Aid Group Alleges Torture In Libyan Prisons

The well-respected aid group Doctors Without Borders is suspending its work in the jails in the city of Mistrata based on what it calls evidence of widespread torture taking place right under the new regimes nose:

BENGHAZI, Libya — Doctors Without Borders has suspended its work in prisons in the Libyan city of Misrata because it said torture was so rampant that some detainees were brought for care only to make them fit for further interrogation, the group said Thursday.

The announcement was compounded by a statement from Amnesty International saying it has recorded widespread prisoner abuse in other cities as well, leading to the death of several inmates.

The allegations, which come more than three months after former leader Moammar Gadhafi was captured and killed, were an embarrassment to the governing National Transitional Council, which is struggling to establish its authority in the divided nation.

Doctors Without Borders said that since August, its medical teams have treated 115 people in Misrata who bore torture-related wounds, including cigarette burns, heavy bruising, bone fractures, tissue burns from electric shocks and kidney failure from beatings. Two detainees died after being interrogated, the group’s general director said.

“Patients were brought to us in the middle of interrogation for medical care, in order to make them fit for further interrogation. This is unacceptable,” MSF general director Christopher Stokes said in a statement. “Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions.”

Libya’s Western-backed leadership, which has sought to assure the world of its commitment to democracy and human rights, has acknowledged that some prisoners held by revolutionary forces have been abused. It insisted the mistreatment was not systematic and pledged to tackle the problem.

But the transitional government has been unable to rein in the dozens of militias that arose during the war and have been reluctant to disband or submit to central authority.

Amnesty International said in a statement issued Thursday that it has met with a number of detainees in Tripoli, Misrata, and Gharyan who showed visible marks indicating torture, including open wounds on the head, limbs, back and other parts of the body. A number of detainees spoke to Amnesty about beatings with electric cables and metal chains, and they reported being suspended in contorted positions and given electric shocks.

The London-based group said the torture and mistreatment, mostly against suspected Gadhafi loyalists and sometimes foreign nationals from sub-Saharan African countries, is carried out by officially recognized military and security bodies as well as by a number of armed militias operating outside any legal framework. The group said several detainees died in custody from torture, detailing the death of at least two detainees.

Britain, which played a key role in the NATO-led air campaign that helped revolutionary forces overthrow Gadhafi, urged the new regime to “live up to the high standards they have set themselves.”

“They need to ensure a zero tolerance policy on abuse. We are concerned about these reports and are taking them up with the Libyans as a matter of urgency,” British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said in a statement.

We heard reports like this in the immediate aftermath of the final collapse of the Gadhafi regime, of course, and while it doesn’t appear to have become a systemic problem (yet) it’s nonetheless something to be concerned about. The biggest problem the new Libya would seem to have, in addition to the fact that 40+ years of one-man rule essentially means that they have very little of a civil structure to build upon, is the fact that the rebellion itself was in some cases united only by the desire to overthrow Gadhafi. As time goes on any parties begin to pursue their own agendas, retributions like this against former Gadhafi supporters, or against the black African military that were brought into the northern part of the country to control the population and eventually fight the civil war, are likely to become more common. Unless the central government, to the extent there even is one, can gain control of these factions, things could get quite messy indeed.

H/T; Regular commenter Michael Reynolds

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. legion says:

    Hmmm… So if ‘wingers want to use this to flog Obama about Libya & foreign policy, they have to treat a report from bleeding-hearts like Doctors w/o Borders seriously & refrain from calling them a bunch of DFHs. That’s gonna be tricky, but I’m sure some TownHall wacknoodle is up to the task!

  2. michael reynolds says:

    This is very disappointing, obviously. I hope it isn’t a sign of things to come but rather some rogue elements in one city. That people would crave revenge is understandable, but that’s why we have systems of law and human rights. The new Libyan government needs to act on this.

  3. walt moffett says:

    From what’s presented, sounds like a strictly internal Libyan problem. Other than diplomatic murmuring to the Libyan Government, don’t see what we should be doing.

  4. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @walt moffett: I’m not sure that there is much else we can do. In this case, we don’t even have the “we paid for this land with our treasure and blood” argument that Bachmann offered for forcing the Iraqi government to extend the status of forces agreement.