It’s best to retain some scepticism about some claims by governments and defectors from Gaddafi’s government, given the use of propaganda over the decades to get public support for wars and military coups.For instance in 1953 in Iran the CIA and MI6 hired mobs to chant pro-Communist and pro-Mossadeq slogans while smashing shop windows and attacking people, in order to give the false impression that Mossadeq’s supporters were mostly Communists and violent (1). Propaganda can even sometimes initially be spread by human rights groups and aid organisations before they find out it’s false. In 1991 there was the notoriously false story about babies being thrown out of incubators to die in Kuwait by invading Iraqi troops. In fact this never happened and the story was invented by the Hill & Knowlton public relations company hired by the Kuwaiti monarchy, with the key “witness” telling the story to congress being a member of the ruling Kuwaiti Al Sabah family and the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US. The babies thrown from incubators story was also published in an Amnesty International report based on what the Kuwaiti Red Crescent told them, before they carried out interviews with staff in the hospital involved and found out it was false. Hill & Knowlton also hired seven other people to assume false identities and give false testimony to the UN on supposedly eyewitness accounts of human rights abuses by Saddam’s forces (2) – (3). The American media also declined to publish satellite images showing that President Bush (senior)’s claims of an Iraqi military build-up on the Saudi border were false (4) Similar “public relations” (often a euphemism for lying) would be used by the Bush junior administration to sell the 2003 invasion. (Of course I’m not suggesting here that Saddam’s dictatorship didn’t torture, rape or murder large numbers of people – while the US government was arming, funding and supporting it and once it was at war with it).
That's why I can't say I know for certain what is going on in Libya, only to try to make informed guesses based on past events and recent reports – and parallels with events elsewhere currently and in the past. There is no maxim truer than that ‘in war, truth is the first casualty’. If we were to wait for absolute certainty though, we would be too late to prevent the killings of civilians which the balance of probabilities suggests are taking place.
The main motives of governments backing and opposing intervention in Libya are mostly selfish and about their own poll ratings, their firms’ profits and access to oil contracts and energy supplies, but Gaddafi is as much a dictator as Mubarak and the rest and we should support the rebels and protesters who want to overthrow him, especially as, wherever he’s winning, anyone in the town is taken away as a suspected rebel – and on past practice that means they’ll be in jail for decades, or more likely summarily executed. (It’s worth noting though that both Cameron and Sarkozy, the two heads of government most keen on a no-fly zone in Libya, also have mass unemployment at home and plummeting poll ratings – and may well hope a wave of patriotic fervor will save them at the next election if they use their militaries against Gaddafi (as Thatcher used hers in the Falklands war when she similarly had terrible poll ratings due to increasing unemployment from 2 million to over 3 million). Meanwhile the Italian government – which gets over 30% of its energy from Libya – is not keen at all to risk disrupting this by a change of government in Libya. EU countries’ reliance on Russian gas imports – especially Germany – may be another reason for most of the EU opposing a no-fly zone (5) – (9).
It’s also entirely rational to doubt the motives of the US and other governments for calls for intervention and war criminals to be brought to justice and Gaddafi’s dictatorship overthrown, given their failure to make similar calls about dictatorships (and democracies) allied to them who have had unarmed protesters shot or killed by police and thugs – in Egypt, in Bahrain, in Oman, Yemen and Iraq (though these killings seem to be smaller scale in most cases – though over 300 in Egypt until Mubarak handed over to Suleiman and the military - they are definitely against entirely unarmed protesters, whole some reports from Libya say some protesters in Zawiyah were armed with guns, though this was after Gaddafi’s forces had fired on protesters in Benghazi) (10) – (17). They made no such calls during Israeli war crimes which killed over 700 civilians in the 2008 -2009 Israeli war on Gaza – and they have committed war crimes including targeting civilians and using methods which kill civilians along with combatants in large numbers in air strikes and drone strikes and night raids in Afghanistan and Pakistan, just as they did during the Kosovo war (18) – (21). They’re making no calls for intervention while the Saudi military has drivne into Bahrain and is killing democracy protesters in a kind of Middle Eastern version of the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring (the Emir of Bahrain may have “requested their assistance”, but he is a dictator not an elected head of government – and even if he didn’t want them there, he has little choice in the matter given Saudi’s greater military strength). (22) – (23) .
