Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's son, who is touted as a reformer, has acknowledged that Bulgarian medical workers jailed for allegedly infecting children with HIV were tortured in captivity, an admission apparently aimed at showing a more open face to the West.
The release last month of the five nurses and a doctor after nearly nine years in prison boosted Libya's ties with Europe, a key goal of the elder Gadhafi.
But since their release, Dr. Ashraf al-Hazouz, a Palestinian who was granted Bulgarian citizenship, and some of the nurses have spoken frequently in the European media of the torture they underwent to force them to confess to infecting the children with the AIDS virus. They have since retracted the confessions and denied infecting the children.
With the admission, the Libyan leader's son, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, may have been trying to put the torture issue aside and burnish his own credentials as a candid promoter of change in the long-isolated nation.
"Yes, they (the medics) were tortured by electricity and they were threatened that their family members would be targeted," he said in an interview with the pan-Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera, excerpts of which were aired Wednesday.
The younger Gadhafi made no apology for the torture in the excerpts and even cast doubt on Hazouz's specific allegations of mistreatment, saying "a lot of what the Palestinian doctor has claimed are merely lies."
Hazouz accused Gadhafi's son of acting in his own self-interest.
"Seif al-Islam always tells only a part of the truth, manipulating the media," the doctor told the Associated Press. "I told the full truth. ... All of us were tortured like animals."