last edits Jan. 19
<< The Tripoli Massacres
<< The Khamis Brigade Shed Massacre
The Alternate Escape Route
Self-described shed massacre escapee Mohammed Bashir, aged 52, is alone in clearly saying to the UK Daily Mirror that fire was set to the victims not days after being shot and blasted with grenades, but minutes after, when many were still alive. Mohammed says he was in there, unharmed and hiding, when he saw how the soldiers “poured petrol in and set it alight.” They were trying to “hide evidence” that was still living, and he said “I could hear them scream."
These victims, like Mr. Bashir, were apparently unable to get out of that shed through the front doors. So why didn’t they run through the “hole in the wall” instead of staying and burning? Bashir and his friends did.
“My friends and I ran through a hole in the wall and tried to escape across the compound.”On this point, he is not alone. While most of the 24+ publicized escapees describe scrambling through the doors one way or another, a few others say they slipped away through some other gap in the walls, suggesting perhaps that the doors remained impassable. Bashir al-Siddeq said to the CBC "when [the soldiers] went to re-load their guns, he crawled over bodies to a hole in the wall," and thence to freedom. According to the CBC's Susan Ormiston, at least eighteen others got outside with him, perhaps through that same portal.
After he decided his three wounded brothers had all died, survivor Hussein al-Lafi told Amnesty International “I then escaped with three more people through the back of the hangar.” There is no door or window in the back of the shed, so this is more than likely another dash through some hole. Abdulatti Musbah Haleem’s story to the Daily Telegraph also has a hole in the wall he and 30 others “ran out” of the warehouse through.
It’s not clear how each of these men felt they knew the number of others who escaped that way - 3, 18, or 30 - but at least they’re not all consistent on the issue. That might be suspicious.
I’ve panned around in all photos and videos and confirmed that, aside from the door, there is one and only one passage through the cinderblock wall to the outside. The following is compiled largely from the CBC's site video, with Siddeq and Ormiston visible, and a few photos. It shows the only hole this could all be about, mostly in the middle of the graphic.
Given that the lower lip was six feet off the floor, most people would have to climb up on something to get through it. But that's all one would have to do, other than know the outside space and its security. It is therefore a bit odd that “ran out” keeps coming up, when “climbed out” would be more accurate memory. Perhaps this is nothing but translation error.
It is also tempting to see the escape stories under scrutiny here clashing with the door escape stories as a huge inconsistency in the witness record. It could be, but this isn't neccessarily an either-or situation; it's possible that some would use the door, and others that rough window. But the contradictions even within the small club of those who went the back way is alarming enough.
When Was There a Hole in the Wall?
Consdering up to 30 guys later ran/climbed out of the makeshift prison and cheated death this way, an obvious question is why didn't they do that before most of them were killed? The doors have a reason for being different that day; normally locked, the soldiers opened them to massacre, or perhaps to help, or to trick and then kill the detainees.
But the gaping hole in the wall these men slept under, night after night, some of them for months, was just open. Why didn’t they stack up a few tires, or that little machine next to the doors, climb up to the lip and run/crawl out the hole in the dead of any of those nights? That an improvised jail would be maintained with such an easily-used breach shows improbably poor security, if it had pre-dated the massacre by much.
Abdulatti Haleem is reassuring in this regard. He explained how, as the Telegraph put it, “after the firing stopped he and about 30 others ran out through a hole they had made in the hangar wall.” Perhaps they made it before, or had been working on it, a-la the Shawshank Redemption, ready just in time for the massacre. I do not see any girlie poster covering their excavation through one layer of cinderblocks. Presumably, he means they had made it just then; because of the chaos of massacre, loss of family, and injury, plus adrenaline one supposes, they finally managed to tear out the window they needed.
