Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, head of Libya’s National Guard, Khalid al-Sharif, spoke about the former regime figures that are being held in Tripoli’s maximum security “Hudba el-Gassi” prison, particularly former Gaddafi spy-chief Abdullah al-Senussi.
This prison was built at the former site of the Military College in south-east Tripoli and can hold a maximum of 100 prisoners. In addition to al-Senussi, former Libyan Prime ministers Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi, Abuzed Omar Dorda and Abdul Ati Al-Obeidi are being held there, as well as former military intelligence head Mustafa Al-Kharroubi.
Libyan National Guard head, Khalid al-Sharif, himself a prisoner under the Gaddafi regime, spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the conditions at the prison, the prisoners’ state of mind and his hopes for the future of Libya.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Following the Libyan revolution, a number of former regime figures remain in custody awaiting trial, including Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi. So now you are perhaps one of the world’s most famous jailers?
[al-Sharif] (laughs) God willing, no…this is just my role as a result of my position, nothing more.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Yesterday, there were reports that Abdullah al-Senussi had been transferred to hospital as a result of torture. Is this true?
[al-Sharif] These stories are completely untrue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So how is al-Senussi treated in general?
[al-Sharif] He is treated normally according to the prison’s rules and regulations without any discrimination. He is granted all the legal rights that are enjoyed by any other prison.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would you say that the standards of justice are applied to Libya’s prisoners?
[al-Sharif] Of course, there are legal means and procedures in place, as well as means of monitoring prisoner’s health and meals. We try to provide prisoners with everything in accordance to the laws and regulations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] From time to time there are leaks from the prosecution’s questioning of al-Senussi, such as reports that he has revealed the location where Mansour El-Kikhia – who disappeared in 1993 – is buried, or that he has revealed information about the Abu Salim prison massacre. Can you confirm if any of this is true?
[al-Sharif] Perhaps some of these leaks from the prosecution are in humanitarian interests. In other words, if any news is leaked by the public prosecution regarding the Masnour El-Kikhia case this is for humanitarian reasons, particularly as he is a Libyan citizen who disappeared in 1993. His family, until now, are looking for him and do not know his fate. Therefore these leaks, even if they are true, are only in consideration of the humanitarian situation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did al-Senussi reveal the location where Kikhia is buried, or the circumstances surrounding his death?
[al-Sharif] These issues and procedures are still being carried out by the public prosecution, and I cannot talk about this until it is permitted. If there are leaks, this will only be in consideration of humanitarian issues, as I said previously.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it true that al-Senussi’s interrogations are being taped?
[al-Sharif] As for the prosecution’s interrogation of him, I do not believe that they are taking place in this manner, however his statements are being documented and he must sign these statements or remain silent, as in any prison.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the information that he reveals confined to the prosecution, or is this also shared with the Libyan parliament and government?
[al-Sharif] Of course everything that he reveals is of concern to the competent authorities and the prosecution. However in general, he reveals – certainly through the interrogation – the history of Libya, and so the Libyan people must know what is happening.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us something that al-Senussi has revealed but which has not been leaked to the public?
[al-Sharif] You know that everything now is in the hands of the prosecution and investigation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has he revealed anything about Gaddafi’s funds abroad?
[al-Sharif] Such issues are within the security context and I am not authorized to talk about this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How does al-Senussi spend an average day in prison? What is his daily routine like?
[al-Sharif] He is treated just like the other prisoners. At this point, and until the end of interrogations with him, he is provided a private bathroom with hot and cold running water, as well as good lighting. He has a comfortable bed and all the comforts of home. As for meals, he is provided with appropriate food, whilst if he requests inappropriate food, we try to provide him with something appropriate.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is he allowed to communicate with the outside world, such as by telephone or internet?
[al-Sharif] Of course this is not permitted to him at the present time.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As for the media, is al-Senussi aware of what is happening? Is he allowed to read newspapers or watch television?
[al-Sharif] This is prohibited at the present time.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us about some of the requests that the former Libyan spy chief has made?
[al-Sharif] As soon as he arrived, he asked us to reassure his family about him…and we did so.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it true that he has complained of being mistreated and humiliated?
