Thursday, June 30, 2011

US, Israeli and Greek governments try to intimidate and block Gaza aid flotilla including US ship and crew

A new international aid flotilla is preparing to sail from Greece to Gaza to provide aid to Gazans and protest the Israeli blockade which has been in force to collectively punish the people of Gaza since Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.

It includes a US flagged ship carrying American citizens and named ‘The Audacity of Hope’ after Obama’s book. However one of the activists – former CIA man and peace activist Ray McGovern -  says he’s been told by people with contacts in the US National Security Council that White House officials would be happy if something happened to us.” and “perfectly willing to have the cold corpses of activists shown on American TV.” (i.e if McGovern and other flotilla members were shot dead by Israeli forces as nine members of the 2010 Gaza aid flotilla were, including 19 year old US citizen Turkan Dogran ) (1) – (2).

 When Craig Murray (the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and human rights activist) asked some of his own sources with contacts in the US State Department they confirmed this. Murray writes

I was told that Obama will welcome an Israeli attack on the US ship, as giving him a chance to confirm his pro-Israeli credentials and improve his standing with AIPAC ahead of the Presidential election race. Fatalities would be “not a problem”.

(Of course it’s possible that some White House officials are merely saying this in the hope it will deter McGovern and other Americans from going at all so the administration can avoid the political risks of ending up in a quandary over whether to criticise killings of Americans at the risk of AIPAC then attacking them, or not criticise them and look like they don’t care whether American peace activists are killed)

CNN reports that Secretary of State Clinton has said she doesn’t think the flotilla “is useful or productive or helpful to the people of Gaza.” and that “We have certainly encouraged that American citizens not participate in the flotilla…to avoid any kind of confrontation.” while ‘State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland criticized what she called "irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers."’ (3).

As Murray (who spent years dealing with the international law of the sea in the British Foreign Office) pointed out at the time the Israeli boarding and attack on civilian vessels crewed by unarmed civilians in international waters was a breach of international law and an act of war.

Surviving passengers on the ships said Israeli forces fired on them before and during boarding contradicting Israeli military claims that their forces only fired after being fired on (4).

The UN investigation into the Israeli boarding of the 2010 flotilla vessels confirmed this, finding that Israeli forces fired live ammunition at the ships’ passengers from helicopters which they boarded from. It also found that while some of the crew of the Mavi Marmara attacked the Israeli troops as they boarded and stabbed one, they did not fire on Israeli forces with pistols stolen from them, as claimed by the Israeli military, but emptied some of ammunition and threw others in the sea. Israeli forces responded with a mixture of live fire from the boarders and helicopters and paint ball fire.  Some “non-lethal” weapons such as “bean bag” guns and plastic bullets were in fact responsible for some of the deaths, having been fired at point blank range at the faces or heads of flotilla members by Israeli forces (5).

Amnesty International found the Israeli military investigation of it’s own operation was ‘a whitewash’ (6).

While a minority of the Mavi Marmara’s crew fought Israeli forces with lengths of wood, metal railings from the ships and in one case possibly a knife there is no evidence to back up Israeli claims they were fired on or that there were guns on board the ships, or that Israeli forces supposedly came under fire first. (7).

If the Israeli government’s intention is to influence world opinion in favour of it’s blockade of Gaza it’s attack on the Gaza aid flotilla in 2010 backfired badly, resulting in Obama saying that the Gaza blockade was against Israel’s interests. If they do the same this time and some of the dead are Americans it may backfire even more badly.

After the Israeli attacks, the head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, told an Israeli Knesset committee that “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden” (8). Dagan is no wild liberal. He was appointed by the notorious serial war criminal Ariel Sharon, who found no faults with him. Netanyahu has since sacked Dagan for saying his and Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s policies of refusing any compromise with the Palestinians and threatening war on Iran are “reckless” (9).  

