Friday, July 22, 2011

Sadiq Hamed Shwehdi

Sadiq Hamed Shwehdi shortly before being hanged in front of children and students at Bengazi basketball arena in 1984.

Gaddafi's Libyan rule exposed in lost picture archive

Grim footage of Sadiq Hamed Shwehdi's infamous execution also emerges from Benghazi

Ian Black, Middle East, Monday 18 July 2011 Gaddafi

Gadhafi had already ruled Libya for 15 years in June 1984 and he had a fearsome reputation for brutality towards his enemies. But the grim scene that unfolded in the eastern city of Benghazi was a spectacular first even for him.

It was blazing hot day. Thousands of schoolchildren and students were bussed into Benghazi's basketball stadium, where they saw a frightened young man with curly hair and beard, kneeling with his hands bound behind his back, pleading for his life before people's prosecutors.

Sadiq Hamid Shwehdi, 30, was accused of plotting to assassinate the leader of the revolution. The court described him as "a terrorist from the Muslim Brotherhood, an agent of America".

In this grainy, recently rediscovered film, Shwehdi is seen alone in the centre of the stadium, sobbing as he confesses to his crime of joining the "stray dogs" – in the chilling terminology of the regime – before being sentenced to death.

In the crowd, a young woman in olive green fatigues shouts and waves her clenched fists. Later, in a nauseating display of zeal, she pulls at Shwehdi's legs as he writhes on the makeshift gallows, the basketball scoreboard clearly visible in the background, until he stops struggling. Huda "the hangman" Ben Amer went on to become a Gaddafi favourite and fled Benghazi after this year's uprising.

"Many Libyans saw the original live broadcast of the trial at the time and still remember it, but this is the full video and audio – and it has not been seen since then," said Peter Bouckaert, the Human Rights Watch researcher who unearthed the material. Until now only fragments of the original were available. Shwehdi's brother Ibrahim handed over four Beta video tapes to be digitised and preserved for posterity.

Bouckaert worked with Tim Hetherington, a British-American war photographer who was killed in April covering the siege of Misrata. Together they pored over hundreds of still photographs taken from a state security office that was burned and looted by protesters. Many show Gaddafi looking young and relaxed in the early days after the 1969 revolution, hobnobbing with his hero, the then Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

Another set of images records a last visit to Benghazi by the ageing King Idris, the pro-western monarch overthrown by Gaddafi and fellow officers as they emulated Nasser.

This jerky, gruesome footage also captures a moment of international intrigue in the years when Libya became an obsession for the US, with Ronald Reagan dubbing Gaddafi the "mad dog" of the Middle East.

Shwehdi's execution followed a daring assault on Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli the previous month, an attempted coup planned by the National Front for the Salvation of Libya which the regime claimed was backed by the CIA. Shwehdi's cousin Magdi was killed in the raid. Two thousand people were arrested and 12 were hanged publicly in their home towns, some during the Ramadan holiday.

"Shwehdi's execution was ordered by a state-managed kangaroo court," said Ashour Shamis, a London-based dissident who helped plan the coup, which was doomed when its military commander was killed.

Shwehdi and the others were trained in Morocco and Sudan. Some entered Libya from neighbouring Tunisia, where the operation was overseen by security chief Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who went on to become the country's president.

"He was an ordinary Libyan who felt disgust for the Gaddafi regime," said Shamis. "He gave up his studies and a comfortable life in America to return to Libya. He knew he was risking his life."

Other hangings were broadcast, and re-broadcast, on Libyan state TV. Cases of torture, demolition of homes and mass detentions were also reported that year.

Human rights abuses persisted even as Gaddafi began to mend fences with the wider world and, eventually to come in from the cold. In 1996, 1,200 inmates, many of them Islamists, were killed in a notorious massacre in Tripoli's Abu Salim prison. No Libyan official has yet been called to account over that. Protests involving the lawyer representing the victims' families proved to be the spark for the Benghazi uprising.

Gaddafi, his son, Saif al-Islam, and intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi are wanted by the international criminal court on charges of crimes against humanity committed in the initial unrest in February.

"This film will not be relevant to the ICC case because that only covers a limited time period," said Bouckaert. "But we felt that it was important to preserve this traumatic part of the heritage of the Libyan people. It is also part of the legacy of my friend Tim Hetherington because it was the last project he was working on before he was killed."



The headless corpse, the mass grave and worrying questions about Libya's rebel army
The five corpses floated disfigured and bloating in the murky bottom of the water tank. Wearing green soldiers' uniforms, the men lay belly down, decomposing in the putrid water.

