This is a personal blog post by Al Jazeera’s Dima Khatib, written yesterday on July 23rd.
I just saw a video where a soldier from Gaddafi troops captured around Brega is being interviewed by a rebel military leader in Ajdabia. I won’t post the video because I fear for this man’s family and any retaliation by the Gaddafi regime against them. I am told by my Libyan colleagues that his accent sounds like he is from Sabha, Southern Libya.
One interesting thing in the interview is that he admits that he was paid to fight for Gaddafi. Yet, when asked about Gaddafi, he says : well.. Gaddafi never did anything good for me or my family, but he doesn’t seem like such a bad guy to me anyway.
Later on in the video he acknowledges that there has been a lot of injustice (by Gaddafi) and he calls for Libyans to unite and to find a political solution. He says something about not having been aware of the real situation, alludes to having been misinformed, says that he did not know he was going to fight fellow Libyans who are just like him, says he expected he was fighting very evil people.
He also praises the rebels for having treated him well and taken him to a hospital themselves. But of course that is expected in an interview conducted and spread by the rebels themselves. I have no way of verifying whether all their POW’s are treated the same way as this man in the interview who was speaking from his hospital bed.
But the man is clearly in a state of shock. He seems to repeat that he did not know what this was really about when he decided to accept to fight for Gaddafi. Would he be suffering from the famous Stockholm Syndrome? Or would he just be misinformed – as he said? And could he have been misinformed for 42 years – his entire life? I wonder how many Gaddafi fighters are like him, and how many are real loyalists? I also wonder whether he said what he said because he felt he had to, fearing he might be mistreated by the rebels.
I did discuss with many people in Benghazi the recent reports about alleged abuses of human rights by the rebels in treating captured pro-Gaddafi fighters. One rebel commander from El Zintan in the Western Mountain area, where the reports originated, told me he has not witnessed such incidents himself but that he is not going to discard that such abuses might have happened. He assured me that if they did, it would be a personal initiative by some rebels, and not following any instructions by any commander. He said: we make mistakes too.
Another activist, now a member of the Transitional National Council, said to me that these abuses might have been committed only in the very beginning, have not happened again since and will not happen again.
Such abuses should be taken seriously but would not compare to what Gaddafi is doing and has been doing to his countrymen for decades. The stories you hear from people are horrific. Men hung in the streets and left to rot in the son for days while their families watched, during Ramadan. People massacred in jails. Torture. Rape. You name it.
At the end of the day the rebels are either victims of the brutality of the regime, which means they might hold blind grudges against it, or have defected from the regime, which means they are a product of it and therefore of its brutality. This is now a war, a brutal war. Wars get the worst out of humans.
Although the rebels don’t like anyone calling it a civil war, the reality is that it already is a war. The question is : what happens after Gaddafi falls? Will the fighting stop? Will the grudges die down? Will the hate and anger be replaced by tolerance? Will the misinformation and misunderstandings fade away?
Libyans in the country’s second biggest city Benghazi believe that once Gaddafi is gone the fighting will be put behind and Libya will have a fresh start.
Fingers crossed !