Other former heads of Mossad and Shin Bet (Israeli military intelligence) and a former Israeli foreign minister have been even more critical of Israeli governments under Labour and Likud, saying they should be negotiating with Hamas without preconditions)

There is a real risk Netanyahu and Barak will order armed attacks on the new Gaza flotilla anyway though.

Murray has suggested that the attitudes in the Obama administration revealed by his and McGovern’s contacts shows that the Obama administration ‘wants more dead Rachel Corries’.

American human rights activist Rachel Corrie was run over and killed by the driver of an Israeli bulldozer in March 2003 in Gaza when she lay down in front of the home of a Palestinian pharmacist to try to prevent it’s destruction by Israeli military forces. Multiple eyewitnesses from the International Solidarity Movement of which she was a part said the driver could clearly see her and Israeli soldiers in a nearby tank had shouted to her by name and swore at her repeatedly. All this is confirmed by Human Rights Watch’s investigations. Yet the Israeli government then reported after and “investigation” that Corrie had not been run over by a bulldozer (in direct contradiction of the autopsy) (10).

The IfAmericansKnew website has a very well sourced and researched article on myths and facts about Corrie and her death here.

(Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes has accelerated since, especially in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, but also on the borders of Gaza) (11) – (13). A ship named after Corrie followed after the 2010 flotilla to try and sail to Gaza. It was boarded by Israeli forces but no-one was hurt (14))

She was one of many foreign human rights activists, UN staff and aid workers from countries whose governments are allies of Israel who have been killed by Israeli forces, others including British International Solidarity Movement member Tom Hurndall, who was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper while trying to protect children who were at risk of being hit by the snipers (15).

The Greek government has claimed that the US flagged and crewed ‘Audacity of Hope’ is not seaworthy to sail in order to try to prevent it sailing (16). It seems likely this is the result of either US government pressure via it’s influence with the IMF, with which Greek’s government is negotiating a bail-out, or else the result of Greek government fears that if it doesn’t go out of it’s way to try to please the US government the IMF will be even harsher in debt negotiations.

The Guardian reports that the Israeli government has also told journalists planning to travel with the flotilla that their equipment would be confiscated and they will be banned from Israel for 10 years if they do so ; and circulated a faked video which was supposedly about a gay rights activist being banned from joining the flotilla due to Hamas’ homophobia (17).

This propaganda campaign echoes supposed Israeli recordings of Gaza flotilla members in 2010 making anti-Semitic references to Auschwitz and September 11th  before the boardings, which the UN investigation found to be fakes (see page 24 of the report) (18).

They have also made statements about a secret group of violent activists who have infiltrated the flotilla, providing no evidence to back up their claims (19).

For more on the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which allows some supplies in, but not nearly enough and prevents Palestinians exporting agricultural or other produce – and on the facts about Israel, Hamas and Fatah - see this post and this page and  this one and this one and this one and this one.

(1) = BBC News 31 May 2010 ‘Deaths as Israeli forces storm Gaza aid ship’,

(2) = ABC News 03 Jun 2010 ‘American, 19, Among Gaza Flotilla Dead’,

(3) = CNN 26 Jun 2011 ‘Israel denies fiscal pressure on Greece to block flotilla boats’,

(4) = 01 Jun 2010 ‘Israelis opened fire before boarding Gaza flotilla, say released activists’,

(5) = UN Human Rights Council 27 Sep 2010 ‘Report of the international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance’, pages 25 – 31 ,,,,COUNTRYREP,ISR,,4cd3a8e32,0.html   ; Also see this link and numbered sources at the bottom of it

(6) = Amnesty International 31 May 2010 ‘Israeli killings of Gaza ship activists must be investigated’,

(7) = See (5) above

(8) = Haaretz 01 Jun 2010 ‘Mossad chief: Israel gradually becoming burden on U.S.’,

(9) = 03 Jan 2011 'Israel government 'reckless and irresponsible' says ex-Mossad chief',

