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Brutal legacy: Qaddafi’s ‘Huda the Hang Woman’ will now face her own executioner

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The Libyan people rejoiced upon hearing the news that Huda ben Amer, the woman dubbed “the executioner” and “the vampire,” was finally arrested Friday by the revolutionaries in Tripoli.

“If the revolution fails, Huda ben Amer will hang all of us,” one of the revolutionaries said on television, referring to one of the most formidable members of the Qaddafi regime, a woman who had for 27 years been considered one of the main participants in the Libyan leader’s atrocities against his people.

Amer, whose house in Benghazi was burned down a week after the start of the February 17 Revolution, was known for her role in several hangings of Qaddafi opponents, which is why she is known as “Huda al-Shannaga,” which literally translates to “Huda the hang woman.”

In her early twenties, Amer started earning her fame as Libya’s monstrous executioner when she took part in the violent clampdowns on dissident students, which began in 1972 and ended in 1985.

However, one brutal incident in 1984 cemented Amer’s reputation: the execution of 30-year-old Libyan Hamed al-Shuwehdi.

That year, Shuwehdi had just returned from the US after obtaining a degree in aviation engineering; he also began launching peaceful campaigns against Qaddafi’s rule under the name “Saving Libya Front.”

On June 5, 1984, he was arrested and taken to the Benghazi stadium. There, his hands bound, he listened to the charges leveled against him and received a death sentence.

Upon hearing the verdict, Amer began singing pro-Qaddafi slogans and called for Shuwehdi to be executed in a public square. She was the one who pulled the chair from under Shuwehdi’s legs on the gallows. During the hanging, the audience was shocked to see the Shuwehdi’s legs still jerking after the rope was released; they were even more shocked when Amer approached his hanging body and pulled on his legs in an attempt to end his life.

Doctors examined him to make certain that Shuwehdi was dead, but he was still alive. He was rushed to a hospital, where doctors resuscitated him. However, Qaddafi’s men received orders to kill the student, so they stuffed his mouth and throat with sand until he died.

Amer’s actions at the gallows apparently fascinated Qaddafi, and she later took part in several stadium executions, including one that saw the hanging of seven students in 1987.

One of the most recent atrocities committed by Amer, who was known to walk around with a pistol in her belt, was her 2008 order to shoot at peaceful demonstrators who had taken to the streets to protest against Danish cartoons that defamed Prophet Mohamed. That was on February 17, the same day the revolution that ousted Qaddafi began.

In addition to her brutality, Amer also despised the people of Benghazi, and in one of her speeches said, “There are no men here. I am the only man in Benghazi.” She is also said to have plundered millions of dollars.

Amer was on the revolutionaries’ list of the most-wanted 38 Libyan officials. Her arrest constituted a major success for the revolution.

Libya’s top executioner seems to have inherited the genes of brutality from her father, Fathi ben Amer, who was himself infamous.

In 1973, Qaddafi announced his intention to resign, and when Amer’s father heard the news he headed to the Benghazi stadium carrying his child and a knife. In front of thousands, he placed the knife on his son’s neck and threatened to slaughter him if Qaddafi insisted on resigning. Qaddafi, of course, did not resign, and the two men became fast friends.

Amer, who was born in 1954 in the town of al-Marg near Benghazi, was as close to Qaddafi as her father was. In fact, Qaddafi gave her away at her wedding, in 1982, while she was accompanying him in a trip to Algeria.

Amer was a member of the Revolutionary Committees and occupied several posts, the last of which the secretary general of the People’s Committee for Inspection and Censorship.

She was one of the most brutal tools Qaddafi used to bully his ministers and officials and led several campaigns against members of the opposition.

In addition, she twice served as the mayor of Benghazi, was secretary general of the Women’s Affairs Committee at the General People’s Committee, and was deputy speaker and then speaker of the Arab Parliament.

Amer was also received officially by Arab heads of state, including Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)