It would be “impossible’’ for Libya to send such captives abroad, Gweider said, even though Senussi and another prisoner, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a son of the late dictator, are being sought by the International Criminal Court for mass killings and other atrocities alleged to have taken place during Libya’s 2011 revolution.
The Libyan government has adopted the same defiant stance, vowing to try the men on Libyan soil as testament to the country’s successful transition from dictatorship to democracy. For now, the international court has suspended a demand that Gaddafi be handed over immediately, pending a decision on a legal challenge mounted by the Libyan government. But legal experts warn of potential perils if Libya and its hodgepodge of new leaders prove unwilling to comply with international law.
The role reversals in Libya that have put former prisoners, opposition leaders and outlaws into positions of power point to a vacuum that legal experts say the ICC should fill in countries such as Libya, where doubts remain about the prospect of a fair trial for suspected war criminals.
Most of Libya’s prisoners had been “held for more than a year without charge or due process rights, including judicial review and access to a lawyer,” Human Rights Watch said in its 2013 World Report, released last month. Detainees in some facilities reported “repeated torture and deaths in custody,” according to the report.
Across the country, many of the men who guard some 8,000 prisoners, seized during and after Libya’s eight-month revolution, are former rebels or former prisoners themselves. The top posts in the Libyan government and security services are peppered with former members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an extremist group that battled Moammar Gaddafi’s regime sporadically throughout the 1990s.
Former members of that extremist group have also established a new national guard, which controls at least part of the complex where Senussi is held, according to two people who have visited the facility and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. (Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, once considered his father’s heir apparent, is in another prison in the mountain town of Zintan, held by the Libyan rebels who caught him.)
‘I should be taking revenge’
Hanan Salah, a Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch who has met with Gweider and other justice and prison officials, said there is nothing inherently problematic with former fighters running Libya’s prisons. But the lack of training and vetting, to ensure that guards don’t have records of abuse, is a problem, she said.