Gaddafi's Son: Bulgarians Were Tortured

Palestinian-born doctor Ashraf al-Hazouz, center, shows reporters in Bulgaria how he was tortured in Libya. Hazouz and five nurses were convicted of infecting children with HIV, a verdict challenged by scientific experts.
Palestinian-born doctor Ashraf al-Hazouz, center, shows reporters in Bulgaria how he was tortured in Libya. Hazouz and five nurses were convicted of infecting children with HIV, a verdict challenged by scientific experts. (By Valentina Petrova -- Associated Press)

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By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, August 10, 2007

PARIS, Aug. 9 -- Six Bulgarian medical workers imprisoned on charges of infecting children with the HIV virus were tortured by electric shock during their captivity, the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi told al-Jazeera television.

The doctor and five nurses were released last month after eight years in prison, and several have described ordeals of electric shock, rape, attacks by dogs and other torture during their incarceration.

"Yes, they were tortured by electricity, and they were threatened that their family members would be targeted," Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was quoted as saying on the Arab broadcaster's Web site Thursday.

Although the younger Gaddafi confirmed the electric shocks, he disputed other allegations of torture, some made by Ashraf al-Hazouz, a 38-year-old Palestinian-born doctor who was among the imprisoned medical workers. Hazouz, who was recently granted Bulgarian citizenship, has said in interviews, "We were treated like animals."

Hazouz told Dutch television that Libyans attached electrodes to his genitals and feet, sent dogs to attack him and tied his hands and legs to a metal bar, spinning him "like a chicken on a rotisserie."

"For the first days I was locked up with three dogs who were ordered to attack me," Hazouz told journalists in another interview. "My leg is full of scars and marks from where they bit me, and I had a big hole in my knee."

The electric shock torture, sleep deprivation and beatings drove one of the nurses to try to kill herself about two months after her arrest by gnawing the veins in her wrists, according to an account her mother gave the Bulgarian newspaper Standard.

Al-Jazeera posted Gaddafi's comments on its Web site Thursday, saying they were taken from an interview broadcast Wednesday.

Gaddafi's eldest son often acts as a public relations and diplomatic spokesman for his father and reportedly was instrumental in negotiations with the West in convincing his father to give up Libyan nuclear ambitions. He also is reported to have played a role in orchestrating the deal to release the medical workers.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a painter who attended the London School of Economics, has frequently been named as a potential successor to his father. He has insisted, however, that Libya's next leader will be democratically elected.

The medical workers were arrested in 1999 and sentenced to death on charges of intentionally infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Libyan authorities accused them of conducting an AIDS experiment that went haywire.

The nurses and the doctor blamed the infections on poor hygiene in the hospital where they worked. Independent medical studies showed that the infections in the hospital predated the arrival of the medical workers by several years.

Their release followed months-long behind-the-scenes negotiations that resulted in payments of millions of dollars from various foreign governments and organizations to the families of the infected children and to the hospital.

The statement on torture was the second time that the younger Gaddafi has exposed controversial details of the case. Several days after the Libyan government turned the workers over to the European Union and French officials for a flight to Bulgaria, the younger Gaddafi told the French newspaper Le Monde that the French government had approved a $230 million antitank missile sale to Libya, in part as a result of the prison release.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that he signed security, health care and immigration pacts with Libya, but French officials initially denied a weapons sale. When they acknowledged the agreement several days later, French officials said the deal was not connected to the release of the medical workers.

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