[al-Sharif] The situation did not reach humiliation, for we do not utilize the method of humiliation. We are governed by laws and regulation, which is applied to each and every prisoner; so the same regulations apply to him as to anybody else.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What was his response to having his hair cut?
[al-Sharif] In the beginning he expressed a form of objection, but when we told him that this was a prison regulation he responded.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You personally were imprisoned by Abdullah al-Senussi, along with tens of thousands of other Libyans. Have you ever spoke to him about how the tables have turned?
[al-Sharif] I spoke with him during the first moments of his arrival [in prison] and he recognized me immediately, for he knows me well. When I was in prison we met a number of times, particularly during the meetings between the government and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group [LIFG], for he was a party in these discussions, along with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and his brothers. So when I saw al-Senussi, he recognized me and said “I saved you from execution”, and I told him that it was God Almighty that had saved me, and that he [al-Senussi] had killed thousands other than me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When he told you that he had saved you from execution, was he trying to gain your favor?
[al-Sharif] I think he was perhaps trying to remind me that he was the reason that my life had been spared, but it was God Almighty who saved me, whilst al-Senussi – along with the Gaddafi regime – killed and executed thousands of Libyans, particularly during the 17 February revolution.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is al-Senssui an ordinary prisoner or a special prisoner?
[al-Sharif] He is certainly a special prisoner, particularly as somebody like Abdullah al-Senussi is not an ordinary person. For during the Gaddafi era, as the Libyan intelligence chief, he was Gaddafi’s right hand man.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think this makes it more likely that he will try to escape or that others will seek to free him from prison?
[al-Sharif] He cannot escape, for strict security measures are in place…and we guarantee this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it true that he tried to commit suicide in prison?
[al-Sharif] This is not true.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you think he lacks the courage to commit suicide, if you could describe this act as courageous?
[al-Sharif] I think committing suicide would be difficult for him, and he cannot do this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why not?
[al-Sharif] This would be very difficult because he is being closely monitored.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there any differences between al-Senussi and other infamous former regime figures that are currently in prison, such as Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi, Mustafa Al-Kharroubi, Abuzed Omar Dorda, and Abdul Ati Al-Obeidi? Are they all being held on the same wing of the prison?
[al-Sharif] They are all being held in the same prison, in similar conditions. They receive the same level of care and monitoring, although their state of mind differs according to what charges they are facing. For al-Senussi, for example, is the primary defendant in the Abu Salim massacre case, which resulted in the deaths of 1,272 Libyans, so he is not in the same situation as the others.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the strangest request to be made by one of these figures?
[al-Sharif] Their requests are endless. What is strange is that they ask permission to be allowed to attend the weddings of their children, and they say that when we were imprisoned in Gaddafi’s jails, they would allow us to do so.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you uncovered any attempts to break these prisoners out of jail, or even attempts to send messages to them?
[al-Sharif] Nothing like this has happened until now. There are strict security procedures in place.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is al-Senussi’s cell number?
[al-Sharif] (laughs) It certainly has its own number…but this is a security issue that we cannot comment on.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Senussi previously imprisoned you, whilst now he finds himself in jail. What do you think of this?
[al-Sharif] For me, as any Libyan citizen, I feel the grace of God Almighty, who allowed us to arrest this man that humiliated, tortured and killed the Libyan people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are leaks that claim that you, or perhaps Abdelhakim Belhadj, could be appointed Interior Minister in the Abushagur government. What is your view of this?
[al-Sharif] Until now, I have been distant from political affairs.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You previously worked with Belhadj, has he any connection with the “Hudba el-Gassi” prison?
[al-Sharif] Belhadj has nothing to do with the prison, and I previously worked with Belhadj as part of LIFG during the period of struggle against the Gaddafi regime, whilst we are now working within the state according to laws and regulations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In the beginning, you laughed when I said that you are now the world’s most famous jailer…how do you truly view this issue, particularly, in light of the fact that you are in charge of the most famous prisoners in the world?
[al-Sharif] This is thanks to the grace of God Almighty, who has allowed us to arrest those who spilled the blood of the Libyan people and bring them to justice, for in the past they were killing people whilst now they are prisoners.