(10) = Human Rights Watch 2005 ‘Promoting Impunity - The Israeli Military’s Failure to Investigate Wrongdoing’ Part VI,

(11) = Guardian 15 Jun 2009 ‘Report highlights increasing Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes’,

(12) = Independent 23 Jun 2011 ‘Razing of Palestinian homes picking up speed’,

(13) = Guardian 07 Mar 2009 ‘Israel annexing East Jerusalem, says EU’,

(14) = 05 Jun 2010 ‘Israeli forces board the Rachel Corrie’,

(15) = See (10) above

(16) = CNN 26 Jun 2011 ‘Israel denies fiscal pressure on Greece to block flotilla boats’,

(17) = 28 jun 2011 ‘Israel steps up campaign to stop flotilla sailing to Gaza in defiance of blockade’,

(18) = UN Human Rights Council 27 Sep 2010 ‘Report of the international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance’, page 24 ,,,,COUNTRYREP,ISR,,4cd3a8e32,0.html

(19) = See (13) above

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Private creditors and banks' refusal to write down Greek debts likely to lead to Argentina style default

The Guardian has reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to get Greece’s private sector creditors, including the banks, to forgive some of Greece’s debts to them as part of a bail-out package for the Greek government. Some IMF and other economists argued for the same thing (1) – (2). The banks and other private creditors refused (3).

If they continue in their greed in refusing to give up any of the money owed to them Greece will most likely default on it’s debts and they will get not one penny.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy has claimed that leaving the Euro is not an option for either France or Greece as if they did their debts would still be denominated in Euros, the Greek and French currency would be worth far less than 1 euro per unit of currency and so their debt would effectively increase (4).

However if Greece has defaulted on all it’s debts this would not be a problem for them. It might affect their balance of payments negatively (i.e increase the value of what they import compared to what they export) but compared to the harsh conditions set for bail-out and the massive size of Greece’s debts this might seem like a minor problem.

The IMF and Greece’s governmental creditors in the EU have set the usual conditions of privatisation of public services and assets, sacking of public sector employees and cuts in welfare payments (5).

The privatisations demanded include the privatisation of water, which will price many of the poorest out of being able to afford water at all. Privatisation of water supplies led to cholera epidemics when it was done in South Africa as many people couldn’t afford piped water any more; and to riots in Cochabamba in Bolivia after the foreign water firms who bought up Bolivian water infrastructure started charging for the entire cost of new investments by raising prices in advance to cover the whole cost of major investments up front (6)  - (9).

They also include electricity (10). This would remove the revenues of one of the few public services that could turn a profit from government.

If the Greek government agrees to all this the likelihood is that the country will be tipped into a second even worse ‘double dip’ recession. Given that and massive public opposition to the rescue package conditions, since most Greeks don’t see why they should pay for the decisions of bankers and politicians who caused the crisis through lobbying for and implementing deregulation of the financial sector across most of the developed world, it seems likely the Greek government will either have to default, partially or entirely, on it’s debts, or else it will fall and whatever government replaces it will be forced to.

The IMF and EU conditions on the bail out are not addressing the main cause of Greece's debts either. This is tax avoidance through corruption. Many people and companies who can afford to, bribe officials or politicians to allow them to evade taxes altogether, resulting in the gap between tax revenues and government expenditure and placing the tax burden on those who can least afford it - the people and small businesses who can't afford to pay bribes (along with those who could but decide it would be wrong to) (11).

Defaulting on a large percentage of their other foreign debts did not work out badly for Argentina, in fact leading to it finally getting out of a situation of mass unemployment and massive debt. The debt default and repudiation of IMF conditions was followed by rapid growth which was interrupted briefly in 2009 by a recession caused by the global financial crisis, followed by more rapid growth. (The table on this link shows Argentina’s growth rate since 2002 if you change the start year to 2002.)   (12) – (14).

