"Now people are dying we’ve got nothing else to live for. What needs to happen is for the killing to stop. But that won’t happen until he [Gaddafi] is out. We just want to be able to live like human beings. Nothing will happen until protests really kick off in Tripoli, the capital. It’s like a pressure cooker. People are boiling up inside. I’m not even afraid any more. Once I wouldn’t have spoken at all by phone. Now I don’t care. Now enough is enough."
These are the words of a young woman in Libya — a student , a blogger and a member of the youth protest movement in Libya that is part of a growing uprising against the tyrannical 41-year reign of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Speaking to the Guardian by phone from her home on the outskirts of Benghazi, the eastern city where the revolution in Libya began just six days ago, and where hundreds of protestors have been killed by Gaddafi’s security forces, she said, "I’ve seen violent movies and video games that are nothing compared to this. I can hear gunshots, helicopters circling overhead, then I hear the voices screaming. I can hear the screeching of four-by-fours in the street. No one has that type of car except his [Gaddafi's] people. My brother went to get bread, he’s not back; we don’t know if he’ll get back. The family is up all night every night, keeping watch, no one can sleep."
Described by the Guardian as "an expert in subverting net censorship," who "had regularly posted messages online to gather support" for the protests that began last week, the student explained how, since the uprising began, "her internet connection is down, landlines cut off, mobile coverage interrupted, electricity sporadically cut off and the house plunged into darkness." She added, "There are even stories here that he [Gaddafi] has poisoned the water, so we dare not drink. If he could cut off the air that we breathe, he would."
Unlike the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, where there was remarkably litle bloodshed, and the dictators Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak fell from power through the pressure of sheer numbers, there are no signs that Colonel Gaddafi has any intention of relinquishing power without a bloody fight. As the Guardian also reported, sources close to his family told the Saudi paper al-Sharq al-Awsat, "We will all die on Libyan soil," and it appears that the brutal suppression of the uprising in Benghazi is being led by one of his sons, Khamis, described as "the Russian-trained commander of an elite special forces unit," and that another of Gaddafi’s sons, Saadi, is also present, along with Abdullah al-Senussi, the regime’s long-standing head of military intelligence.
For those familiar with Libyan history, the brutal response to the uprising is typical, demonstrating what experts told the Guardian was Gaddafi’s "instinctive brutality when faced with challenges to his rule." The London-based writer and activist Ashour Shamis explained, "For Gaddafi it’s kill or be killed. Now he’s gone straight for the kill."
In the 1980s, as the Guardian explained, Gaddafi "sent hit squads to murder exiled ’stray dogs’" who challenged his dictatorship, and throughout the 1990s he crushed Islamist opposition — and any other political opposition — at home, most notoriously instigating a massacre of at least a thousand prisoners in Abu Salim prison in Tripoli in June 1996, as I reported in an article in 2009, entitled, UK protestors mark 13th anniversary of Libyan prison massacre.
An adept survivor, Gaddafi came onside in the "War on Terror" after the 9/11 attacks, prompting the most miserably transparent examples of hypocrisy on the part of Western nations, as their leaders queued up to welcome the former pariah as an ally, and barely managed to disguise their excitement at having access to Libya’s rich oil reserves.
In ingratiating themselves with the dictator, both the US and the UK willingly abandoned former opponents of the regime, who had, until then, been regarded as victims of oppression. The US willingly rounded up exiled Libyans in Afghanistan and Pakistan, sending them to Guantanamo and labeling them as "enemy combatants." Two of these men eventually accepted voluntary repatriation from Guantanamo, but both were imprisoned on their return, and only one of the two, Abu Sufian Hamouda (transferred in October 2007), has been released, while the other, Muhammad al-Rimi (transferred in December 2006), is still held in Abu Salim.
Both of these men are, however, more fortunate than Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the emir of a training camp in Afghanistan, who was rendered by the CIA to Egypt after his capture in Afghanistan in December 2001, where, under torture, he falsely confessed that two al-Qaeda operatives had been meeting with Saddam Hussein to discuss the use of chemical and biological weapons. Although al-Libi recanted his tortured lie, it was used to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and after al-Libi had been moved around various other secret prisons, he was returned to Libya, where he conveniently died, reportedly by committing suicide, in May 2009, just three days before the US reopened its embassy in Tripoli.
