[Marxism] Diana Johnstone's disgusting "spin" on the Bulgarian nurses

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 31 09:04:50 MDT 2011


My conversations in Libya did not convince me that the Bulgarian 
health workers were guilty, but they did give me a new insight 
into the Libyan viewpoint.  On the African continent, it was easy 
for even highly rational people to believe that foreign health 
workers might have been paid to infect children, either for 
experimental purposes or to “destabilize” the public health 
system.  Secondly, it became clear that this was not a case of 
“the dictator Gaddafi” persecuting innocents.



07/30/2007 03:35 PM

Gadhafi's Torture Prison
Medic Recalls Eight Years in Libyan Jail

Palestinian-born Bulgarian doctor Ashraf al-Hazouz, 37, recalls 
his eight-year imprisonment in Libyan jails, describing his 
torture at the hands of Gadhafi's thugs and the ordeals of the 
five nurses imprisoned with him.

Palestinian doctor Ashraf al-Hazouz after his release: "We will 
make you suffer until you confess."
What was the worst moment in more than eight years of torture, 
humiliation and the fear of death? It was the moment of our release.

When the guards entered my cell at 3:30 in the morning on July 24, 
they didn't jingle their keys or shout the way they normally did. 
Instead, they whispered: "Ashraf, Ashraf, wake up! You must 
prepare yourself for a visit."

I jumped up, looked at the clock and felt an ominous sense of 
doom. Who would visit me at this time of the night? The thought 
flashed through my mind that they were going to shoot me now, and 
that they would later claim that I had tried to run away.

A few minutes later I was standing in the office of the prison 
warden. I was told to apply my fingerprints to a piece of paper to 
confirm that I wanted to leave the country for Bulgaria. The 
process was videotaped. They took me to the part of the prison 
where the five Bulgarian nurses were kept, and then they took all 
of us to the airport.

There I was asked, once again, whether I wanted to stay in Libya 
or travel to Gaza. "I want to go to Bulgaria," I replied. "You 
have destroyed my life, my family's life and the lives of these 
nurses. I do not wish to remain in this sort of a country for 
another second." The official was livid. "You are witnesses," he 
barked at the Palestinian and Bulgarian envoys.

Then I was sitting in the plane, ecstatic and feeling as if I had 
been reborn, accompanied by the five nurses, European Union 
(External Relations) Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and 
Cecilia Sarkozy, the wife of the French president. When the plane 
took off I realized that the day would one day come when I would 
no longer be able to comprehend how I could have survived these 
eight years -- and that I would not even be able to explain the 
experience to anyone else.

My life in hell began back in August 1998. I had completed my 
medical exams in Libya and was working as an intern at the huge 
pediatric hospital in Benghazi, initially in the gastroenterology 
department. The infectious disease section was closed. A sign that 
read "HIV-infected" hung on the wall behind one of the beds in my 
area. The occupant of that bed was a seven-month-old baby that had 
undergone surgery in Egypt to correct a bone deformity. The 
child's infection was also detected at the Egyptian hospital. It 
was the first HIV case I saw.

I had already been working in another department for some time 
when, on Dec. 13, 1998, I was summoned to appear at a police 
station, where I was arrested. I spent the next three days in a 
tiny cell. The reason, I was later told, was to await the results 
of an HIV test, which turned out to be negative.

'Hundreds of Infected Children'

One of the officials said to me: "We have hundreds of infected 
children, and we know that you are to blame. You picked them up 
and injected them with the virus." I responded: "If that's true, 
then shoot me in public on the main square in Benghazi." Of course 
I picked up the children before each examination, but only to take 
away their fear.

"You have had sexual contact with a foreign woman," the police 
officer continued. It was only then that I realized that a 
scenario was taking shape that had been mapped out by someone 
higher up in the hierarchy and in which I had been chosen as the 
scapegoat -- I, a refugee from Palestine who had lived in Libya 
with my parents since I was two and for whom this country was in 
fact home.

My family is very conservative. My fiancée, a Palestinian, had 
died the year before, and I was just beginning to start a new life 
with another woman. Because I knew that the Bulgarian nurses at 
our hospital had also been interrogated, I assumed that the 
accusation of having had "sexual contact" involved one of them. 
But then the police let me go, telling me that I had only been 
there for routine questioning.

Benghazi was practically a war zone at the time, with a group of 
radical Islamists fighting in the streets. Our hospitals were 
filled with the injured, and hygienic conditions were disastrous. 
We didn't have any needles and the sterilization equipment was 
broken. A single pair of scissors was used to cut the umbilical 
cords of a dozen newborns. Seventy percent of the children 
infected with HIV also had hepatitis B.

