The rumor about Qaddafi’s African mercenaries has had severe unintended consequences—now every dark skinned man in Libya is suspect. “These are mercenaries, you see!” The men at the checkpoint insisted. When I asked how they could be sure, one man responded: “By the smell.”
Many migrants don’t carry paperwork, but even those who say they have shown the rebels their work visas have been targeted and taken from their homes in the middle of the night. One of the places they are brought is the courthouse in Benghazi, where they are being held in a makeshift detention center on the fourth floor.
In the first few days after Benghazi fell to rebel control, the command center was adamant that the Africans in their care were mercenaries. But when Human Rights Watch and visiting journalists questioned this, the rebels shut down access, begrudgingly allowing me in only after a long argument and the promise that I would not publish any of the Africans’ names.
Over the next few weeks, journalist Sarah A. Topol will be writing brief dispatches from the civil uprising in Libya for GQ.com. This is her fifth report from Benghazi.