NATO’s “Humanitarian Intervention” in Kosovo
Jamie Shea - NATO's spokesman during the 1999 Kosovo war
In Kosovo NATO claimed to be intervening to stop Yugoslav (mostly Serbian) military and police killings of Kosovan Albanians. Yet the KLA had been killing Serbs to try to provoke such attacks for years and had been described as terrorists by the US state department until a few months before the war. The Rambouillet Accord, which the US demanded the Yugoslav government accept before the war stipulated that ‘The economy of Kosovo shall function in accordance with free market principles’ (chapter 4 article 1) and also basically demanded the entire country allow immediate occupation by NATO forces (Appendix B).John Norris , an adviser to US deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott (who was chief US negotiator at Rambouillet) wrote that ‘It was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform—not the plight of the Kosovar Albanians—that best explains NATO’s war.’ So the war was at least as much about free market “economic reform” as “humanitarian intervention” (24) – (26).
NATO air forces committed a mixture of deliberate atrocities and indiscriminate bombing carried out because they were under orders to bomb from 50,000 feet. This ensured NATO pilots were safe from being shot down, but resulted in them bombing many of the same Albanian refugees they were meant to be saving, partly due to mis-identifying their tractors as Serbian tanks; and partly due to some Serbian soldiers locking refugees in a village they were in, which they knew NATO planned to bomb (27) – (29).
The deliberate atrocities included targeting Serbian state television on the grounds that its broadcasts encouraged genocide against Albanians. This succeeded in killing such supposed mass murderers as an elderly night watchman and a make up lady. The targeting of the Serbian Communist Party headquarters in Belgrade on similar grounds accidentally hit a hospital, killing patients. NATO forces also managed to bomb the Chinese, Russian and Indian embassies in Belgrade. This was explained as an accident. It was a remarkable co-incidence that all three governments had just voted against a US motion in the UN Security Council to give them UN authorisation for military action in Kosovo. This was not under the notorious Bush administration, but under the supposedly moderate and internationalist Clinton administration. This doesn’t even go into the bombing of bridges and town centres with cluster bombs on market day, or planes returning to target those trying to help the survivors and wounded (27) – (29).
Some will argue that despite all this the military action stopped massacres and ethnic cleansing once NATO ground troops moved in. Unfortunately that’s not true. It just changed how was ethnically cleansing and murdering who. Serbian military, police and paramilitary killings of Kosovan Albanians mostly ended. However KLA murders, kidnappings and ethnic cleansing of Serb and Roma civilians grew rapidly as recorded by Human Rights Watch and investigative journalists on the ground like Robert Fisk. These had begun before NATO intervention, partly in order to provoke Serb forces to carry out atrocities that would bring NATO in. Up until NATO began the push for military intervention they described the KLA (fairly accurately) as a terrorist group. The KLA are also involved in trafficking Afghan heroin to western Europe, including the UK, kidnapping people to sell their organs; and kidnapping women and girls as forced prostitutes (something ‘private contractors’ for the US state department and UN funded Albanian militia units have also been involved in). One of the most notorious KLA thugs is Hashim Thaci. The Clinton administration chose to back Thaci and the worst elements of the KLA rather than Kosovan Albanian nationalist and pacifist Ibrahim Rugova and his LDK party to become the new government of Kosovo (30) – (39).
So, understandably, few people trust any government to back democrats in it’s foreign policy; and when some of those calling for “liberal intervention” lambast people who think they may be being lied to again, they should really be complaining about the governments who have churned out so much propaganda that it’s hard for anyone to tell the difference until the major events are already over.