 Argentina did have help from Venezuela’s government, which had a surplus when oil prices were high due to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and tension over whether there’d be war with Iran. Venezuela funded Argentina paying off it’s debts to the IMF. Foreign creditors were then forced to accept 25% of the money initially owed to them (15) – (16).

As a result last year Argentina was  able to pay off  it’s debts at a rate equivalent to creditors getting 51% of what was initially owed to them despite suffering a recession due to the global financial crisis and having to default on debt payments again in 2009 (17) – (18).

Development economist Ha Joon Chang has pointed out that many developing countries have defaulted on their debts without disaster ensuing in the past and they were rapidly able to get new loans from new investors (19).

The IMF is usually far more concerned with what is good for foreign creditors than what’s good for the people of countries it’s imposing conditions on for loans and grants, because it’s funded by the richest countries and they appoint it’s head.


(1) = 17 Jun 2011 ‘Germany climbs down over Greece bailout demands’,

(2) = 03 Jun 2011 ‘Anger mounts in Greece as eurozone ministers edge nearer to bailout deal’,

(3) = See (1) above

(4) = EU business 27 Jun 2011 ‘Sarkozy says France will propose new plan to aid Greece’,

(5) = Reuters 14 May 2011 ‘;sz=1x1;kw=gary;ord=5676326065615506?EU,IMF pushing Greece to fully privatise utilities – reports’,

(6) = See (5) above

(7) = J. Pauw (2003)‘The politics of underdevelopment: metered to death-how a water experiment caused riots and a cholera epidemic’ in  Int J Health Serv. 2003;33(4):819-30.

(8) = Water Justice 19 Oct 2004 ‘The UK Government and Water Privatisation’,

(9) = The Nation 28 Jan 2005 ‘The Politics of Water in Bolivia’,

(10) = See (5) above

(11) = BBC Radio 4, 11 Feb 2010 'From Our Own Correspondent - No Tax Please we're Greek',

(12) = BBC News 21 Nov 2002 ‘Crisis-hit Argentina defaults on debt’,

(13) = Guardian 02 Apr 2009 ‘Argentina heads for return of debt default that 'left it out of the world' seven years ago’,

(14) = Trading Economics -  ‘Argentina GDP Growth rate’,

(15) = 19 Dec 2005 ‘Goodbye and Good Riddance’,

(16) = See (11) above

(17) = 16 Apr 2010 ‘Argentina to repay 2001 debt as Greece struggles to avoid default’,

(18) = See (12) above

(19) = Ha Joon Chang (2010) ‘23 Things they don’t tell you about capitalism’, Allen Lane, 2010

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Amnesty finds Libyan rebels lied about Gaddafi rape orders, mercenaries and anti-aircraft guns - and says some protesters might have been armed

In case anyone else hasn’t seen it yet there’s an article in the Independent newspaper quoting Amnesty International investigators saying they’ve found no evidence to support the Libyan rebels’ claims that Gaddafi ordered his troops to rape women and that much of the rebels’ supposed evidence for it was manufactured, along with some of their other claims.

Rebel claims that Gaddafi was using black African mercenaries have also been found false by Amnesty, with those ‘mercenaries’ shown to journalists by the rebels being migrant workers. Some black migrant workers in Benghazi were murdered as a result of the rumours.

Amnesty’s investigation also found it’s possible some of the protesters killed by Gaddafi’s forces in Benghazi and Baidi at the start of the uprising may have been armed (though they’re not certain of this) and that there was no evidence of anti-aircraft weapons being used against the protesters, only kalashnikovs (that last one isn’t a big difference but is more evidence that the rebels’ claims include at least as much propaganda as Gaddafi’s claims do)

This confirms my earlier suspicions that both sides were putting out a lot of false propaganda and that we should take claims about what was going on in Libya with a pinch of salt.

