Schwappach: The Condemned Six of Benghazi

Jihad Watch News Editor, Eric Schwappach, examines a case of conspiracy theory vs. justice in Libya.

Benghazi is an old city lying on the Mediterranean in northeast Libya. It has seen its share of conquest, mainly by the Greek, Roman and Byzantium empires, but it was the conquest of 7th century Muslim Arabs that holds sway over the city to this day. The second capital after Tripoli, Benghazi’s current appellation was derived after a 15th century man named Seedi Ghazi; a charitable soul who contributed greatly to the city and its inhabitants. Almost six hundred years later it has become ironic that the residents of Benghazi, a city named after a person of philanthropy, would label an equally benevolent medical staff consisting of five nurses and one doctor as pariah worthy of execution.

It all began in 1998 when two Bulgarian nurses working at the Benghazi Children’s Hospital were detained by Libyan authorities. By mid 2004, five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor were delivered death sentences by the criminal court of Benghazi. According to the Libyan government, the medical staff had deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Conspiracy theories abound

In this day of instantaneous communication many have fallen prey to urban legends or revisionist history, but nowhere on the planet do conspiracy theories take root more than in the Arab world.

Arab and Muslim people are hurt, wronged and in turn feed conspiracy theories to the young minds it becomes easier for Muslims in general and Arabs in particular to explain our failure as a conspiracy against us; to blame others for all our problems.

The same holds true for the community of Benghazi. Fanned by relentless government propaganda, the city”s residents have come to believe the condemned medical staff to be agents of the Israeli Mossad bent on harming Libya. And wherever the Mossad is operating the CIA must have an active role for the Agency has been accused of being a major contributor of the HIV infections.

Accusations of torture

While Libyan authorities claim the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor willingly confessed to their crimes, the foreign health workers held in a Tripoli prison now say their confessions were extracted via torture.

“I confessed during torture with electricity. They put small wires on my toes and on my thumbs. Sometimes they put one on my thumb and another on either my tongue, neck or ear,” Valentina Siropulo, one of the Bulgarian defendants, told Human Rights Watch. “They had two kinds of machines, one with a crank and one with buttons.”

Another Bulgarian defendant, Kristiana Valceva, said interrogators used a small machine with cables and a handle that produced electricity.

“During the shocks and torture they asked me where the AIDS came from and what is your role,” she told Human Rights Watch. She said that Libyan interrogators subjected her to electric shocks on her breasts and genitals.

“My confession was all in Arabic without translation,” she said. “We were ready to sign anything just to stop the torture.”

Blood money and a deferment to the Shari”a

Tiny Bulgaria is poised to join the EU in 2007 and doesn’t want to embarrass its larger European masters so it has adopted a more pragmatic approach when dealing with Libya. Bulgaria agreed to Libyan demands for modern medical equipment and even offered to restructure $27 million in Libyan debt, but the staunch Balkan Republic balked when Libya suggested a payment of “blood money.”

But Libya has countered that Bulgaria should also negotiate a payment of “blood money” to the families of the infected children, saying that the families might then express forgiveness toward the nurses and ask for dismissal of the court case, a procedure permitted under Islamic law.

The Libyan figure of $10 million for each child draws parallels to the $10 million Libya agreed to pay each of the families of the 270 people killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 by its agents over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. For Bulgaria, it would amount to 25 percent of its gross domestic product. The Bulgarian government has rejected the idea. It rejects the concept of “blood money,” Kalfin said. “Second, there’s no way to compare this to Lockerbie.”

The seven-year long incident appears more and more to be a criminal act of extortion by the Libyan government rather than any wrongdoing by the foreign medical staff.

The real cause of the HIV transfer and a son’s admission

French virologist Luc Montagnier, whose work was paramount in discovering the HIV virus visited the Benghazi Children’s Hospital in 2002 and what he saw shocked even him. Calling the situation “dramatic” Mr. Montagnier concluded that hundreds of children had been infected with HIV because hospital staff did not properly sterilize needles or isolate those children already infected.

The decision to execute the Bulgarian nurses along with the Palestinian doctor was supposed to have been made on November 15th. The ruling was delayed until January 31st 2006 by Supreme Court judge Ali al-Alus. Five days prior to the final appeal, the influential son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam, responded to the question of whether he thought the nurses were guilty.

“Personally I don’t think so, but nevertheless we have a tragedy. Whether it’s a conspiracy as they said, which I don’t believe in, or negligence or mismanagement, at the end we have a tragedy which is a matter of fact and we can’t ignore. You know, I’m not a forensic expert but I don’t think that it was a plot or a conspiracy. This is my own perception.”

