By Christian Lowe
KHOMS, Libya | Tue Sep 6, 2011 12:56pm EDT
(Reuters) – Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi deployed special squads which held suspected opponents in shipping containers, tortured them for information about insurgent networks and disposed of their bodies in unmarked graves in a campaign to smash the revolt against his rule.
Evidence gathered by Reuters in the provincial town of Khoms shows an organized system of repression with methods including delivering electric shocks to suspects’ genitals, keeping them for weeks in baking heat with only a few sips of water a day, and whipping them with an electrical cable while their hands were bound with plastic ties.
It was all part of a deliberate strategy, said Nabil Al-Menshaz, an official in the rebel council which took over Khoms after Gaddafi’s rule there collapsed last month. “They wanted to frighten the people, so if anyone was thinking of going over to the rebels, they would change their minds,” he said.
The brutality of Gaddafi’s forces in the capital, Tripoli, in the final, chaotic days before rebels overran the city has been well documented. Dozens of bodies were left lying in the streets, and witnesses described prisoners being massacred before their jailers fled. Thousands more were killed in battles in cities like Misrata and Zawiyah.
But accounts from Khoms paint a different, and in some ways even more sinister picture. Months before the rebel victory, and out of sight of the outside world, Gaddafi was operating a system of torture – separate from the army and police – that was so well-organized the units has their own command structures and bureaucracy.
On a wall at a construction site just outside Khoms that one of the units used for detaining suspects, pro-Gaddafi forces had scrawled in red crayon the name of their unit: “Soqur Al-Fatah” – or “Hawks of Al-Fatah,” a reference to the 1969 Al-Fatah Revolution that brought Gaddafi to power. Underneath that, in the same handwriting, someone had written the words: “Death Group.”