Crime and Punishment in Libya: Inside Gaddafi's Surveillance System

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Ismail Zitouny / Reuters

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi attends a ceremony marking the birth of Islam's Prophet Mohammed in Tripoli, in this February 13, 2011 file photograph.

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For those who were arrested, however, punishments were horrific. Those suspected of plotting against Gaddafi — and there were many — were often subject to execution or life in prison. And a computer located by rebels in the apartment of a Gaddafi family associate some the sentences meted out to one group during the final years of Gaddafi's rule.

"This is the laptop of the financial manager of Khamis, [Gaddafi's son and head of the feared Khamis Brigade]," claims a rebel who gave his name only as Hussein, because he still fears retribution from a lurking fifth column. "We captured him in an apartment in Hay al-Islami four or five days ago. The computer was there."

The financial manager was Salem al-Gasi, Hussein says. And the computer contains dozens of family photos and pictures of al-Gasi with members of the Gaddafi family at a military ceremony. But one file on the computer's hard drive details the cases of some 764 prisoners who, it reads, were held at Tripoli's "Sports City" — presumably a makeshift prison.

The sentences are inconsistent, given the charges, but all are harsh. Those who murdered were sentenced to execution by firing squads. One man, convicted of theft, was sentenced to having his right hand and left foot amputated, plus three months in jail, and a fine of 100 Libyan Dinars. Another man was sentenced to 25 years for breaking into a car. And still another got 30 years and a fine of four million U.S. dollars and 728,250 Dinars for talking about "the leader of the revolution" — meaning Gaddafi.

Perhaps critically, Hussein points out, the vast majority of the people on the list appear to be common criminals, rather than political prisoners. And Hussein is certain that means they are men who Khamis released with "drugs and guns to go kill people." TIME was unable to verify that claim or the authenticity of the list. But Hussein was fearful enough not to share his last name. "It's like for years he planted fear in all Libyans," he says.

And indeed, after searching the file cabinets, shelves and binders of a ransacked regime, some rebels are now fearfully wondering, not where the prisoners are, but where the men who kept the files have gone. "It's not known where these men are now," says the former interior ministry officer-turned-rebel Abdel Karim Gadoora, staring off a discreet balcony, where his colleagues used to watch Green Square. "They've all dispersed."

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