It was poetic justice that Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime, which collapsed under the weight of its crimes this year, was brought low by a man who called the Libyan government to account for one of its worst atrocities. Fathi Terbil, a 39-year-old Libyan human rights lawyer, had bravely taken up the case of the estimated 1,200 people massacred in a 1996 uprising at the notorious Abu Salim prison. When Qaddafi's security forces, panicking at the first rumblings of dissent, arrested him in Benghazi in February, he assumed a central role in the origin story of the Libyan uprising.
The first people to gather outside the prison to demand Terbil's release were the families of the victims of the Abu Salim massacre. (Terbil himself was one of them -- his brother was killed there too.) Thousands more soon joined them, igniting the protest movement that eventually snowballed into a full-blown revolution. As the revolt gained momentum, Terbil's iconic black-and-white checkered kaffiyeh and New York Yankees cap became symbolic of the diverse, youth-driven spirit of the Libyan revolt. Now, as a member of the council at the heart of Libya's new interim government, representing the youth movements, Terbil is trying not only to bring justice to victims of past crimes, but to build a government under which such crimes cannot happen again. It's no easy task: The utter destruction of any independent organization over four decades of Qaddafi's Libya meant, in Terbil's words, that the erstwhile rebels were starting "as if we had just been born today."