Many of Libya’s makeshift prisons are run by local militia groups scarred by the eight-month war and angry at the prisoners, who include Gaddafi fighters and supporters. The new government that is to be named in the next few weeks — after a planned declaration of Libya’s liberation Sunday — will have to deal with both the militias and a crippled national justice system.
So far, the overwhelmed central government has not decided whether Gaddafi-era laws can be used to prosecute his forces.
“What we have been through is something unusual. We don’t have a court that applies for that,” said Ali Sweti, a lawyer who works with the revolutionary government in Misurata, about 130 miles east of Tripoli.
Sweti, 27, runs a prison that reflects the rough wartime justice at work in Libya. The facility was set up at a high school, and it now holds 1,000 inmates — a tenfold increase since July. They sleep on mattresses laid side by side on the floor, guarded by revolutionaries as young as 19. One recent day, two dozen detainees were lined up waiting to use one small washroom.
The interim national government is planning an amnesty for Gaddafi fighters who have not committed war crimes and who agree to cooperate with the new authorities, according to one government adviser, who was not authorized to speak on the record. But it is unclear whether that will be acceptable in places such as Misurata, where residents endured especially bloody attacks by loyalist forces.
“Some of these [pro-Gaddafi] people raped, some killed. There was vandalism. They tortured us; they killed kids,” said Abdel Gader Abu Shaallah, who oversees two other makeshift prisons in Misurata. “We are emotionally destroyed.”
Militiamen from Misurata captured Gaddafi on Thursday in his home town of Sirte. Cellphone videos show revolutionaries punching and kicking him and pulling his hair, as gunshots ring out in the background. He died in captivity during what the interim government says was an exchange of gunfire with loyalist troops but what human rights groups say could have been an intentional shot to the head. Gaddafi’s body was displayed publicly in Misurata for a second day Saturday.
Mona Rishmawi, a senior U.N. human rights official, said after visiting Libya this month that up to 7,000 prisoners were being held with no judicial process.
“This is, of course, a recipe for abuse,” she told reporters.