It also makes me even more certain that US Defence Secretary Robert Gates’ claim that Gaddafi’s people are killing people and then moving the bodies about from one place to another to pretend they were all killed in NATO air strikes is recycled propaganda similar to that he used (and later admitted was false) in relation to the Taliban and US air strikes in Afghanistan.

I don’t doubt Gaddafi is involved in some propaganda too. It seems highly unlikely that all the rebels are Al Qa’ida, as he claims they are ; and one member of a hospital’s staff gave journalists a note saying that a baby who Gaddafi’s spokesmen said had been injured by a NATO air strike was actually hurt in a car crash.

NATO has admitted it was responsible for other air strikes attempting to assassinate Gaddafi and members of his government and military by airstrike – and in those cases children were, very predictably, killed.

We should beware of claims about the war in Libya made by Gaddafi’s people, the rebels and NATO government and military spokespeople unless corroborated by journalists (doing more than just repeating them) or human rights groups. None of them are all that reliable – and even Amnesty has sometimes been fooled for a few months till it got to investigate further on the ground, though not often.

Of course this doesn't mean Gaddafi and his forces haven't committed any war crimes against civilians. For instance Amnesty has reported Grad rocket attacks by his forces on Misratah from April through to this month by his forces, which is indiscriminate fire which they know will kill civilians whether they're aiming to hit rebels or not - and Amnesty also reported evidence of sniper fire on civilians in Misrata in April (3) – (4).

(1) = Independent 24 Jun 2011 ‘Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as weapon of war’,

(2) = Channel 4 News (UK) 09 Jun 2011 ‘Gaddafi ordered rape attacks as weapon of war- ICC’,

(3) Amnesty International 05 May 2011 ‘Libya: Attacks against Misratah residents point to war crimes’,

(4) = Amnesty International 23 Jun 2011 ‘Libya: Renewed rocket attacks target civilians in Misratah’,

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More on the oil motive for NATO's intervention in Libya

The difference between the Gaddafi government’s oil policies and those that oil importing governments (such as NATO countries) and companies based in them would prefer are one of the main motives for NATO’s military intervention in Libya – and certainly more of a real motive than protection of civilians.

(A previous post covered some of this and the parallels between US intervention in Libya and in Iran and Venezuela – all primarily due to disputes over oil profits and control of production levels.)

Libya experts like Geoff Simons and Ronald Bruce St. John have described the Gaddafi government’s oil policy as one of playing foreign oil companies off against one another to ensure the best returns for Libya, in deals that get the country the investment and expertise it requires for oil exploration and production. From the beginning Gaddafi’s government used the threat of possible nationalisation in negotiations – a threat that has remained credible as they have sometimes carried it out (e.g in September 1973). (1) – (2).

St. John wrote that ‘In retrospect it seems obvious that the RCC [Revolutionary Command Council including Gaddafi] was determined from the start to reduce oil production to conserve supplies, increase oil revenues by maximising the price, develop upstream and downstream capabilities, and use oil revenues to diversify the economy’ (3).

(‘Upstream’ refers to exploration to find oil and production (i.e extraction) , ‘downstream’ usually means storage, refining e.g oil into petrol, distribution and sale.)

While the details of Gaddafi’s policy have varied, the key aims have remained the same. These aims have often conflicted with the aims of oil importing countries (including all NATO countries) and the oil companies based in them. In his book ‘Fuel on the Fire’ Greg Muttit quotes a report by the US Center for Strategic and International Studies, written by former members of the CIA, US government and American oil companies in 2000. They concluded that, with the increase in demand from developing economies like China, India and Brazil, the ideal scenario from the point of view of oil importers and oil companies based in them would be a 50% increase in production by 2020 to allow oil companies to profit fully from the growing demand and to maintain oil prices at a level low enough to allow continued economic growth in oil importing countries (4).

