Prisoners tell of the horrors in Libyan torture rooms
"COME with me," said the man, "and I will show you where Gaddafi buried people alive."
We'd been looking around the newly liberated Abu Salim prison, which for all its fearsome reputation struck me as fairly all right. The large communal cells had carpets, fans, kitchens and showers.
But that was not where Gaddafi's police state did its real business. They took the political prisoners somewhere much harder to find.
A few blocks away, on Traffic Light Street, there was a gate in a high-walled compound. Even when it was open, all you could see were blue corrugated-iron garages, a vehicle transport store. But out of sight of the road was a concrete building: Gaddafi's torture chamber.
There was a small hallway, with cupboard doors on both walls. It all seemed quite ordinary and I started to get impatient. But then I opened one of the cupboard doors, and I saw.
There was a corridor, and off it were rows of cells. Each was no more than the length of a man. There was no light in these cells apart from one small hole in the ceiling, the size of a drainpipe, casting a dim shaft.
Later, I climbed up a ladder to the roof, and found that each of these portholes had a movable cover so the inmate could be left completely in the dark.
Casting about with torches, we found the entombed had left messages scratched in the walls: "I pray to God that I can spend Eid with my family," wrote Hakim. Eid is tomorrow. Whoever he is, Hakim's prayers may have been answered; or, as the evidence of massacres grows, he may have been hauled out and killed.
Outside one cell was a metal stand with leather belts attached to it. The wall next to the stand appeared to have been clawed; there were fingernail marks in the smooth concrete.
"This is where they tied you up and then they beat you," said Adel Amr al-Mslati, a former prisoner held at the complex for three months.
"I was arrested in Green Square on February 20," he said. "You could barely turn over in those cells, and you could hear the screaming and the moaning the whole time."
Not every part of the complex was like this. Next door to the torture chamber was Gaddafi's VIP detention facility: seven small villas for foreigners, political rivals and other people he wanted to treat with respect.
The furniture was simple but in somewhat higher taste than in Gaddafi's own compound. However, there was still a wall around the compound and watch towers on the wall.
Under Gaddafi, it seems, the whole country was a jail, and there was a prison for every occasion.