemetery.

At the makeshift mortuary, a Bulgarian woman who works at the hospital looked on as a group of men, masks over their faces, filed into the room to see if they could find their missing relatives among the bodies. They walked out again shaking their heads, saying the bodies were too decayed to identify them.

"It's genocide what Gaddafi was doing here," said the woman. "Nobody would do what Gaddafi did."
We have rotted exhumed bodies on September 6, and a rebel takeover acknowledge only on August 21, but quite likely a few days earlier. Traffic to the cemetery was reported "a few weeks" before September 6 - if taken as 2-4 weeks, that's somewhere between the 9th and 23rd of August. The witness might be fudging backwards, but the apparent burial does sound like something shortly before - or possibly shortly after - loyalists lost control there.

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