It’s also likely that Libya developing it’s own refineries (and it’s acquisition of the European oil refining firm Tamoil in 1986 (5)) cut into profits the oil companies could make from refining oil and selling the more valuable final products such as petrol back to Libya, as they do in some oil rich countries (e.g Nigeria ) (6).

The three countries who the CSIS report said would have to maximise production to achieve the 50% increase were Iraq, Iran and Libya – whose production levels were all limited by US government and/or UN sanctions (7). Lifting these sanctions without getting governments who had defied the US either replaced or made to make big concessions would result in huge loss of face and influence for the US government. So the US and it’s allies invaded Iraq and got contracts with their oil companies negotiated while the occupation and insurgency continued, forcing the Iraqi government to negotiate from a position of weakness. They’ve imposed sanctions on Iran and continue to threaten possible military action against it; and they’ve imposed Iraq style sanctions on and carried out air strikes in Libya.

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein failed to promote democracy in the Arab world, but it certainly promoted the interests of US and British oil companies. They got contracts on very favourable terms with the government of Iraq, while hundreds of thousands of their troops and mercenaries were still there (8) – (9). A week after Saddam Hussein was captured by US forces Gaddafi agreed to inspections of it’s nuclear facilities which would be accompanied by the return of US oil companies to Libya, later followed by BP (10) – (12).

While Gaddafi had allowed western oil companies contracts in Libya before the current fighting he was also haggling for a higher share of oil profits from them and hinting at the possibility of nationalisation if they refused. American oil companies became worried he might kick them out (13) – (14).

Oil profits, prices and supplies are one of the real motives for NATO’s intervention in Libya.

(1) = Ronald Bruce St. John (2008) ‘Libya From Colony to Independence’,  Oneworld Paperback/Oxford, especially Chapter 8, p145 -148; Chapter 7, p174 – 177;Chapter 9, p250-254, p 260

(2) = Geoff Simons (1996) ‘Libya the struggle for survival’ 2nd edition, MacMillan, London, 1996, paperback

(3) = St. John (see 1 above), Chapter 6, page 145

(4) = Center for Strategic International Studies  (2000) ‘The geopolitics of energy into the 21st century’ cited by Gregg Muttitt (2011) ‘Fuel on the fire’, The Bodley Head, London, 2011; chapter 3, pages 35 and 370

(5) = St. John (see 1 above), Chapter7, page 176

(6) = BBC News 6 Jul 2010 ‘China to build $8bn oil refinery in Nigeria’,

(7) = See (4) above

(8) = Gregg Muttitt (2011) ‘Fuel on the fire’, The Bodley Head, London, 2011

(9) = AP 1 Jul 2009 ‘Iraqi government approves BP oil field offer’,

(10) = Jordan Times 23 Dec 2003 ‘Libya could provide intelligence bonanza’,

(11) = See sources (55) to (59) on this link

(12) = CNN Fortune 28 Jun 2004 ‘Libya's Black Gold Rush With sanctions lifted, Big Oil is lining up to do business with Qaddafi’,

(13) = CNBC 03 Mar 2009 ‘Libya Wants Greater Share of Its Oil Revenue’,

(14) = Forbes Magazine 01 Jan 2009 ‘Is Libya Going To Boot U.S. Oil Companies?’,

Libya: NATO governments actions and inactions elsewhere show the intervention in Libya can't be about protecting civilians or promoting democracy

The claim constantly made by NATO governments that they have intervened militarily in Libya to protect civilians and promote democracy is obviously untrue when compared with their actions (and lack of them) in other countries.

