originally published March 30 as Crimes Against Reality in Libya, part 1.
re-posted here as Behind the Scenes on the Al Baida Massacre, April 28
last updates/edits Sept 11, 2011
23 Claimed Martyrs
On February 23, Youtube first showed a grim recent discovery from eastern Libya. The discovery was made by locals of somewhere unclear in the area around al Baida and Dernah. There are several articles available about this, many citing an amateur video, and some link to one of at least four recordings available on Youtube. These show an array of 22 corpses on a dusty patch of pavement amongst non-descript buildings, in a walled area just off some barren stretch of road. Their hands are all bound, clearly prisoners, and illegally executed by gunshots to the head.
Iranian channel Erasaneh, posted on Youtube (3:00 in) is one of the sources (the only video one I could find) linking this find to a separate news story broached the same day, February 23. Simply put by Erasaneh, “130 Libyan soldiers have been executed for refusing to open fire on anti-Gaddafi protesters.” They and others cited a prominent Human Rights group for the number, and the video for partial confirmation, who announced the same day:
Paris - At least 640 people have been killed in Libya in protests against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi since they started last week, the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR) said on Wednesday. The figure is more than double the official Libyan government toll of 300 dead, and includes 275 dead in Tripoli and 230 dead in the protest epicentre in the eastern city of Benghazi, the IFHR's Souhayr Belhassen told AFP.Note that Tripoli did have a death toll, and that a majority of the discrepancy was based on this large new portion of 130 against the regime. Why didn't they acknowledge the 130 loyalists they had just hours before been accused of killing?
The Benghazi toll includes "130 soldiers who were executed by their officers in Benghazi for refusing to fire on crowds" of protesters, she said. Belhassen, who heads the Paris-based IFHR, said the toll was based on military sources for Tripoli and on Libyan rights groups assessments in Benghazi and elsewhere. The Libyan government said on Tuesday that 300 people had died in the protests, including 111 soldiers.
How do we know that's what happened? "Libyan rights groups" are cited. We don't know their evidence, affiliations, or credibility. But it is this hasty and dramatic announcement by the IFHR that nearly everyone else cites as the basis for this highly useful claim against our universal enemy and avoiding the same against our good guys, the protesters and citizen-fighters of Libya. (see comments below for my enquiry to them about their evidence)
But unless the whole world has it wrong (and that has happened, see below), this is the footage of part of that mass killing. Given the chronology above, with around 125 Gaddafi loyalists apparently slain in fighting with rebels, it's hard to imagine some other portion of those forces also slaughtering about the same number of their own amidst the chaos, for ... refusing to shoot the "protesters" ... who were fighting and killing them ... and wound up capturing a further 200 of the suspected mercenaries and/or army soldiers.
For refusing Gaddafi's orders and giving their lives in the process, these 22 were hailed by rebels and their affiliates as martyrs for the cause of freedom, heroes worthy of having streets name after them in the new capitol. But the evidence for that version of their demise was never clear. The video record of the aftermath, in itself, does little to explain why and by whom they were executed while held helpless.
Two available videos version show a 23rd body on the ground - alive. One is available here, and shows the survivor on his back in the bloody gravel and dust, in a spot between two corpse that’s empty in the other recordings. He’s wearing green fatigues with blood stains, seemingly covered in mud, but unbound and showing no visible injuries whatsoever. There is a pool of fresh-looking blood near his head, but the whole thing seems quite possibly fake. The cameraman just walks right past the living man, panning in on the gore of the others and chanting. Very strange response.Another version shared on Facebook and thence on rebel site libyafeb17.com shows some (other?) passersby responding a bit more humanely. This oddball is there described as a “dying soldier who is being encouraged to say the testimony of faith." The cameraman, translated on that page, explained how the martyr said he was sent “from Az Zawiyah, he said Mu’ammar sent him.” (Thus, not from Sabha, where the real survivors were flown from). This statement isn't shown, just explained as the cameraman is called over to look at the survivor.
The fading man is also seen begging for water, which another man dribbles into his mouth. The last line from behind the lens almost reads like a sick joke: “Alright alright, don’t give him too much, you might kill him.” The camera’s panning in on the most bizarrely decimated heads would also be consistent with a rather twisted "onlooker." Not good signs. One can be excused for wondering, as commentator Stewart at the Feb17 video's page has, if the camera crew are in with the execution crew.
Gaddafi's Copy: Behind-the-Scenes
Further, the rebel site hosting the "survivor" video touts it as “demonstrat[ing] the falsity of Gaddafi run state tv which accused the rebels of executing these soldiers after muting the audio and filtering sections of it.”
