last edits Feb. 6
<< Khamis Brigade Shed Massacre
<< Shed Massacre Witness List
Among the witnesses to the epic, alleged, shed massacre of August 23, two special ones claim to have seen it from the villain's side of things, taking part in the brutal killing of some 150 prisoners. These two men are prisoners themselves now, held by rebel militias in Az Zawiyah and Misrata. The former Gaddafi soldiers have both "confessed" or "admitted" [that is, claimed] roles in this large-scale death penalty crime, which might make the claims seem credible. Why lie when the end result is your own death, especially when, as in these cases, there's no proof other than your confession?
A conviction and death sentence often suffice to leave a guilty man free to confess, but these guys haven't even had a trial yet. Neither has one of them, at least, spoken to a lawyer, or anyone outside the jai, since he was arrested. Their physical lives and futures remain controlled by rebel fighters known to carry out their own atrocities, known to fob off the blame, and known to torture Gaddafi loyalists.
It shouldn't take much imagination to see how these could come together. Did their captors promise secret deals in exchange for useful testimony? Or is it that they somehow made the road towards death the nice way out for these two young men whose lives have been effectively ended already?
Among the four witnesses interviewed by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) for their December report on "the 32nd Brigade Massacre" was a guard of the brigade, given the pseudonym "Laskhar." The others, all victims, are called Mohammed, Ali, and Omar. It's not likely chance that they gave the character who "tortured and executed detainees" (for a fact, and even "admitted" it) a rarer name that sounds kind of sinister to English ears, like Lash Scar, a perfect name for a villain in a Disney cartoon.
(PHR report, original PDF link - our blog post on it)
Their introduction of the witness:
Profile 4: Laskhar148 Tortured and Executed Detainees
PHR interviewed “Laskhar” (pseudonym) on 10 September 2011. A mid-level officer in the Libyan armed forces, Laskhar reported that he had joined the army in 2007 and served the past four years with the Khamis 32nd Brigade. At the time of the interview, Laskhar was being held in custody at a temporary detention facility by the NTC-affiliated military council in Zawiya.
During the interview, which was conducted in a private room with Laskhar, an interpreter, and a PHR investigator present, Laskhar admitted to the torture and murder of more than 12 detainees under his custody at the makeshift prison (Agricultural Compound) at Khalat al Forjan, which he said was in close proximity to the 32nd Brigade barracks in the southern outskirts of Tripoli.
His motives for revealing self-incriminating evidence to PHR are unknown; however, Laskhar did report to PHR that he felt remorse in having committed the crimes discussed below.
The bolded is worth thinking about. It could be remorse for a real crime, or any manner of coercion getting him to claim an unreal one. Let'ssee how it stacks up.
They give his background, starting from joining the military in 2007. He says he was transferred to the massacre shed in March specifically to help guard the prisoners. "The officer in charge was Lt. Colonel Mohamad Mansour," PHR found, "who reported directly to Khamis Qaddafi," the leader's son and grand overseer of this 32nd Mechanized (Khamis) Brigade.
They had orders from "Laskhar's" immediate superior (Hamza el-Harizi, just beneath Mansour) to beat all incoming detainees, using metal cables, rifle butts, etc. At least eight of the victims died from this, Laskhar helping in four of those beatings, and all were buried onsite or nearby, he says, except one. That body was taken to another 32nd brigade base for some reason that probably helps explain antoher bizarre rebel story there.
"Laskhar" makes no mention of genital electrocution by bald black women, as alleged by Jamal al-Raggai, but he did claim to see another soldier - a black man from Tawergha, he says - rape young prisoners on two occasions, between two cars by the shed.
The day of the execution is what matters most here. As he told PHR, at 12:30 PM on August 23, he says Khamis Gaddafi was there at the base conducting a meeting, including with Faraj Abu Ghalia (Deputy Chief of Military Intelligence). After that, he also saw his boss Hamza get a call from Mansour.
According to Laskhar, after Hamza finished the call, he told Laskhar that Mansour had ordered all detainees at the compound be killed and that the operation begin that night. Laskhar further explained that these orders had come directly from Khamis Gaddafi.The bolded claim - not hard to see that coming.
Our minor villain was apparently scheduled to leavefor the night around 8:00, because "according to Laskhar, the operation began at around 8:00 p.m. that night while he was still at the brigade barracks." But he apparently wasn't involved, and then went home at the time. "Later that night, Hamza told Laskhar to ensure there were no survivors among the detainees." Too late. Somewhere between 25 and 60 people had escaped alive and would all go on the record. But he went back and tried to help make sure those too injured to run were finished off.
"Laskhar arrived at the compound at 11:00 p.m. and reported that five other 32nd brigade soldiers (three Libyans and two Tuaregs) had thrown grenades into the warehouse and used "kalashnikov" rifles to attempt to kill the the approximately 150 detainees trapped inside."Use of "admitted," again, suggests only that they believe his claims. They found a few 9mm bullets at the scene, and find the connection quite impressive. His story of being gone during the main crime feels quite convenient, surely the one part rebels and their supporters would latch onto as a sign of untruth. He was probably right egging it on, they'll decide with utmost cleverness.
Laskhar then proceeded to search for detainees who had survived the initial attacks. With a flashlight he inspected wounded men who lay on the ground inside and others who had apparently escaped but were still within the walled compound. Laskhar admitted to Physicians for Human Rights that he summarily executed 12 detainees with his nine-millimeter pistol that night.
