But Gaddafi loyalists were also targets of apparent extrajudicial killings. Those deaths have cast a dark shadow over Libya’s newfound freedom and call into question whether the rebels will break with Gaddafi’s blood-soaked style of governance or merely mimic it.
“In Tripoli, we are seeing the same pattern in recent days that we saw earlier in the east,” said Diana Eltahawy, Libya researcher for Amnesty International. She described a record of abuse, torture and the extrajudicial killing of captured pro-Gaddafi fighters that has followed the rebels from east to west as they have taken over the country.
In the wreckage of a Tripoli fire station and field hospital on Friday, five fighters loyal to Gaddafi lay in agony and blood, apparently left to die by their vanquishers. They had been without food, water or medical attention for two days.
Rebel fighters patrolling the compound knew the men were there, but scarcely seemed to care. “We would take them to the hospital, but there are no hospitals,” said Salah Mansoor, a law school graduate and shopkeeper dressed in a Liverpool soccer shirt. “There are no cars to take them,” he added, as a taxi cruised by.
A few minutes’ drive from the fire station, at least 15 bodies, most of them Gaddafi’s black African supporters, lay rotting in the sun at a traffic junction outside his Bab al-Aziziyah complex. Several of the dead wore green pieces of cloth wrapped around their wrists to signal loyalty to the Gaddafi regime.
The men may have died during Tuesday’s battle for Bab al-Aziziyah, and several were wearing military fatigues. But not all of them looked like ordinary battlefield deaths. Two dead men lay face down on the grass, their hands bound behind their backs with plastic cuffs.
The worst treatment of Gaddafi loyalists appeared to be reserved for anyone with black skin, whether they hailed from southern Libya or from other African countries. Darker-skinned prisoners were not getting the same level of medical care in a hospital in rebel-held Zawiyah as lighter-skinned Arab Libyans, Eltahawy said.
Rebels say Gaddafi employed gunmen from sub-Saharan Africa to shore up his army against his own people, and those fighters have elicited intense enmity from Libyans. But many of the detainees in Zawiyah told Amnesty International they were merely migrant workers “taken at gunpoint from their homes, workplaces and the street on account of their skin color,” Eltahawy said.
The civilian leaders of the anti-Gaddafi uprising have publicly condemned reprisals against loyalist troops. But the officials are in the eastern city of Benghazi, far from the most intense fighting in recent weeks, which has been focused in western Libyan. Even in the east, the civilian leadership appears to have had little success in preventing fighters from carrying out revenge attacks.