Gaddafi’s forces certainly seem to have been killing civilians, but if that was the real motive for NATO intervention, rather than a useful pretext to cover other motives, why is there no intervention in Syria, where around 1,300 civilians are estimated to have been killed so far by snipers and tanks? (1). Why did the US and various EU governments continue to back Saleh’s dictatorship in Yemen as his snipers daily killed unarmed protesters, including children? (only stopping when it was clear Saleh wasn’t going to survive in power). Why do they continue to back the government of Bahrain after it did the same and attacked hospitals, ambulances, nurses and doctors; disappeared at least 500 people ;  and charged doctors with treason for treating the wounded? Why did they continue training Bahraini military officers in the UK during the killings? Why is the British government continuing to provide British military training to Saudi snipers, especially when Saudi troops have moved into Bahrain, with many people (including Robert Fisk) believing the harshness of the crackdown and the reversal of King Al Khalifa’s previous reforms are the result of the Saudis now being the real rulers of Bahrain, in a quiet military ccupation which may have made Al Khalifa a powerless puppet of the Saudi monarchy? At the least, Saudis snipers trained by UK forces have been training Bahraini snipers – and Bahraini snipers have targeted civilians (2) – (5).

The targeting of civilians and ambulances by US snipers in the assault on Fallujah during the Iraq war; and systematic torture by Coalition forces in Iraq and US forces in Afghanistan (albeit under Bush rather than Obama), along with US backing for the ‘El Salvador option’ in Iraq via training for police commando and ‘counter-terrorist’ death squads there, also severely undermine the idea that the US is likely to intervene militarily to protect civilians, prevent human rights abuses and promote democracy (6) – (11).

Clearly the NATO intervention in Libya is not primarily motivated by human rights or democracy or concern to protect civilians. It’s primarily about NATO governments getting votes back home by being seen to defend civilians against one dictator who has been presented as the man behind the Lockerbie bombing; and about securing oil contracts for their firms on more favourable terms; as well as trying to ensure oil prices don’t rise to the point that economic growth in their own countries is threatened, which would be likely to lose them elections.

(1) = BBC News 19 Jun 2011 ‘Syria troops 'raid town' near Turkey border’,

(2) = PA 16 Jun 2011 ‘Bahrain medics accused of treason’,

(3) = Independent 30 May 2011 ‘UK trained Bahraini army officers even after crackdown began’,

(4) = 28 May 2011 ‘UK training Saudi forces used to crush Arab spring’,

(5) = Independent 14 Jun 2011 ‘Robert Fisk: I saw these brave doctors trying to save lives – these charges are a pack of lies’,

(6) = Guardian 17 Apr 2004 ‘'Getting aid past US snipers is impossible'’,

(7) = BBC News 23 Apr 2004 ‘Picture emerges of Fallujah siege’,

(8) = On torture in Afghanistan and Iraq see sources on this link

(9) = BBC News 27 Jan 2005 ‘‘Salvador Option’ mooted for Iraq’,

(10) = NYT magazine 01 May 2005 ‘The Way of the Commandos’,

(11) = The Nation 03 Jun 2009 ‘Iraq's New Death Squad', ,(Shane Bauer, the journalist who investigated and wrote the article is currently being held in jail by the Iranian government on the ludicrous charge that he is a ‘US agent’)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Libya : The homes of members of Gaddafi's government are not legitimate military targets or command and control centres

No amount of calling the houses of members of Gaddafi’s government and his advisers ‘Command and control centers’ will change the fact that in bombing them NATO know they’re likely to kill members of their families, like the airstrike that killed not only Gaddafi’s youngest son, but his three young children at the start of May ; and the more recent strike that missed one of Gaddafi’s advisers, but killed members of his family, including children – again in the family’s home (1) - (2). Those ordering attacks on the homes of members of Gaddafi’s government know they are likely to kill civilians.

If our enemies were attacking the homes of British officers or generals or members of government and killing members of their family, giving the justification that these people were part of the British command structure attacking Libya and killing civilians, would anyone take their claims that the attacks were legitimate attacks on military targets? Not for a second.

The homes and families of members of Gaddafi’s government are not the only people being killed by NATO air and missile strikes either – Libyan civilians with no connection to Gaddafi’s government or armed forces are being killed too (3).