That would not surprise most observers in the slightest, but we have the video in question also available on Youtube. Upon review, it's not muting some audio that's the problem, but a whole alternate beginning. Only one video is claimed to show direct evidence of what happened behind the scenes near al-Baida some night in late February. And, however they got a copy, it was shown first (and only, as far as I know, aside from some Youtube postings now pulled) by al-Libya, the new, "liberal" and "private" news station owned by Muammar’s son Saif Gaddafi.
I have numbered the prisoners of protest from left to right. #1, 5, 7, and 9 wear Green fatigues, while #3 and 6 sport the distinctive Libyan bluish camouflage fatigues. Captives #2, 4, and 8 are in civilian clothes. Two (8, 9) look black African, the rest different shades of Arab. #1 and #6 seem the senior ones among them (balding), and a few look quite young. #4 seems around 17-18 years of age.
Captive #6 has the air of a long-serving officer, and keeps his head down, softly answering the few questions he's asked. He seems more than anything deeply sad about the things he never got around to doing after retirement. #9, a big black guy, is repeatedly questioned at great length and tries to answer (all but inaudible, unfortunately). Captive #5 is standing apart from the rest for a while early in the video, gesturing emphatically, trying to explain something to his captors, a look of urgent worry on his face. After a while he's apparently told to shut up and sit down. He sits down in the middle of the couch, looking glum.
Identified in Both Videos
That the famous video of 22/23 martyrs is the aftermath of the one shown on al-Libya is based on their own comaprison, which is highly contested (in partisan Youtube comments, anyway. Some are a hoot.). Most people should naturally be expected to reject the word of Gaddafi-regime TV, but in this case it's not just propaganda. The video is right here for anyone who cares to double-check it for themselves. (And if it gets yanked, I have a copy saved, and will try to make sure it's available)
Their visible findings are based on three freeze-frames, each showing a certain corpse next to an image of an eerily similar person in the first video. Each is supposedly a match for skin color, build, hair, and clothing. The three they were willing to put their name to are the prisoners I numbered, 6, 9, and 8, in order of their appearance, at 4:00, 4:07, and 4:18 in the video.
Each of al-Libya’s three guesses is, in my opinion, better than the last. The one they decided was #6 might well be wrong. This corpse seems to have hair both too thick and too curly. But at this resolution and with an apparently off-center balding spot, and the wrong angle to see it clearly, I don’t feel confident ruling him out. They may have had better copies and expertise to work with.
I kind of think the body laying across the backside of their #6, with its brains all over his blue camo legs and the ground, is prisoner of protest #5, the pleader. But it's hard to tell with no face, and the network did not venture that guess. The corpse they correlated with #9 is entirely consistent and a good guess. Few, but far from none, among a contingent of 325-plus-whoever would be that build and dressed the same as him.
Or faked video. But that's special pleading, and a weak position generally to take.
Furthermore, I can see bodies that could quite possibly be captives #1, #3, and #7 in there as well, but from there I run out of clear potential matches. It would seem the distinctive-looking captives #2 and 4 are not among those filmed the next morning. Perhaps they were spared, or joined the rebellion, or were killed elsewhere.
All told, this looks a lot like at least three and as many as seven of those same nine loyalists, executed in cold blood and strewn like refuse amongst 15-19 others of similar demographics and outfitting. And nothing about this video looks fake in the slightest. It's ridiculous to imagine a regime so besieged to even bother trying to fake as explanation for any of their reported slaughters, only to have the world ignore and dismiss it anyways.
No, this is likely the truth that the world is ignoring and dismissing. The camera - usually we presume it doesn't lie. ... Usually. (see the update post for the IFHR's non-reaction to their error).
The Ones Not on the Couch
These I've numbered, a bit more abritrarily. #1 is the cameraman, obviously unseen. Captor #2, "the Imam" I'll call him, stands to the camera's left, just barely on screen in parts. We can see he's not tall, but has a long, dark, unruly beard, a good-sized nose, and soft, pink, chubby hands. He seems to hold a walking stick (?), and wears a loose, light-colored top (possibly a robe, or is that a Gandalf/Osama leap of imagination?).
"The Imam" seems to lead the haranguing, and also patiently "comforts" the distressed prisoner #5 until he gently pushes him down to re-join the others on the couch. Later he dramatically turns to the big black guy, #9, causing a brief moment of shock, as seen here, and levels some more serious questions at him, I guess.