The Libyan authorities were very concerned about the HIV 
infections. The government felt powerless to deal with a steadily 
rising AIDS rate caused by uninhibited sex and many things that 
happen behind closed doors. The hepatitis B epidemic was later 
confirmed by both the lower courts and Gadhafi's son, Seif al 
Islam, who studied abroad and is worldly. But his father's will is 
law in Libya, and he controls both the judiciary and the 
sentencing system. Moammar Gadhafi had to have someone to blame, 
someone to satisfy the furious parents of the infected children. 
Under no circumstances could any blame be assigned to the corrupt 
healthcare system, which the government neglects.

The Vanishing

When I returned to my dormitory on Jan. 29, 1999, after visiting 
my parents during Ramadan, I found a note instructing me to report 
to the chief of police once again. For the next 10 months, it was 
as if I had vanished from the face of the earth. My parents looked 
for me in hospitals and scanned the lists of the dead. It took 
them a long time to find out that I had been arrested.

At the police station on that Jan. 29, at 11:35 p.m., they put me 
in handcuffs, covered my face with a black mask and locked me into 
the trunk of a police car. For the next four hours the car was 
driven through the countryside at high speed. Those four hours 
seemed like four years to me. It was still dark when we arrived at 
a building in Tripoli. It was freezing cold. They had taken 
everything from me but my shirt and my trousers.

The next morning two men began to beat me. They shouted: "You 
infected the children with AIDS, and you were instructed to do so 
by the CIA and the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad. You 
and the foreign woman with whom you are sleeping. You came to our 
country as a spy. You are nothing but scum and filth."

Then they drove me to a building about four kilometers outside 
Tripoli. It was a sort of farm for police dogs -- the ideal place, 
from their perspective, because no one would be able to hear us 

Months of Torture

I was locked into a room with three dogs during the first few 
days. They ordered the animals to attack me. My leg is covered 
with scars from their bites. I had a large hole in my knee. I was 
served my meals in the bowl they used for the dogs. The five 
Bulgarian nurses were also being kept in this torture building. 
Every day our tormentors told us: "We will make you suffer until 
you confess." The torture periods were carried out between 5 p.m. 
and 5 a.m.. This went on for months.

One of the things they did was to wrap bare wire around my penis. 
Then they would drag me around a room that was at least 40 by 40 
meters. I screamed and cried.

One of the most excruciating things was their electric torture 
machine -- a manually operated box that works like a generator. 
They would attach the negative cable to a finger and the positive 
cable to one of my ears or my genitals. The most painful part of 
it wasn't the current but the fact that they could change the rate 
at which it was applied. When I became unconscious they would pour 
cold water on my naked body and continue the procedure.

During the torture with electrical shocks, they would show me the 
passports of the five Bulgarian nurses and say: These are 
Kristiana, Nasya, Valentina, Valya and Snezhana. The nurses 
suffered the same fate as I did. But we were unable to communicate 
with each other because I didn't speak Bulgarian yet.

'I Am Ashamed about the Things they Did to the Women'

Sometimes we were tortured in the same room. I saw them half-naked 
and they saw me completely naked when I was being given the 
electroshocks. We heard each other whimpering, crying and 
screeching. Kristiana was hung up on a window while they put me on 
an iron pallet and applied the electroshocks. I am ashamed to talk 
about all the things they did to the women. They were raped. 
Kristiana was forced to put a bottle in her vagina. At one point 
Nasya, who couldn't stand it anymore, broke off a piece of window 
glass and slit her wrist. They took her to the hospital, under a 
false name, and then they brought her back to our torture chamber.

My cell was so small that I couldn't lie down. For one year I 
slept with my legs pulled up to my chest, leaning against the wall 
of the cell. (Hazouz sits on the floor and demonstrates how he 
spent his nights.) I was afraid that I would lose my mind, and I 
asked myself again and again: Why, of all people, did they pick you?

But the worst thing was that they threatened to torture my family 
and rape my sisters in front of my eyes. After God, my family is 
the most sacred thing I have, and I am the only brother of four 
sisters. At one point they brought in a girl, and all I could hear 
was her voice, screaming: "I am your sister. I am being raped."

I gave up. Tell me what you want me to do, I said, I will sign 
anything -- even that I confess to being responsible for the 
Lockerbie plane bombing. By then the police had notified my 
sister, who was in medical school in Tripoli, of my arrest. My 
father brought her home immediately.

