Gaddafi’s hellhole

Mary Fitzgerald on one man’s search for the truth about his father’s death

The World Today Published 2 August 2016 Updated 26 November 2020 3 minute READ

Mary Fitzgerald

Editor in Chief, openDemocracy

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between
Hisham Matar, Viking, £14.99

The padlock is large and spotted with rust but deep gouges show the force with which it was smashed. The heavy lock once kept a cell door in Libya’s notorious Abu Salim prison sealed. Today it sits in a box along with my notebooks from the 2011 uprising that dislodged Muammar Gaddafi, 42 years after he seized power in a military coup.

I found the broken lock lying on the floor of one of Abu Salim’s bleak, ghostly corridors shortly after rebel forces descended on the jail as they took Tripoli that August. In another part of the vast complex, still-burning embers were all that remained of stacks of documents – no doubt containing many of the prison’s secrets – apparently set alight by fleeing officers.

Subscribe to read all issues

Articles from the current issue are free to read by all, the archive is exclusive to magazine subscribers and our members. Subscribe or become a member to view articles from the archive.