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Torture, death common in Libyan prisons

Several deaths are reported by aid organizations

CAIRO - Torture and death in detention have become widespread problems in post-war Libya, international humanitarian groups said yesterday, a troubling indication that some Khadafy-era abuses continue under the fractured rule of the country’s post-war interim government and regionally organized militias.

Amnesty International said in a statement that several people had been tortured to death in detention “by officially recognized military and security entities as well as by a multitude of armed militias.’’

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Amnesty said its researchers in Libya met detainees in prisons in and around the cities of Tripoli, Misurata, and Gheryan who bore wounds consistent with torture, including open wounds on their heads, limbs, and back. Many said they were suspended in stress positions, beaten, and given electric shocks.

The majority of victims were Libyans believed to have remained loyal to the government of Moammar Khadafy during the nine-month conflict that led to his ouster, but some were sub-Saharan Africans. Africans from outside of Libya were often accused of being Khadafy mercenaries during the revolution.

Doctors Without Borders, a group that specializes in providing emergency medical care in conflict zones, said yesterday that it would suspend its operations in detention centers in Misurata, saying some of the 115 detainees it has treated for torture-related injuries since August have been returned repeatedly with more wounds.

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

Human Rights Watch said it had documented “ongoing torture’’ in Libyan detention centers in the past six months, said Sidney Kwiram, an investigator for the group, which has monitored prison conditions in Libya since February and in the western city of Misurata since April.

“Torture is ongoing and is used to force confessions or for punishment,’’ Kwiram said via telephone from Misurata.

She said the persistence of torture was not so much a reflection of policy by the transitional national authorities as of the weakness of Libya’s institutions after nine months of war and four decades of Khadafy rule.

“In some cases, commanders here form their own fiefdoms, so it is not a matter of what the government is saying,’’ she said. “What matters is who is in charge of a facility. There are dotted lines between the national and the local levels, and they need to become undotted.’’

Refugees from the Libyan city of Tawergha told similar tales of torture and killing in interviews last month in an informal camp in Tripoli, the capital.

Tawergha was largely destroyed in September in revenge attacks by rebel fighters from neighboring Misurata, who accused its residents of participating in a bloody four-month siege of their town by Khadafy forces that killed more than 1,000.

Almost all of Tawergha’s 30,000 resident fled, but fighters from Misurata have continued to attack, detain, torture, and in some cases kill people from the town, even after they fled to other parts of the country, said refugees and activists.

Libya’s transitional government has struggled for months to exert authority, even in the streets of the capital, which is largely controlled by a patchwork of regional militias whose members defer to their own commanders, not government security forces.

The central government set two deadlines, one in November and one in December, for out-of-town militias to leave the capital, both of which were ignored.

In recent weeks the transitional government has faced mounting criticism over its stewardship of the country, with many complaining that its operations and budget are too opaque and that some members are tainted by links, real or imagined, to the Khadafy government.

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