As with many a tyrant before him, Muammar al-Qaddafi's cruelty was given perhaps its freest rein in his political prisons: dark corners like Tripoli's Abu Salim prison, where 1,200 prisoners were massacred in just two hours in June 1996. These jails were by no means a relic of Qaddafi's younger days. Over the course of the past six months, the exposure of a series of underground jails in Benghazi haunted rebel militias based there, a terrible reminder of what could happen if they lost. It's been reported that during this year's uprising, thousands more have been packed away -- prisoners held in the regime's network of secret bunkers.
But Abu Salim, and the violence perpetrated there, has gone from a symbol of defeat to a rallying cry for the rebels. In February, families of those killed in the 1996 massacre led some of the initial protests in Benghazi this February that sparked the war. When Tripoli fell, the rebels liberated Abu Salim and freed the inmates lodged there in cruel anonymity, finally opening up Qaddafi's abuses to the world's eyes. Said one activist who had been jailed for 14 years, "There is no way to describe how great it felt to be free."
Above, two men look on, aghast, over the burned bodies, numbering more than 50, that were discovered in a construction site shed near the base for the infamous Khamis Brigade on Aug. 27 in Tripoli, Libya.
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