Going against any last-minute re-modeling, however, is Physicians for Human Rights witness “Omar,” who escaped unharmed and feels he is the longest-serving among the prisoners there (PHR Report, Dec. 2011, PDF download link). He was also well-informed, having great contacts with secret ally guard "Mustafa," who was bringing them food scraps and water. Omar describes the hole better than most, and has it existing and playing an important role throughout his saga at the shed, right up until it came time to escape.
Omar related how one prisoner, some days prior to the massacre, “attempted to escape by climbing through a hole in the warehouse wall, but guards immediately shot and killed him.” Then they came in and beat the hell out of all 150 prisoners. That night, Mustafa whispered to Omar (“through the hole in the upper wall of the warehouse”) that the guards had left the escapee “to rot in the sun.”
Late on August 22 (wrong day), PHR reports, Mustafa "came to the window before evening prayer" with food, water, and a warning: “You will either escape or die.” Bypassing the useless "window," Mustafa then unlocked the shed doors "so they could escape later that night.” But, as Omar says, they made too much noise and triggered the massacre of the 22nd ("Allahu Akbar" is cited as they thing they couldn't keep quiet enough).
The "window" is apparently the same as the high hole in the wall many eventually say they escaped through. One prisoner at least had passed through in Omar's version - at the wrong time. Secrets and whispers were passed through it, food and water too. But escape could still only happen by those damn doors. That’s how Omar did it – after the guards found the lock hanging loose and punished them with grenades and guns, several prisoners “rushed the doors and ran in all directions,” as PHR summarized.
The Wall Behind the Hole in the Wall
Omar apparently did just fine with the doors, but it was a great escape route that he passed up not thinking of that window. Middle-aged Bashir Mohammed, recall, had no problem "running" right out through it, but then “tried to escape across the compound," which was the murderous part. "I know at least three men did not make it and were shot in the back by the Gaddafi soldiers," he told the Mirror's David Fricker.
At least one exterior photograph taken by the Human Rights Watch team (from their Aug. 29 report, photo cropped above) shows this breach in the corner of the shed (un-cropped, it shows what might be Omar's rotting escapee). As you can see, the hole leads straight onto the top edge of the northern outer wall of this mini compound. Could you get from the hole to the wall’s crest? I could. Escape from there was all but done. As the satellite imagery shows (northwest/north shed corner), immediately on the other side of that north wall is the open street and across that, all kinds of shelter and perhaps aid, and chances to keep running and hiding farther and farther from the bullets.
Climb out onto the wall, swing legs over, plop down and run. Easy. So why did old Mr. Bashir and his friends decide to plop back down on the yard side of the wall and then run south across the controlled compound to some other wall they’d have to climb from scratch? Only to be shot in the back while climbing it? (like "the man on the stairs" covered here.)
One of the witnesses (I forget who) mentioned seeing the surrounding walls raised, and we can see the north wall was raised by five bricks, at some point. This was for security purposes, one guesses, since it was a prison and "torture center" of local fame, as we heard afterwards. But as I see it the extra bricks only made it a tad easier to escape - no stepping down to the wall's top, just right over onto it, with two choices from there.
Why did the prisoners stay in that jail as long as they did? Were they masochists? Did they value their lives? Are all their stories just made up?
A side-note on shed layout:
This section is slightly complicated by the fact I just noticed that there are two halves to the interior of this shed. The outside shows two doorways in, but the space we've seen has only one entrance, it seems. About where the other door should be is the east wall.
So... did the prisoners escape from a hole in the wall of this side? Not likely, even without interior views. The hole would be visible on the outside, and as we can see, there's no hole into the other chamber, so the inner wall is out. The front wall had only the door out, as we can see. The east wall of this chamber, covered in sheet metal with no windows, and against which the dead men near mattresses were piled, seems intact in all views. Only the north wall remains as an unseen option, at this time offering no escape but over the wall and hardly even the choice of running across the yard.
So as I see it, the disconnect remains about the same even with this ambiguity added. The people who said they escaped through a hole seem to be lying. They're probably not the only ones.