Less than a month after the Libyans freed the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor accused of infecting children with HIV/AIDS, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam announced on Al Jazeera Wednesday that the medics had been tortured and acknowledged their innocence. Though Saif Qaddafi promises democratic elections after the elder Gadhafi steps down, many observers believe that he will likely succeed his father. His latest move has been seen by many as an attempt to show the West a new, more open Libya.
Since arriving in Bulgaria, Palestinian doctor Ashraf al-Hazouz has been particularly outspoken about the ways in which Libyan officials tortured him in order to extract a confession, reports The Daily Telegraph.
Col Gadhafi's son was responding to claims by Dr. al-Hazouz, that Libyan authorities used drugs and attached electrodes to his feet and genitals in a bid to extract a confession.
He added that the authorities set dogs on the prisoners, tied him to a bar and spun him repeatedly, like a chicken on a rotisserie.
While Saif denies that Libya will face any legal action for their treatment of the Bulgarians and the Palestinian, he admits they were tortured. He also added that conflicting reports had been given to Libyan judges, which inhibited them from accurately concluding that the group was innocent. The six medical workers spent eight years in prison and were at one time sentenced to death before they were released on July 24, reports Al Jazeera.
In an interview on Wednesday, Qaddafi said: "Yes, they were tortured by electricity and they were threatened that their family members would be targeted. But a lot of what the Palestinian doctor has claimed are merely lies."
Al-Hazouz plans to lodge a complaint at the United Nations human rights panel, reports The Scotsman. His lawyer said that he will detail how he was tortured and forced to confess. Meanwhile, a Libyan court has acquitted nine policemen and a doctor of torture in the case.
The young Mr. Qaddafi also acknowledged that some of the children allegedly infected by the medics had contracted the disease years before the Bulgarians and Palestinian arrived, reports the BBC. He even confirmed that at least one case was reported after their arrest.
"There is negligence, there is a disaster that took place, there is a tragedy, but it was not deliberate," he said.
Libyan courts had based their rulings on conflicting reports implicating the medics, he added.
The medics have always maintained their innocence and were pardoned on their return by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov.
Saif is the oldest son of Libya's leader. Educated at the London School of Economics, he is also a painter. Although he has become increasingly politically active and is often named as a potential successor to his father, he insists that elections will determine the next leader of Libya, reports The Washington Post.
Gaddafi's eldest son often acts as a public relations and diplomatic spokesman for his father and reportedly was instrumental in negotiations with the West in convincing his father to give up Libyan nuclear ambitions. He also is reported to have played a role in orchestrating the deal to release the medical workers.
In a Wednesday interview with Newsweek magazine, Saif discussed the more than $400 million settlement Libya negotiated for the families of children infected with HIV/AIDS. A number of people have accused the Libyans of "blackmailing" Europe in order to receive the massive settlement.
[Question:]Can we put a dollar figure on the package?
[Answer:] We are talking not less than €300 million for the hospital in Benghazi. For the families it's about another €400 million, something like this. And the Bulgarians and Slovakia and other European countries wrote off their debt with Libya. And then they gave again more.
[Q:]What do you say to people who say this was blackmail and it worked?
[A:] Blackmail? Maybe. It is blackmail, but the Europeans also blackmailed us. Yeah, it's an immoral game, but they set the rules of the game, the Europeans, and now they are paying the price ... Everyone tries to play with this card to advance his own interest back home.
For the medical workers held in captivity for eight years, Qaddafi's acknowledgment of torture was a welcome gesture, reports the Associated Press.
Snezhana Dimitrova, one of the nurses, said she was glad Gadhafi's son had told the truth. "The fact that a Libyan and the son of Gadhafi at that has told the truth is very gratifying and I thank him for it," she told the AP.