Thursday, September 08, 2011

Now This Is the Report I've Been Waiting For

In Europe they were known as the Amazons. In north Africa, they were admiringly dubbed Haris al-Has – the private guards.

They were the elite cadre of female bodyguards who surrounded Colonel Muammar Gaddafi for more than 20 years.


Inside one building in 77 Brigade, a giant base of ruined hangars in the central city, a select group of female guards were based.

A pink petticoat in the forecourt distinguishes this two-storey heap of rubble from other more intact buildings nearby. And further inside, the shattered lives of press-ganged young women starts to emerge.

  UK Guardian

Oh, yeah, right. They didn’t want to serve El Fashionista. They were forced. They didn’t want money, fame and an elite position. They were enslaved. I guess we won’t be demanding “the girls” be taken to Gitmo.

In one room, a designer desert boot lies next to a mangled wardrobe.

A designer desert boot. I told you, the whole regime was about fashion.

In the next a black bra is strewn under a Mickey Mouse cutout and a blue high heel has been crushed by a timber.


The building has a long-ago feel, until the last door on the left, where the reality of life in this place is both stark and recent.

This is the room of the commandant, a vehement Gaddafi loyalist named Fatima Baroud, who hasn't been seen for several months. Women who served in this unit had an abiding fear of Baroud, but were even more terrified of the small room with the rank blue carpet to the side.

"That is where I was raped," said Nisrine Gheriyanih, 19, in a prison yard this week, having been captured by the anti-Gaddafi forces. "They would come and take us by the hand and walk us down the corridor. We knew what would happen."

Several empty ointment packets lie strewn on the floor along with lentils and half eaten baguettes. Nisrine says she was assaulted here by Gaddafi's former head of internal security, Mansour Dhao, who this week fled to Niger.


On the night of 20 August, as Tripoli burned, she says she was ordered by a male Gaddafi soldier to shoot dead three rebels. She said she did as she was told in order to save her own life.

No, the poor dears. They won’t be going to Gitmo.

"What could I do," she sobs, a rebel badge now pinned to her abaya. "If I didn't do that, I wouldn't be here now, but if I did do it, I wouldn't be here either. Which is better?"

Such a terrible choice. She certainly made the right one in pinning on a rebel badge, though, didn’t she?

Sitting next to her [in prison] is a rare woman in the new Libya – a diehard Gaddafi loyalist, who is happy to talk about her role as a leader of the 77 Brigade. "He gave us honour," said Jamila Calipha al-Arun, 52. "Yes I fought for him and I was proud to," she says, outlining how she carried and distributed guns to military units. "He was a good and noble man and I was proud to have served. I loved him. It was my duty. But now it's over and I want to go home."


[Speaking about Qadafi’s] elite guard force. "You had to be tall, beautiful and have long hair," she said. "I was never chosen."


"They were the most important part of Gaddafi's world and they have probably gone with him," said Arun. "Go and find Salma Milad, Judia Sudani, Mabrouka al-Mashat or Howa Tuergi. They were all Gaddafi's ladies and ran the unit. His world revolved around them."


Gaddafi's private office was directed by Mabrouka al-Mashat, a loyalist of many years who tended to the family home and enjoyed her boss's patronage.

Howa Tuergi and Judia Sudani also played prominent roles in broader Gaddafi affairs. "If the family wanted girls for parties, or other things, either of them would arrange it," said Nisrine Gheriyani, one of the ousted tyrant's former female soldiers.

His guard force and female soldiers were very much his eyes and ears – in some ways equally important as the old-world male spy lords who enforced his police state.

"We were told to report to the family anything strange you see, or hear. Don't talk to anyone about it," said Nisrine Abdul Hadi, another guard. Maybe he trusted us more, or maybe he just liked girls."

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