In the UK, meanwhile, Libyan asylum seekers, who had found themselves welcomed as refugees from the terrorist-supporting dictator Gaddafi, suddenly discovered that they had been designated as "terror suspects," and were imprisoned without charge or trial pending deportation.
When judges went off-script, refusing to allow the government to return any of these men, and ruling that the "diplomatic assurances" agreed between Gaddafi and the UK government, which purported to guarantee that they would be treated humanely, were worthless, the men were then held on control orders, an oppressive form of house arrest that, like the deportation regime, involved them being held without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence.
After the Law Lords — following the lead of the European Court of Human Rights — ruled in June 2009 that the control order regime breaches Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial, the Libyans had their control orders dropped, either because the disclosure of any information would have demonstrated that they were pawns in a deeply cynical game, or because their liberty was now useful to Gaddafi, who, at the time, was brokering a deal with former political opponents, whereby they would left unmolested if they renounced violence.
As the unrest in Libya spreads to the capital, Tripoli, the Gaddafi regime continues to respond with brute force, using planes to fire on protestors. Whether they can prevail against a people who are overcoming their fear in vast numbers and are apparently prepared to die in an attempt to secure their freedom remains to be seen, but the regime is clearly under threat. Last night, another of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, the supposed moderate and reformer of the family, embraced by Western hypocrites as a sign of the way forward, was wheeled out to deliver an incoherent speech on TV that was full of threats, hyperbole and lies.
Although he conceded that it was a "tragedy" that Libyans had died and stated, "There were some planning errors," including "Errors from the police … and the army that was not equipped and prepared to confront angry people and … to defend its premises, weapons and ammunition," he also warned apocalyptically of "civil war" unless order was restored, telling the TV audience that his father was still in the country and that the regime had the fiull support of the army. "We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet," he said.
He also claimed, "There is a plot against Libya," blamed "an Islamic group with a military agenda" for the bloodshed in Benghazi — despite there being no evidence of Islamist involvement in a movement spearheaded by young people, trade unions and lawyers — and said Libya "would see 'rivers of blood,’ an exodus of foreign oil companies and occupation by 'imperialists’ if the violence continued."
At the time of writing, al-Jazeera was reporting that "At least 61 people were killed in clashes in Tripoli," but that "The protests appeared to be gathering momentum, with demonstrators saying they had taken control of several key towns in the country," including Benghazi. Ahmad Jibreel, a Libyan diplomat, who confirmed rumors that the justice minister Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al-Jeleil had resigned because he "sided with the protesters," also told al-Jazeera that "key cities near Libya’s border with Egypt were now in the hands of protesters, which he said would enable foreign media to now enter the country."
Summing up the spirit of resistance, he said:
Gaddafi’s guards started shooting people in the second day and they shot two people only. We had on that day in Al Bayda city only 300 protesters. When they killed two people, we had more than 5,000 at their funeral, and when they killed 15 people the next day, we had more than 50,000 the following day. This means that the more Gaddafi kills people, the more people go into the streets.
Echoing this spirit, I have just received a message from an exiled Libyan friend, who told me:
Finally and maybe we will be free at last! I am having sleepless nights filled with euphoria about what’s happening in Libya. I am so sick of being in exile and not being able to contribute to my country’s development. Am sick of being ashamed of it and what Gaddafi made of it.
As the situation continues to develop, those words mean much more to me than the platitudes of government representatives in the US and the UK, who have done so little to oppose Gaddafi’s rule, and so much to enrich themselves, and who, in addition, have almost excelled in cynicism when it comes to Libya’s role in the "War on Terror." As my friend also told me:
All I can say is that we are all so excited about the prospects of change and the ability to have some say in how to manage our wealth of natural resources. The West robbed us of this right earlier, then we allowed our own dreadful leaders do the same and worse.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.