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Our friends in Libya


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‘Free’ elections in Libya have taken place for the first time in around fifty years, and coverage has been generally positive. The Financial Times called the elections ‘historic’, as did the Guardian. The BBC and the Daily Mail also gave it glowing coverage.

All did allude to troublesome violence by ‘former rebels’ in eastern and southern Libya, namely in Benghazi, as well as the takeover of oil installations in Ras Lanuf and Brega. During the uprising, the BBC, Sky, ITV and Al Jazeera made sure that the rebels fighting Gaddafi were seen as squeaky clean good guys whilst Gaddafi security forces were represented as pure evil whilst being given Viagra in order to commit mass rape (an allegation not founded on any evidence).

This established narrative was challenged this week by a report from Amnesty International which highlighted the numerous human rights violations committed by the noble rebels since Gaddafi’s fall.

The report stated that the rebels: "are killing people, making arbitrary arrests, torturing detainees and forcibly displacing and terrorizing entire communities, often solely for reasons of revenge. They are also recklessly using machineguns, mortars and other weaponry during tribal and territorial battles, killing and maiming bystanders. They act above the law, committing their crimes without fear of punishment."

The report estimated that there were 4,000 people being held outside of government control. It then went on to document the stories of torture victims. The numerous stories often contain the same types of torture: being beaten with either wooden sticks or metal water pipes, not been given food for days at a time, use of electric shocks, having boiling water poured on to them, having urine poured on them and having lit cigarettes pressed on their bodies, all this being done when the victim is often being tied up by their hands and suspended in the air.

The report also documents the appalling racism by the rebels on migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa. This is nothing new: Patrick Cockburn reported the brutal murder of 30 black males in Tripoli last year, writing that "any Libyan of black skin accused of fighting for the old regime may have a poor chance of survival." One man from Niger was tied up, had water poured on him and was given electric shocks; after this he was beaten. He said of his captors "they don’t like black people, I was called a slave." Many are held in detention facilities such as Tweisha in Tripoli and Ganfouda near Benghazi.

The report has not received much coverage within the mainstream media yet. Patrick Cockburn (again) of the Independent wrote about it on Sunday whilst CNN also highlighted it. All the other articles mentioned (including this one in the New York Times) discussed the violence on voting day, but decided not to mention this crucial report. Is this an example of the mainstream media suppressing something that is too dangerous to the narrative of the heroic rebels?  

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