(1) = Curtis, Mark (1995), ‘The Ambiguities of Power : British Foreign Policy since 1945', Zed Books, London & New York, 1995 hardback edition, Chapter 4, pages 86 – 96 (and especially 93-94)
(2) = Naseer Aruri (1991) ‘Human Rights and the Gulf Crisis’ in Phyllis Bennis & Michel Moushabeck (1991) ‘Beyond the Storm : a Gulf Crisis Reader’, Canongate Press, Edinburgh, UK 1991, Chapter 28, especially pages 313-317 of paperback edition
(3) = Christian Science Monitor 06 Sep 2002 ‘When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators’, http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0906/p25s02-cogn.html
(4) = Laura Flanders (1991) ‘Restricting Reality : Media Mind Games and the War’ in Phyllis Bennis & Michel Moushabeck (1991) ‘Beyond the Storm : a Gulf Crisis Reader’, Canongate Press, Edinburgh, UK 1991, Chapter 13, esp. p168 of paperback edition
(5) = YouGov/Sun Poll 10 Mar 2010, http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/3273 (also see recent polls and average of them on same page)
(6) = Reuters 21 Feb 2010 ‘Sarkozy's poll ratings fall, near record lows’,http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/02/21/us-sarkozy-ratings-poll-idUSTRE61K12520100221
(7) = BBC News 01 March 2011 ‘Italy and Silvio Berlusconi face Libya dilemma’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12612405
(8) = Reuters 20 Feb 2011 ‘Berlusconi under fire for not "disturbing" Gaddafi’,http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/20/us-italy-libya-berlusconi-idUSTRE71J1LH20110220
(9) = Anthony Seldon & Daniel Collings ‘Britain Under Thatcher’ , Chapter 2, page 20
(10) = Human Rights Watch 08 Feb 2011 ‘Egypt: Documented Death Toll From Protests Tops 300, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/02/08/egypt-documented-death-toll-protests-tops-300
(11) = Amnesty International 17 Feb 2011 ‘Bahrain protest deaths rise as camp is evicted’,http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/bahrain-protest-deaths-rise-camp-evicted-2011-02-17
(12) = Amnesty International 24 Feb 2011 ‘Oman must rein in security forces to prevent further deaths’,http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/oman-must-rein-security-forces-prevent-further-deaths-2011-02-28
(13) = Amnesty International 09 Feb 2011 ‘Yemen urged to halt deadly attacks on protestors’, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/yemen-urged-halt-deadly-attacks-protesters-2011-03-09‘The Yemeni authorities must end deadly night raids and other attacks on protests, Amnesty International said today, after one protester was killed and around 100 injured in the capital Sana'a late last night. According to media reports, security forces used live rounds and tear gas against protesters camped outside Sana’a University…. Some 30 people have reportedly now been killed in Yemen during ongoing unrest which began early last month. Protesters are demanding government reform and an end to corruption and unemployment.
(14) = AP 25 Feb 2011 ‘12 killed as Iraqis protest in 'Day of Rage'’,http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110225/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_iraq
(15) = Guardian.co.uk 04 Mar 2011 ‘Baghdad protesters converge on Liberation Square’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/04/baghdad-protesters-iraq-driving-ban ; Security forces around Iraq clashed with protesters last Friday in the country's most widespread and violent demonstrations since a wave of unrest began to spread across the Middle East. At least 14 people were killed
(16) = HRW 25 Feb 2011 ‘Iraq: Open Immediate Inquiry Into Protester Deaths’, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/02/25/iraq-open-immediate-inquiry-protester-deaths
(17) = Human Rights Watch 26 Feb 2011 ‘Libya: Security Forces Fire on Protesters in Western City’,http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/02/26/libya-security-forces-fire-protesters-western-city ; Egyptian migrant workers who fled to Tunisia from Zawiyah, a coastal city 40 kilometers west of Tripoli, told Human Rights Watch that Libyan security forces shot at protesters who had defied government orders to stay inside their homes and who tried to hold a demonstration after Friday prayers. One migrant worker said he saw approximately 3,000 protesters in the main square, some of whom carried guns.
