New evidence implicates Libyan militia in the apparent execution of dozens of detainees in the immediate wake of Moammar Gadhafi’s capture and death last year, according to Human Rights Watch.
In a 50-page report issued Wednesday, the New York-based organization said at least 66 members of Gadhafi’s convoy were captured and ‘summarily executed’ by militia based in Misrata.
By comparing mobile phone video taken by the opposition militia members with hospital morgue photographs, HRW have identified numerous detainees who were captured in Sirte and later executed at the town’s Mahari Hotel.
Goran Tomasevic / REUTERS
An uprising in Libya ousts dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
“When we arrived, there were 53 bodies lying in the garden of the hotel. The first indication we had this was an execution site was that many victims had their hands tied behind their backs,“ said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at HRW. Volunteer workers at the scene said that relatives of additional victims had recovered their bodies prior to the Human Rights Watch visit.
"In case after case we investigated, the individuals had been videotaped alive by the opposition fighters who held them, and then found dead hours later," Bouckaert said.
HRW said these killings constitute the largest documented execution of detainees by anti-Gadhafi forces during the eight-month conflict in Libya.
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One case cited by HRW is that of Ahmed Ali Yusuf al-Ghariyani, 29, a Navy recruit originally from Tawergha, a Gadhafi stronghold. In a phone video that is believed to show him in captivity, militia forces are seen to abuse and taunt him.
Al-Ghariyani’s body was later found at the Mahari Hotel and was photographed by hospital staff and buried as unidentified body number 86. He was later identified by family members from the hospital photographs.
The report also casts doubt on what HRW said is the Libyan authorities’ account of the fate of Gadhafi and his son Motassim, both of whom are officially reported to have died in cross-fire.
In video released with the report, Moammar is seen alive and bloodied in the hands of the rebels, in images similar to those widely circulated in the days after his death.
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According to the report, Motassim Gaddafi was also captured alive at the scene of the Sirte battle. He was wounded and then filmed being transported by members of a Misrata-based opposition militia to their home city. He was again filmed in a room, smoking cigarettes and drinking water. By the evening, his dead body, with a new wound on his throat that was not visible in the prior video footage, was being publicly displayed in Misrata.
Peter Brouckaert said the Libyan authorities’ refusal to accept or investigate atrocities by former rebels shows ‘a government in denial.’
“They are not in a position to confront the militia,” he said, ”It shows who’s in power in Libya.”
Calls for militias to be brought under the control of the defense or interior ministries have met resistance from some fighters.
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Meanwhile, some groups have been implicated in revenge attacks and communal strife, while members of one Islamist militia have been accused of taking part in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in the eastern city Benghazi on Sept. 11 that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
In the aftermath of Stevens' death, popular resentment surged and thousands took to the streets of Benghazi demanding the dismantlement of the militias. The government has taken over some militia headquarters and appointed military officers to run the groups, and designated some "outlawed" and others "tolerated."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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