Mr. al-Islam insists the Bulgarian government settle the matter with the victim’s families by monetary means. Bulgaria refuses on the ground that “this would be tantamount to admitting guilt.”

What is to be done?

The tragedy of this story is that fifty children infected with HIV have already died, but to make scapegoats of six medical workers for the scandalous hygienic conditions and bad laboratory procedures practiced by Libyan officials only compounds the tragedy. Some of the nurses have already languished in captivity for seven years. The key to their release will have to be admission by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that he and his government were wrong. Mr. Gaddafi appears to be working in that direction.

Bulgaria’s National Television reported that the newspaper is citing sources close to the Libyan government as saying that a session of the General People’s Congress, the country’s supreme institution, is being prepared. At that session the Congress is said to make amendments to the punishing law and an amendment concerning the death sentence.

According to the article the intention of the law reforms will be to allow either the General People’s Congress or Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi the right to abolish the death sentence without consultations with the Supreme Judicial Court.

Time will tell if this approach will finally secure the release of the condemned six of Benghazi.

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  1. says

    Amazing, shocking story! And Libya is a member of the UN taking part in decisions that have and will affect the lives of millions of people throughout the world.

    Free the nurses and dissolve the UN!!!

  2. says

    This should be discussed in the American Congress. Bulgaria is the least-appreciated country in the Western world. Its record during World War II on not turning over Jewish citizens was the equal of Denmark’s. It has been eager to collaborate, in every way, with the Americans.

    But there is not much pressure Bulgaria can put on Libya. The American government is a different story. Apparently Bush has raised the issue. Not enough. It has to be discussed openly in Congress. Threats have to made of every kind. Whatever advantages Khaddafy thought might be gained by revealing, and giving up, his quite unsuccessful efforts to obtain certain kinds of weapons, should be declared impossible of fulfillment.

    And what about his son, the one who played soccer in Perugia, and who loves to live in Italy? What would the effect be if Italy declared that no longer would any member of the Khaddafy family be permitted to visit, much less live, in Europe, if a hair on the head of those nurses is touched?

    This should be a joint effort, at the top of everyone’s lungs. Where are the columnists in The New Duranty Times and The Bandar Beacon? Where are the stories on NPR? Where is the official resolution of the EU? Where is the declaration, not in private but in public, by Bush or Rice that should these nurses be harmed, it will end any possibility of American development of Libyan oilfields, and of course all those Libyan hopes for an increase in Western tourism — out of the question, once Libya is put on the list of countries to which it is forbidden to travel.

    Some, or all of these things, should be done. Why aren’t they?

  3. says

    I hope this story grows and gets the attention it deserves. The National Post in Canada ran this story about a month ago in the same detail.

    Meanwhile, the UN marches on:

    “Libya has been elected chairman of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, despite opposition from the United States.”

    “In a secret ballot, Libyan Ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji was backed by 33 members, with three countries voting against and 17 members abstaining.”

    From a 2003 BBC report (Libya is not currently on the Commission):

  4. says

    Hugh, as always you have expressed my feelings exactly on this matter.

    Why haven’t we heard about this story in the MSM? Maybe, examining this story would mean really confronting Muslim attitudes to non-Muslims and their lack of respect for Infidel women.

    Could you imagine the countless stories if this had happened to Arab nurses working in Detroit. The endless stream of NPR exposé would contain a torrent of guilt ridden accusations of how racist and Islomphobe the west is.

    What is most shocking is that the were tortured and violated and kept away from their families for all those years. This should give pause for any westerner especially women who wish to contribute their expertise to a hate filled Arab world.

    I say shame on NPR and the The New Duranty Times for the hypocrisy that would forsake the fate of these women.

    I for one will spread the word, and demand that Libya be the one to pay compensation, one million dollars for every year they spend in captivity.

    If not boycott our technology and see them sink into the stone age or 7th century Arabia.

  5. says

    “I confessed during torture with electricity. They put small wires on my toes and on my thumbs. Sometimes they put one on my thumb and another on either my tongue, neck or ear,” Valentina Siropulo, one of the Bulgarian defendants, told Human Rights Watch.

    Why are we not getting the never ending coverage on these atrocities as was reported at ad nausiam on ABU Ghraib Prison.

    Where are the CNN news bulletins from international human rights organizations regarding this?

    America is clearly held to a higher standard.

