Yesterday was the Catholic Justice Sunday. Whilst I was unimpressed with the emphasis on criminals placed in prison, I did feel that much more could be said about the plight of political prisoners, because these are the men and women who have continually faced injustice over the ages. I make the distinction because criminals make a choice, and it is a bad choice. In the case of criminals, it is often their refusal to turn their lives around when given the opportunity that sees them ending up in prison. However, that is not the case of political prisoners around the world.
The more I have been reading about Libya, and yes even about the LIFG, I recognize that the LIFG was not ideologically associated with Al Qaeda and it is wrong to claim that members of the LIFG are Al Qaeda, which is the claim that is made by Gadhafi and his goons, and it is the claim that is taken up by anti-Islamists. (I may deal with the anti-Islamists at some other point, but it will be to show where they are wrong, rather than disagreeing with them). What has jolted me has been the revelations about the capture of Mr. Belhadj and his deputy, and their rendition back to Libya on the pretext that they were somehow associated with Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. The trauma faced by those two individuals in the Libyan Abu Salim prison is all the more reason to reject any support of the Gadhafi regime.
The way that I am writing here is to support the Libyan people, and I am not aiming to be pro-Muslim. My whole point is the humanitarian one, that people should be able to live their lives without fear. It has been the case that for the close to 42 years of the reign of Daffy Duck that the Libyan people feared for their lives. It was a reign of terror in Libya during that period. We in the West only knew about the bad things being done by Libyans such as the shooting of the policewoman outside of the Libyan embassy in London, as well as the bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie on the orders of Moammar Gadhafi, as well as the bombing of the Berlin nightclub, also on the orders of Moammar Gadhafi, and the assassination of various dissidents. We also knew of the shipment of weapons to the IRA. We were not aware of the murder of more than 1000 men and women in Abu Salim prison.
What took place in Abu Salim prison is the key to the Libyan revolution. This is the prison where opponents of Gadhafi were taken and then tortured. I have seen a variety of reports about the horrors of Abu Salim, including pictures of the cells where those men were forced to live. The reports are somewhat gruesome. When the revolutionaries took Tripoli, the guards at Abu Salim prison had a little present for the inmates: a grenade and being shot in the back. This was the scene that faced the revolutionaries as they managed to free those who were not killed by the Gadhafi regime.
The more recent story, however, is not the big story, but the finding of the remains of the more than 1000 who were killed in 1996 is the story. It was the relatives of the men who who killed in 1996 who were staging protests in Benghazi when their lawyer was arrested. Now, for the first time, those relatives are able to find out what happened to their missing loved ones.
The BBC is reporting that the Libyans have found the mass grave in Abu Salim prison that holds the remains of those who were murdered in 1996.
The NTC said it had discovered the site – a desert field scattered with bone fragments within the grounds of the Abu Salim prison – by questioning prison guards who had worked there when the prisoners were killed after protesting against their conditions.
Several bone fragments and pieces of clothing have already been found in the top soil.
Some family members visited the site, among them Sami Assadi, who lost two brothers in the incident.
He was told they had died of natural causes only five years ago. He told the BBC how it felt to be at the place where his brothers may be buried.
“Mixed feelings really. We are all happy because this revolution has succeeded, but when I stand here, I remember my brothers and many, many friends have been killed, just because they did not like Muammar Gaddafi.”
Until recently, little was known about the circumstances in which the prisoners died, says the BBC’s Jonathan Head who went down to the site.
A few eyewitnesses have talked about the fact they were killed in their jail cells by grenades and sustained gunfire after a protest.
Officials in the new government say they will need foreign forensic help to determine exactly what happened there.