I was transferred to the Jadida Prison in Tripoli on April 17, 
2000, and I remained there until Feb. 4, 2002. The cells were 1.8 
by 2.40 meters (6 by 8 feet), and most of them contained eight 
prisoners. We took turns sleeping in two-hour shifts. Four men 
would sleep with their knees pulled up to their chests, while the 
other four stood over them. After one year I was moved to a 5 by 
10-meter (16 by 33-foot) room, which contained 70 prisoners. We 
were packed in like sardines, head to foot. If I had cows I 
wouldn't even put them so tightly together.

The guards brought the other prisoners Libyan newspapers, which 
accused us of being child murderers. The Arab papers also spread 
these lies, picking up their stories from Libyan sources. Instead 
of defending me, the Palestinian envoy claimed that I had 
confessed to him that I was a Mossad agent and had deliberately 
infected the children. Many of the prisoners believed this. We 
Arabs are hypocrites. We know the truth and yet we believe the lies.

Ashraf al-Hazouz in court with the five accused Bulgarian nurses: 
"Sometimes we were tortured in the same room."

Ashraf al-Hazouz in court with the five accused Bulgarian nurses: 
"Sometimes we were tortured in the same room."

In February 2002, thanks to the support of Gadhafi's son, Seif al 
Islam, the court dropped the charges against us of conspiring 
against the state. But the charge of infecting the 426 children 
was upheld.

After that we were placed under house arrest and lived together in 
a house consisting of four rooms, a kitchen and a garden. A 
restaurant provided us with our food. We were even permitted to 
shop in the city and go the dentist, escorted by a policeman. 
There was no more torture. We had satellite TV and were allowed to 
receive visitors. I learned Bulgarian. When the Bulgarian foreign 
minister, Solomon Passy, visited us in May 2002, I asked him for 
Bulgarian citizenship, which I received a few weeks before our 
departure -- at the urging of the European Union.

'We Know that You Are Innocent'

By this point in time, intensive negotiations for a possible 
release were already underway. One day the chief of security for 
Tripoli came to the house and said: "We know that you are 
innocent. You will be with your families in two months." But 
instead the court suddenly imposed the death penalty on May 6, 
2004, despite the fact that French Professor Luc Montagnier and 
Italian Professor Vittoria Colizzi, both internationally renowned 
experts, had concluded that we were innocent.

Our next stop was the death row wing at the Tripoli prison, where 
prisoners were kept awaiting their executions. Of course, no one 
is immortal, and one day I too will die. But it is a terrible 
feeling when someone with whom you have just shared a meal a few 
hours ago is suddenly taken out and all you hear is gunshots. And 
when you yourself sit there, waiting, afraid that your name could 
be next ...

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Adhraf al-Hazouz claims, "needed 
someone to blame."

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Adhraf al-Hazouz claims, "needed 
someone to blame."
It was only on May 25, 2005 that I found out that I was going to 
live. That was when EU Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner came to me and 
said: "You are not alone. Twenty-five European countries support 
you. They are all convinced that you and the nurses are innocent."

During Germany's presidency of the EU Council, I also received a 
visit from German Foreign Minister (Frank-Walter) Steinmeier. I 
was wearing a watch with the EU symbol on it that the EU envoy had 
given me. Steinmeier was surprised, and I said to him: "I hope 
that I too will soon be a member of the EU. My family was granted 
asylum in the Netherlands on Dec. 19, 2005.

When they tried to isolate me from the Bulgarian group, the EU 
intervened. I became increasingly hopeful that I would soon be 
released from hell when the wife of French President (Nicolas) 
Sarkozy got involved. At the request of the EU, I signed a 
petition to be pardoned by Gadhafi -- a condition of our release.

When Bulgarian President (Georgi) Parvanov pardoned us within a 
few minutes of our arrival in Sofia, I suddenly felt that I had 
grown wings. Telecom Bulgaria, which is supported by the Bulgarian 
government, promised me and the nurses that it would give each of 
us an apartment. I received financial assistance, and they even 
offered me the chance to finish my medical training for free.

It doesn't even faze me now, when I read that Tripoli is calling 
upon the Arab League to lodge protests against our pardon in 
Bulgaria, and that the parents of the infected children are 
demanding that we be returned to Libya. They have known for a long 
time that we are innocent.

But I do want to testify in a case that a Bulgarian attorney is 
bringing against two of the worst of our Libyan torturers. I hope 
the nurses will also testify. I plan to fight, even if it takes 
until the end of my life, to clear our names in the Arab world.

This text has been adapted from an interview conducted by SPIEGEL 
correspondent Renate Flottau with Ashraf al-Hazouz in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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