The argument that the deaths are the fault of Gaddafi and members of his government for not sending their families somwhere safe are also empty. There is nowhere else safe for their families to go and no safe way to get there even if there was. There is fighting in the civil war and NATO air strikes across Libya. If they try to leave by plane they are likely to be shot down on suspicion that members of the regime are aboard. If they try and travel to other parts of Libya by car where will they go that's safe? - and how will they get there safely when NATO jets have even bombed convoys of rebel pick up trucks by mistake (and frequently civilians by mistake in Afghanistan)?

Strikes on ‘command and control centers’ defined as anyone involved in Gaddafi’s government or military, in the field or in their homes, should end. Rocket launchers, artillery and tanks are indisputably military targets. Houses are not. There has been a pattern in past US and NATO air campaigns from the 1991 Iraq war to Kosovo and Serbia in 1999 and Afghanistan today to redefine almost everything as a military target on spurious grounds. If this is not ended more civilians will die and no amount of deep regret expressed after each set of deaths will hide the fact that those ordering them knew the orders they had given were likely to result in deaths of civilians who would be alive if they had done the right thing and only targeted military targets. The mistaken identification of civilian targets as military is enough of a problem already – adding in civilian or grey area targets is too much.

Air strikes are almost never decisive in wars without ground forces stronger than those of the enemy to support them. Generals banned from using ground forces, as in Libya, are often tempted to forget this and think that by expanding the types of targets hit they can make air and missile strikes decisive. They can’t.

Even if civilian casualties are accidental, as in one Tripoli missile strike, they remain a reason to give a ceasefire and elections a chance – and to only target strictly military targets like tanks and artillery if the war continues (4).

(1) = Channel 4 news (UK)  01 May 2011 ‘Gaddafi’s youngest son killed in NATO airstrike’

(2) = Reuters 20 Jun 2011 ‘Fresh Libya civilian deaths pile pressure on NATO’,

(3) = AFP 22 Jun 2011 ‘NATO backtracks on denials over killing of Libyan civilians’,

(4) = Sky News 20 Jun 2011 ‘Nato Admits Missile Killed Tripoli Civilians’,

Libya - NATO and the rebels should accept Gaddafi's offer of elections as a chance to avoid a long war with more civilians killed by both sides

Gaddafi last week offered elections supervised by international observers if the rebels and NATO would agree to a ceasefire (1). Given even the chance that this might resolve the civil war and bring a transition to democracy under whoever wins those elections, this should be preferable to continuing a war in which both Gaddafi’s artillery and tank attacks and NATO airstrikes are killing civilians – and in which both Libyan civilians and migrant workers are suffering shortages of food, water and medical treatment (2) – (3).

Even if arms and training provided to the rebels by Qatar, the Saudis and NATO allow them to start defeating Gaddafi's forces they would probably have to take Tripoli in the same kind of assaults Gaddafi's forces have made on other cities, with heavy civilian casualties inevitable

Libyan rebels and the US government refused the offer of elections almost instantly (4). It’s completely understandable that, if Gaddafi did order troops to kill unarmed demonstrators, many of the rebels refuse to consider accepting any deal that does not involve the Gaddafis first giving up power, but if the aim is to provide a transition to democracy without many more civilian deaths, the offer of elections may be the best chance of getting this and they should reconsider.

There is no way any war will be over quickly or without many more deaths and it’s likely that even if one side did win, the losing side would resort to guerrilla or terrorist tactics, like the insurgency or resistance in Iraq. Taking up the offer of elections at least offers a chance of a way forward that avoids this.

(1) = Independent 16 Jun 2011 ‘Gaddafi would agree to supervised election, says son’,

(2) = Amnesty International 06 May 2011 ‘Misratah – Under Siege and under fire’

(3) = AFP 22 Jun 2011 ‘NATO backtracks on denials over killing of Libyan civilians’,

(4) = Al Jazeera 16 Jun 2011 ‘Libyan rebels reject election offer’,