Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, the son and heir apparent to the late Libyan dictator, told a human rights group earlier this week that he was being well treated by the anti-Gadhafi forces who captured him after the fall of his father's regime.
Human Rights Watch official Fred Abrahams said Wednesday that Saif, whom he visited in Zintan, Libya, "had no complaints about the physical conditions of his detention," but wanted to see a lawyer. The 39-year-old Saif, Gadhafi's second oldest son, has been charged with war crimes by the U.N.'s International Criminal Court, and the new Libyan government also wants to conduct its own prosecution.
Saif al-Islam Gadhafi was captured in November. His father had already been killed by rebels in his hometown of Sirte. Saif had a badly injured hand at the time of his capture, which he attributed to a NATO airstrike. According to HRW's Abrahams, he said he was receiving adequate medical care for his hand from his captors, with an operation three weeks ago. Earlier reports said that Saif's hand had turned gangrenous and that several fingers would require amputation.
Saif told HRW that an earlier attempt to get medical care for his injured hand is what led to his capture by rebels in Libya's western mountains.
Three of Moamar Gadhafi's children, sons Motassim, Saif al-Arab and Khamis, were killed during the Libyan uprising. Daughter Aisha escaped to Algeria, and son Saadi is now in Niger under government protection. Through his attorney, Saadihas denied reports that he sought to flee to a Mexican beach resort.
Libya's chief prosecutor, Abdelaziz al-Hasadi , told HRW that he was investigating Saif al-Islam for alleged pre-war corruption and for alleged crimes committed during the rebel uprising. The ICC, which is based in the Netherlands, has already charged Saif with war crimes, and Libya will have to show that it is able to treat Saif fairly in order for the international body to allow Libya to prosecute Saif for war crimes.
HRW urged the Libyan government to grant Gadhafi access to a lawyer, and Hasadi said Saif would be allowed to see an attorney as soon as he is moved to secure detention in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.
"The world is watching how Libya handles this case, and Libya should prove that it will grant Gadhafi all the rights that were too often denied in the past," said Abrahams.
A lawyer for the Gadhafi family, Nick Kaufman, had said prior to the HRW visit that he had tried to contact Saif via the International Criminal Court, but that the ICC had referred him to the Red Cross and the NTC, the transitional government now ruling Libya. Kaufman said that he had "no point of contact" within the NTC, and that the Red Cross refused to help him. Kaufman told ABC News that Saif was being held "incommunicado."
The Zintan-based militia that captured Saif says it has not handed him over to the new Libyan government because of security concerns. Some observers, however, believe the militia is holding Saif as a bargaining chip as the new regime divvies up power. Representatives of the four major rebel groups that led the uprising against Gaddafi convened in Tripoli on Tuesday to nominate the head of the future Libyan army with the Benghazi, Tripoli, Misrata and Zintan brigades vying for the top spot. A few days after Saif's capture, a commander from the Zintan brigade was appointed Defense Minister in the interim Libyan government.