Jamie Dettmer writes: Najat Taweel’s jet-black eyes fill with tears as she describes seeing her jailed brother, Abdul Taweel, shortly after his arrest. The Libyan mother of three had managed to talk her way into Tripoli’s notorious Ain Zara prison where 29-year-old Abdul was being held, charged with killing a fellow revolutionary this past February. Najat, 41, holds up photographs she says a fellow prisoner took of her brother, using a smuggled mobile phone. The pictures show a man whose back is covered with deep bruises and ugly wounds. Najat, 41, says Abdul told her he had signed a confession, but only because he couldn’t take the beatings anymore—and because his interrogators had threatened to rape and kill his family.
Libyan revolutionaries captured and killed Muammar Gaddafi more than seven months ago, but the dictator’s brutal tactics and antidemocratic ways live after him. Human-rights workers say that’s true not only within the high walls of the dictator’s former Ain Zara torture center but at other jails and penitentiaries across the country. Abdul is among at least 20 Ain Zara inmates whose relatives accuse guards of subjecting detainees to severe and regular beatings with everything from fists to sticks, metal rods, and chains. Family members say some of the prisoners have been repeatedly beaten on their genitalia, a form of punishment that—in addition to being excruciatingly painful—could leave its victims infertile. Others, according to relatives, have been tortured with Taser-style electroshock weapons.
Part of the problem may be that the country’s transitional government is only gradually managing to assert its authority over the patchwork of rival militias that overthrew the Gaddafi regime. Ain Zara remained under the control of one of those militias until less than four months ago. At the Feb. 2 handover ceremony, the facility’s new director—himself a former political prisoner at Ain Zara under the dictatorship—promised that the prison would break from its dark past and shake off its grisly reputation. “We no longer hit the detainees,” Burawi al-Guebaili declared, and he boasted of improvements such as hot meals and stalls with doors being added in the restrooms. Since then, journalists and human-rights investigators have visited the prison, but they have not been given the opportunity to speak alone with the 50 or so accused Gaddafi loyalists held there or any of the other inmates. [Continue reading…]