Nowhere in any "Laskhar's" account is fire mentioned yet. Note that for the next account. It was only days later that the notion even entered his picture.
The next morning (Wednesday, 24 August 2011), Hamza brought a Caterpillar excavator to the compound apparently to dig a mass grave for the executed detainees. According to Laskhar, the heavy equipment broke down, hindering their plans to bury the bodies en masse. Hamza apparently searched for another backhoe truck, but failed to find one.And afterwards:
At that point, Laskhar reported that one of the soldiers (name withheld) fled, but Laskhar remained with Hamza, who did not know what to do with the bodies. Sometime later that same week Laskhar reported that Lt. Col. Mansour ordered that they collect all corpses, amass them inside the warehouse, and burn all the bodies. Laskhar said they followed his orders. They then collected automobile tires and put them inside the warehouse with the bodies. The soldiers then poured diesel fuel over the bodies and tires and torched the warehouse and its contents.
Laskhar reported that after this incident he fled the compound and hid for four days before returning home to Zawiya. Shortly after he arrived home, he reported that his uncle turned him in to the local NTC authorities in Zawiya. The NTC-appointed military council allowed PHR access to the detention facility where Laskhar was being held.Ibrahim Sadeq Khalifa
Although a medical evaluation was not conducted, Laskhar did not present with any visible signs of mistreatment. He reported that “they treat me 100% well. I did not treat [the detainees] the way I am treated here.” PHR was not able to confirm, however, the reliability of his statement regarding treatment in detention.
AFP, Jan. 31, via al Arabiya (who did accept my comment!): "Pro-Qaddafi ‘mass murderer’ awaits fate in Libyan jail."
AFP was taken to a makeshift prison in Misrata where Gaddafi loyalists, including the onetime head of Internal Security, are held. One prisoner is a soldier of the Khamis Brigade, Ibrahim Sadeq Khalifa, captured in Tripoli. He has the same problems of isolation that seems to be standard there - no outside news, no family contact (either way, probably) and certainly no access to a lawyer or anyone to protect his rights.
He was beaten and burned with cigarettes, he says, but prior to transfer to this prison. Thus he implied torture had nothing to do with his candid "confession" there to AFP that he took part in yet another version of the Khamis Brigade shed massacre.
By his own admission, Khalifa participated in the mass killing of civilians as Tripoli was falling.
His crime, which he acknowledged in front of an AFP team touring the prison, was that he burned alive around 150 men in a garage in Tripoli as fighting raged between Qaddafi loyalists and former rebels in August last year.
“I threw grenades on them after my colleagues doused them in petrol. We then locked the garage and left. We burnt them alive,” Khalifa told AFP, of the massacre that he and four other Qaddafi soldiers carried out.
Khalifa admits that those killed by him and his comrades in the Khalit al-Farjan area of Tripoli on the afternoon of Aug. 22 were civilians.
His account agrees with Laskhar on the small number of soldiers, five, who actually did the massacring. But on just about everything else, the two stories conflict.
He gives the wrong date, for one thing. Most of the witnesses who give a day at all, and nearly all considered reports, agree the date was the 23rd. Only three others I know of, escapees Sedik/Siddeq, Mounir Own, and PHR witness "Omar" specify the 22nd.
There's a problem with the grenades too. The prisoners describe regular grenades with shrapnel, not incendiary ones with fire, used during the gun attack. A few witnesses seem to say there was fire involved during the attack, but most make no mentionof it. Only one witness (M. Bashir) described burning alive quite clearly, but he has gas/petrol poured over the wounded shortly after the shooting and grenades, then fire set in some regular way.
Khalifa, however, doesn't say when or if shooting was involved. He says the fuel was dumped first, then he himself threw in some kind of fire grenades. He had to know just what that would do, and he is perhaps the single most culpable person in this likely fake episode. He will be punished.
But the fire had to be set at least a day or two after the August 23 massacre, or perhaps repeatedly well after rebels took control. Somehow, the one-body-deep pile just kept smoldering through the 26th, the 27th, and 28th. The victims were all dead by then, whoever they really were - no one was likely burned alive. Laskhar's story fits the facts better on this point, but that still doesn't mean it's true.
He says once the fire was going, they locked the doors and no one he mentions escaped. They killed 150. But according to the many who escaped, the guards left the doors unlocked or even open, or someone unlocked or forced them, or they just rushed them, right past the soldiers, or whatever. Some cite miracles, others that the soldiers had gone to re-load. Some say the soldiers never left, and the prisoners fought past them aided by shouting or a fire extinguisher (per PHR witness "Mohammed"), and none (except Bashir, Algala/El Goula, and maybe someone else) has flames lapping behind them on the way out.
"Confessions" Considered Together
So solder Khalifa and the other four burned the people alive -on the 22nd. Did Laskhar just forget to mention the people he finished off -late on the 23rd - had been burned as well as shot and grenaded? Or did Khalifa only think he remembered the complex process of dousing and grenade-burning living captives?
If we want to believe both of these guys ... well, how could one do that? If we want to believe one of these guys, which one? If we start to believe neither, well, then how did they coincidentally come out making up stories to such similar effect, coinciding so nicely with something "only the criminal would know?"
It narrows, of course, if we consider the possibility that the criminals in question, who know just what size the cover needs to be, have both of these guys under their own control.
On the other hand, if the soldiers' new controllers were conspiring to get false stories, why would they contraidct each other so badly? (That's not a strong counter-point, by the way. It's just all I could think of).