Captor #3 is a masked young man of apparently fair Arab stock, perhaps holding a cell phone. He briefly squats down and leans on the couch to the right of captive #9. Someone on that end of the room, perhaps him, also lets a machette dangle across the screen at one point.
#4 is very light-skinned and almost Slavic-looking, wearing a white jacket and holding a rifle. At one point he shouts over an unknown command to the captives (shown at right). #5, standing guard between #4 and the window, is of a darker complexion and sharp features. He looks rather professional in his all-black, all-tight outfit. #6 only pops in briefly at 1:54 to invade prisoner #9's personal space for unsure reasons. This person is also black-African-looking, and wearing something green and black.
We can also see, through the open window's lattice, that it's dark outside and a crowd has gathered to watch this all.
One commentator at Youtube was able to understand the dialog that would really help me out, and panned the whole thing.
"The comments the "news reader" made at the end were false, she said that the interrogators asked their prisoners who their "emir" was, trying to invoke fear of islamists, in truth the interrogators asked who the commanding officer was "dobaat" then asked who is the boss "raees" then "they asked who is "emir", so to try to portray them as islamists is incorrect, she was also trying to insinuate that the eastern part of libya were in a war against the western part of libya. In summary, this is the type of "news" that the people in Tripoli are subjected to 24 hours a day.Well, that would make it more informative on at least this episode anyway, which to my knolwedge hasn't once been seen on CNN, BBC, or al Jazeera or the rest. Not even Russia Today, to my knowledge.
Further Awkward Insights
So it appears these regime-loyal fighters were not murdered for refusing to “shoot protesters.” Rather, it could be they were offed for refusing to join the insurgency. This goes strongly against the once-prevailing idea that the whole country had effectively mutinied, leaving an illegitimate and insanely depraved tyrant in charge with only a few paid thugs. But here we see dedication and sacrifice, and a human side to the loyalists, defending their country from an unprecedented and bewildering inside-and-out attack, that we are currently bombing to smithereens in the dozens, if not hundreds. (Armored personnel carriers carry what?)
Further we see here a shrinking roster of vile and desperate mass-murder by those who remain loyal. Could it be the reality on the ground is more nuanced and unclear than the dramatic narrative of heroism against madness that we’ve been sold? These 22 killings, plus the fifteen at the courthouse in al-Baida, and likely many others, were not done in cold blood by Gaddafi’s desperate thugs. Most likely the full 125-130 who demised in that reported sum did so at the hands of the same side, just not the side reported to the world.
Perhaps it’s time to reconsider other incidents in and around Benghazi as well, like another six soldiers, or alternately (or also?) “dozens” of mutinous soldiers “burned alive in their bunkers," we’re told, for the same crime – refusing to shoot peaceful protesters. Again, how we know the villains, their motives, and that the victims were alive when burnt, is not the slightest bit clear. We do know protesters have no problem lighting government buildings on fires. LibyaFeb17.com hosted at least one recording of this atrocity exhibition. A few corpses are shown, extremely burnt, nearly skeletal, placed in body bags but re-opened. That’s all I could vouch for, but the rest of the world has taken it through the same distorted filter as they get everything about this war. It's obviously the work of an ever-insaner tyrant who really, really, really must go, quickly! The claim is widely repeated, including at MoD Oracle, a private site sort-of-linked to the British Ministry of Defense, mostly serving service-members with general military information.
Please also consider the above information next to this hyperventilating warning from the same IFHR who are the only ones vouching so prominently for the “killed for refusing” claim.
“New credible information, and sometimes still difficult to verify, regarding the murders of soldiers refusing to follow orders [...inter alia...] suggest that Gaddafi has effectively decided to implement a mass extermination of those participating in the protests and furthermore, the systematic repression of civilians. The intention announced by Gaddafi in a speech on Feb. 22, to eradicate the “rats” should be taken seriously." [emph. mine] [source, PDF]And on the flip-side, obviously, we’ve seen an ugly dark side of the “rats” the world is so intensely interested in protecting on their march to control of Africa's greatest oil reserves. We have here good evidence we've all been hoodwinked and are blowing up Libya to help hand it over to – in part – radical Islamists, and uncivilized war criminals, with no compunction about using unnecessarily brutal terror tactics and fobbing it off on the enemy to help secure their continued tactical air support from the “civilized” world.
Question: does an unlawful combatant (aka rebel, bandit, terrorist) posing as, and among, peaceful protesters - and seizing control of cities full of them - constitute using human shields?