  6. says

    From posting:

    “In this day of instantaneous communication many have fallen prey to urban legends or revisionist history, but nowhere on the planet do conspiracy theories take root more than in the Arab world.”

    We now must coin a new appellation: “TURBAN LEGEND”

  7. says

    Like the phenomenon of Multiculturalism, I say that The United Nothing would be fine if not for Islam.

    Any nation that doesn’t enshrine the Declaration of Human Rights for ALL of it’s citizens, or have something equivalent, should be ousted from the United Nothing. That means that either there would be no more Muslim meddling in international affairs of civilized people, or Muslim nations would become civilized.

  8. says

    Where are the columnists in The New Duranty Times and The Bandar Beacon? Where are the stories on NPR?

    Don’t worry, Hugh. I’m suuure that the Moonie Times or Whore Street Journal (editorial page) will definitely get it right. Right?

    Or maybe FOX Arab-owned News will tell us the whole truth, right? Or is it possible that it’s really all about the money? That the media don’t exist to inform us, educate us, or enlighten us; that they exist solely to sell advertising or–in the case of fantastically wealthy owners that “don’t need” a profit, a la Richard Mellon-Scaife and certain wealthy Saudis–to promote an ideology?

  9. says

    Tell the Arab-Occupied United Nothing that the Joooz! are behind it, that it’s a Zionist plot to make the Palestinian doctor look bad, and they’ll get right on it.

  10. says

    Thanx to JohnB for reminding me.
    I forgot that Libya was chairman of the UN human rights commission. The situation at the UN is even worse than said before. Can you imagine a human rights commission headed by — Libya? Orwell could not have not invented such a story. The depth of absurdity here would have been beyond the imagination of people living sixty or even fifty years ago. As I said, Free the nurses and dissolve the UN!! As soon as possible! Do you want the UN, with Libya in charge of its “human rights commission,” to influence your future or that of your dear ones?


  11. says

    No doubt the medium and the message which is politics, and power, war, and peace, and people discussed as groups, or members of a nation-state, lends itself to crudity, and a coarsening of expression. Once one has accepted the need to use such phrases as “the French” or “the Americans” or “Muslims” or “Christians” or “the Kurds” or “the Sunnis” or “Washington policymakers” or “Bright Young Conservatives” one had already compromised. But there is a limit.

    At least one poster above may be wearing out his welcome. He has a point of view. This point of view has to do with the perfidy of “the corporations” and “the Bush family’s Saudi connection” and the general rottenness of all conservatives. Okay, we’ve heard that before. But it is presented at such great length, ina tone that is at least excitable, and often hysterical. This can’t go on, because it gets in the way — even if only to force others to scroll down. In scrolling, they catch sight. In catching sight, their eyes glaze over. They may lose interest. A change in tone and even content might prevent Thidwick from shaking his head so forcefully, that one or two of those squatters would necessarily come tumbling off, not to be re-invited to clamber back on.

  12. says

    Irene Khan of Amnesia Intentional, where are you?

    Fareed Zakaria of News-weep magazine, where is your outrage?

    (lights are on but nobody home!)

    Ahh, its all about ‘torture’ in Gitmo and Abu Graib, its all about how that tarnishes Americas ‘image’ in the ‘Arab World….’

  13. says

    When all have become members of the Greater Muslim Co-Prosperity Sphere on Earth, who are the muslims going to blame when nothing gets done and everything is falling apart?

    Hmmm, better get cracking on that issue, all you muslim deep-thinkers.

    All three of you.

  14. says

    Qaddafi needs another cruise missle in his tent like last time.

    Teddy Rosevelt said, “Speak softly and carried a big stick” Only “gunboat diplomacy” will work with these people.

  15. says

    I think Irene Khan of Amnesty [or is it Amnesia before they forget those who really suffer?] is a Christian Pakistani. But of course none of us expects any serious intervention from amnesia on behalf of these prisoners. Making a fuss over their fate would not be politically correct. And Amnesty is as politically driven as any other of the fake so-called “non-governmental” organizations.

  16. says

    Eliyahu: Re: Irene Khan:

    If she is indeed a Christian, she would (as a Dhimmi) be even more under scrutiny by the ‘ummah’ – therefore it would hardly take a stand against their interest.
    As a ‘protected’ people she would be likely to lose this ‘protected’ status if she or her actions run counter to the Mohammedan interest.

    But the UN seems to be totally infiltrated, bought and sold and has therefore become a tool of the ‘ummah’.