Despite promises to do so, Libya has failed to investigate the deaths of scores of people loyal to late strongman Moammar Kadafi, who appear to have been executed after his capture last year in “a bloody revenge,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday.
The report sheds new light on the downfall of Kadafi in October 2011 and its aftermath. Though exactly how the Libyan leader was killed remains murky, the rights group argues that videos and other evidence indicate vengeful militias from the city of Misurata captured, disarmed and executed at least 66 people from his convoy at a hotel in Surt that same day.
Many of the corpses had their hands tied behind their backs, it reported. Videos of Kadafi's son Mutassim suggest he was taken to Misurata and killed, Human Rights Watch said. Footage of Moammar Kadafi himself calls into question whether he was killed in crossfire, showing militia fighters stabbing his buttocks with a bayonet.
“We understood there needed to be a trial, but we couldn’t control everyone,” Eastern Coast militia brigade commander Khalid Ahmed Raid told the rights group. “Some acted beyond our control.”
A second clip, apparently filmed just moments later, shows the same man lying dead, blood flowing from his wounds, according to the report. This and other evidence strongly suggest the detainees were executed, Human Rights Watch said, yet Libya has failed to carry out any autopsies or investigations.
Libyan officials said the deaths were all tied to battles as Kadafi allies and opposition forces traded fire, but the rights group said that didn’t square with the evidence it had gathered. Killing combatants who have been captured is a war crime, it warned.
Under Moammar Kadafi, Misurata suffered heavy shelling last year in a government siege that lasted months and killed hundreds of people. The city's militias have gained a reputation for brutality that has put them at odds with fighters in Benghazi, who feared their attacks could undermine their revolution against Kadafi.
The armed militias, cheered as heroes during the uprising, were told to hand over their weapons late last year but have remained a daunting force in Libya. In the wake of a deadly attack last month on an American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libyan authorities said the armed groups would be disbanded. But the government also relies on the militias to maintain security, throwing doubt on how it would dissolve them.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A Libyan opposition fighter zips a body bag containing one of dozens of Moammar Kadafi's loyalists on Oct. 22, 2011. The loyalists were killed during the fall of Surt. Credit: Manu Brabo / Associated Press