By Ruth Sherlock, Al-Qawalish
6:14PM BST 20 Jul 2011

The streaks of blood, smeared along the sides of this impromptu mass grave suggested a rushed operation, a hurried attempt to dispose of the victims.

Who the men were and what happened to them, close to the Libyanrebels' western front line town of Al-Qawalish in the Nafusa Mountains, remains unknown.

But the evidence of a brutal end were clear. One of the corpses had been cleanly decapitated, while the trousers of another had been ripped down to his ankles, a way of humiliating a dead enemy.

The green uniforms were the same as those worn by loyalists fighting for Col. Muammer Gaddafi in Libya's civil war. No one from the rebel side claimed the corpses, or declared their loved ones missing.

There was no funeral, or call to the media by the rebels to see the 'atrocities committed by the regime'.

Since the bodies were seen by the Daily Telegraph attempts to discover their identities have been unsuccessful, in part because of obstruction by rebel authorities in the area. Having highlighted the discovery to those authorities the area was subsequently bulldozed and the bodies dissappeared.

The find will add to concerns highlighted in recent days over human rights violations by rebel forces. Human Rights Watch last week said that had looted homes, shops and hospitals and beaten captives as they advanced.

The Daily Telegraph found homes in the village of al-Awaniya ransacked, and shops and schools smashed and looted. The town, now empty, was inhabited by the Mashaashia, a traditionally loyalist tribe that has long been involved in land disputes with surrounding towns.

Human rights groups fear that reprisals may get worse as the rebels advance on towns nearer the capital such as Al-Sabaa and Gheryan which are loyalist strongholds.
The author of the HRW report, Sidney Kwiram, last night called on rebel leaders to investigate the latest find. "It is critical that the authorities investigate what happened to these five men."

The bodies were discovered in a water tank just off the main road between Zintan, the main town in the area, and Al-Qawalish as the rebels consolidated their advance.
At the time, rebel commanders, including former government troops who had defected, claimed that the men were most probably killed by Col Gaddafi forces for trying to defect - a common allegation.

"The day of our first assault on Al Qawalish we found the bodies there, and they were already in bad shape," said Col. Osama Ojweli, the military coordinator for the region.
"This is not unusual in Gaddafi's army. In other battles we have found men, their hands tied behind their backs with dusty wire and executed – we found them shot in the head by the regime."

A colonel, who defected last month and cannot be named, said: "If they think you might leave, they will shoot you." His claim was backed up by loyalists captured and held prisoner in the nearby town of Yafran.

But suspicions have been raised after the rebel authorities disposed of the bodies and bull-dozed the site where they were found.

Drivers also said they had military orders not to take journalists to the site. "If you go there I will ditch you in the desert," the driver of another news organisation reportedly said.

The rebel army is aware that NATO intervention on their side was justified by concern at regime human rights abuses in western capitals.

The Libyan Transitional National Council has now flown officials, including Abdulbaset Abumzirig, deputy minister of justice, to the Nafusa to investigate abuse claims.

"From what I have seen they are treating prisoners very well," he said. "We have promised to hand them back to their families after the war."

But Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both said there were documented cases of extra-judicial killings by rebel forces, including deaths in custody under torture.
In particular, in the early phases of the uprising, loyalists and sub-Saharan Africans accused of being mercenaries were lynched. Since then, men in rebel-held areas suspected of being members of Col Gaddafi's security services have been taken from the homes, and subsequently found dead with their hands tied.

Both organisations say these are not on the scale of the abuses perpetrated by the regime. "We have come across a number of cases of executions of suspected Gaddafi fighters in both the east and the west," said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of HRW.

"I does fit a consistent pattern, though I don't think these killings are authorised by the rebel authorities in Benghazi."

Diana Eltahawy, of Amnesty, said members of the Transitional National Council, the rebel government, had admitted to there being a problem with some of their troops but had not done enough to tackle it.

"There is no comparison with the Gaddafi side. But the concern is that there is not sufficient will to address this in the leadership," she said. "It needs to be stopped before it becomes worse."


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  2. Sorry but the report on Sadiq Hamed Shwehdi as an example of Gaddafi's "brutal" rule is out of all proportion and context and is more of a cheap propaganda and demonization against Gaddafi than a serious analysis.

    Executions may have been more public in Libya and even more brutal due to the, dare I say with reservations, "less civilized" culture, development, etc., but even in the UK the death penalty for the type of act committed was still in force up until 1998, while in the US public televised executions are held even today.

    In many countries even now, life is "cheap" and seeing cruelty, executions, etc. does not have the same effect or significance as it does in the West, unfortunate but true.

  3. Thanks for your input Wiff, and I agree, Life is chesp in many places. Executions however, are not televised in USA today. BK