(18) = Human Rights Watch 07 Feb 2010 ‘Israel: Military Investigations Fail Gaza War Victims’,http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/02/06/israel-military-investigations-fail-gaza-war-victims
(19) = The Public Record 19 Oct 2009 ‘Report: Drone Strikes Increased Dramatically Under Obama’,http://pubrecord.org/world/5801/report-drone-strikes-increased/
(20) = thenews (Pakistan) 03 Jan 2011 ‘Drones killed 59pc civilians, 41pc terrorists’, http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=23631&Cat=2&dt=1/3/2011
(21) = See this blog post and sources for it http://inplaceoffear.blogspot.com/2010/08/killings-of-civilians-by-nato-forces-in.html and the following blog post link under the sub-heading ‘Night Raids and the El Salvador Option moving from Iraq to Afghanistan’, http://inplaceoffear.blogspot.com/2010/03/one-more-push-for-what-in-afghanistan.html
(22) = Reuters 14 Mar 2011 ‘Saudi sends troops, Bahrain Shi'ites call it "war"’,http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/03/14/uk-bahrain-protests-forces-idUKTRE72D28G20110314
(23) = guardian.co.uk 15 Mar 2011 ‘Two killed as Bahrain's king declares martial law’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/15/bahrain-king-declares-martial-law
(24) = BBC News 28 Jun 1998 ‘The KLA - terrorists or freedom fighters?’,http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/121818.stm
(25) = US State Department ‘Rambouillet Agreement - Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo’, http://www.state.gov/www/regions/eur/ksvo_rambouillet_text.html
(26) = John Norris (2005) ‘Collision Course : NATO, Russia and Kosovo’ cited by Naomi Klein (2007) ‘The Shock Doctrine’ , Penguin/Allen Lane, 2007, page 328 of hardback edition, Chapter 17, page 328
(27) = HRW 26 Oct 2001 ‘Under Orders : War Crimes in Kosovo’, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2001/10/26/under-orders-war-crimes-kosovo
(28) = BBC News 01 Jan 1999 ‘Nato's bombing blunders’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/340966.stm
(29) = Phillip Knightley (2000) ‘The First Casualty’, Prion Books Limited, London, 2000, Chapter 20 is on the Kosovo war and propaganda and NATO war crimes in it in general; pages 516-517, on bombing of Chinese and Indian embassies in Belgrade by NATO after they’d criticised NATO’s air war – and given NATO the addresses of their embassies at it’s request, supposedly to ensure they wouldn’t be hit
(30) = Independent 24 Nov 1999 ‘Serbs murdered by the hundred since `liberation'’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/serbs-murdered-by-the-hundred-since-liberation-1128350.html
(31) = Observer 25 Jul 1999 ‘Killings blamed on KLA’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/jul/25/balkans3
(32) = HRW 26 Oct 2001 ‘Under Orders : War Crimes in Kosovo’, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2001/10/26/under-orders-war-crimes-kosovo; see summary under Sub-heading ‘Abuses by the KLA’) http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/2001/kosovo/undword.htm
(33) = San Francisco Chronicle 05 May 1999 ‘KLA Linked To Enormous Heroin Trade / Police suspect drugs helped finance revolt’, http://articles.sfgate.com/1999-05-05/news/17687597_1_kosovo-albanians-kosovo-liberation-army-ethnic-albanian-community
(34) = Mother Jones magazine Jan/Feb 2000 ‘Heroin Heroes’, http://motherjones.com/politics/2000/01/heroin-heroes
(35) = Observer 25 Mar 2000 ‘Revealed: UN backed unit’s reign of terror’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2000/mar/12/balkans.unitednations
(36) = Guardian 10 Dec 2003 ‘The Privatisation of War’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/dec/10/politics.iraq
(37) = Siddharth Kara (2009) ‘Sex trafficking: inside the business of modern slavery’, Columbia University Press, 2009, Chapter 5, pages 143- 145http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=WWb-wx1gjLwC&pg=PA144&lpg=PA144&dq=KLA+sex+slaves&source=bl&ots=RwdHrczQRh&sig=JTo2XKmDBB9afaaB5iOqVjYut5M&hl=en&ei=IeVnTb7wDsib8QOUkt2LBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CEkQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=KLA%20sex%20slaves&f=false
(38) = guardian.co.uk 14 Dec 2010 ‘Kosovo PM is head of human organ and arms ring, Council of Europe reports’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/14/kosovo-prime-minister-llike-mafia-boss
(39) = Time 05 Jul 1999 ‘Democracy School’, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,991398,00.html