More than three years after the US and its NATO allies unleashed an “intervention” and regime change in Libya, the US establishment admits they maybe have “got it wrong.” Naturally, there were many of us who were demonized endlessly for speaking out against that war, and against all those politicians, analysts, and “activists” on the left and right, who championed the “humanitarianism” of waging war on Libya. We were attacked as “soft on dictators,” “conspiracy theorists,” and “anti-Americans.” And yet, today it is our voices that still proclaim loudly the immorality and illegality of that war. Thankfully, it seems the establishment is beginning to hear us.
One of the most highly regarded politico-academic institutions in the US – the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University – has issued a report which undermines the established narrative of the war in Libya, laying bare the cold, hard reality of what Libya was at the outset of the war, what really happened in the early days, and what Libya has become today. Of course, responsibility for the tragic and lasting effects of that war should be laid at the feet of Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy, and the other participants, in addition to those media outlets and NGOs that deliberately spread lies about the reality on the ground in Libya. All must be held accountable.
Finally Seeing the Light?
The recent report, which is actually almost a year old, was written by Dr. Alan Kuperman, Associate Professor of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. Dr. Kuperman attempts to shed light on some of the key aspects of disinformation before and during the war in Libya. These important findings contradict every single justification for that war, from the lies and distortions of Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and Hillary Clinton, to the deluge of propaganda from so-called NGOs such as Human rights Watch and Amnesty International. By examining the obfuscations and outright lies told by these individuals and organs of soft power, Dr. Kuperman makes it quite clear that, just as with Iraq, the people of the United States (and much of the world) have been lied into yet another war.
One of the principal lies told about Libya and Gaddafi was the totally unsubstantiated claim of “massacres” by Gaddafi forces in Benghazi and a few other cities. This claim, perpetrated by Human Rights Watch among others, was repeated ad nauseam by every major media outlet. As Dr. Kuperman writes:
Contrary to Western media reports, Qaddafi did not initiate Libya’s violence by targeting peaceful protesters. The United Nations and Amnesty International have documented that in all four Libyan cities initially consumed by civil conflict in mid-February 2011—Benghazi, Al Bayda, Tripoli, and Misurata—violence was actually initiated by the protesters. The government responded to the rebels militarily but never intentionally targeted civilians or resorted to “indiscriminate” force, as Western media clai med. Early press accounts exaggerated the death toll by a factor of ten, citing “more than 2,000 deaths” in Benghazi during the initial days of the uprising, whereas Human Rights Watch (HRW) later documented only 233 deaths across all of Libya in that period.
These are indeed significant facts that merit further examination as they completely contradict the standard narrative of the war in Libya and, most importantly, the justifications for it. First and foremost is the question of who initiated violence. The talking points in Western media all through early 2011 held that Gaddafi was “murdering his own people,” and that this justified a humanitarian intervention, to “help the people of Benghazi.” However, the hitherto suppressed truth is that it was the violent “protesters” (who should rightly be referred to as terrorists within the protests) who actually initiated the violence, using protesters as human shields.
Secondly, the notion that Gaddafi’s forces intentionally targeted civilians has been thoroughly debunked. Quite the contrary, the evidence now shows that Gaddafi went to great lengths to make sure that no civilians were harmed in the counter-terrorism operation as can be evidenced by the fact that “Qaddafi avoided targeting civilians…HRW reports that of the 949 people wounded [in Misrata] in the rebellion’s initial seven weeks, only 30 were women or children, meaning that Qaddafi’s forces focused narrowly on combatants.” Rather than ordering the wanton killing of civilians, Gaddafi attempted to maintain discipline among his forces such that they could stamp out insurgency with as little collateral damage as possible.
Third is the simple fact that all death tolls reported by the media leading up to the war were not only inaccurate, but wildly exaggerated beyond the parameters of “margin of error.” In fact, by overestimating the death toll by a factor of ten, Human Rights Watch consciously played the part of public relations clearinghouse for US-NATO. Of course, Human Rights Watch, long since understood to be very cozy with the State Department, Pentagon and CIA, has become increasingly discredited in the eyes of serious human rights investigators and activists. The role of HRW in Libya exposed the organization in ways it had never been exposed before – as an organ of US soft power projection, working tirelessly to justify on humanitarian grounds what is undoubtedly a nakedly imperialist war.
Dr. Kuperman also points out another key aspect of the Western narrative which is a complete fiction, namely that US-NATO’s goal in waging the war was not regime change, but the protecting of civilians. As Kuperman writes:
The conventional wisdom is also wrong in asserting that NATO’s main goal in Libya was to protect civilians. Evidence reveals that NATO’s primary aim was to overthrow Qaddafi’s regime, even at the expense of increasing the harm to Libyans. NATO attacked Libyan forces indiscriminately, including some in retreat and others in Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, where they posed no threat to civilians. Moreover, NATO continued to aid the rebels even when they repeatedly rejected government cease-fire offers that could have ended the violence and spared civilians. Such military assistance included weapons, training, and covert deployment of hundreds of troops from Qatar, eventually enabling the rebels to capture and summarily execute Qaddafi and seize power in October 2011.
Indeed, the US and its allies abandoned the “protection of civilians” justification almost as soon as UNSC Resolution 1973 was passed, authorizing merely a No Fly Zone in Libya which the NATO forces took as a de facto authorization for total war. As Dr. Kuperman describes, NATO forces were clearly engaged in an air war to destroy the military and political institutions of the Gaddafi government, rather than simply protecting civilians and providing support to rebels. Indeed, the NATO forces became the primary driver of the campaign against Gaddafi, allowing the rebels to take territory and, I might add, carry out their massacres of civilians.
Even Human Rights Watch, which vigorously suppressed the truth about ethnic cleansing carried out against black Libyans while it was happening, was forced to admit crimes against humanity in Libya, specifically the forced displacement of the Tawergha ethnic group. Naturally, these revelations came much too late to save the many innocent black Libyans, particularly in the Fezzan province, who were slaughtered by the rebels backed by US-NATO.
Kuperman’s report also highlights a number of other disastrous effects of the US-NATO war on Libya, including the civil war in Mali, the proliferation of weapons to terrorist groups throughout North Africa, and the general chaos and breakdown of all political, economic, and social institutions in Libya. Additionally, Kuperman notes that the US-NATO war prolonged significantly the war. He writes:
When NATO intervened in mid-March 2011, Qaddafi already had regained control of most of Libya, while the rebels were retreating rapidly toward Egypt. Thus, the conflict was about to end, barely six weeks after it started, at a toll of about 1,000 dead, including soldiers, rebels, and civilians caught in the crossfire. By intervening, NATO enabled the rebels to resume their attack, which prolonged the war for another seven months and caused at least 7,000 more deaths.
This is a critical point to highlight. Even by the western investigation number of 7,000 – a gross underestimation in my view, the death toll is likely much higher – the US-NATO war led directly to at least 6,000 additional deaths in Libya. Far from “protecting civilians,” it seems US-NATO was too busy killing them.
While noting some of the critical points, Kuperman’s report also leaves out a number of other shameful outcomes of the war including the deliberate destruction of critical infrastructure (including the Great Man Made River Project), the oppression of women whose rights were protected under Gaddafi, the displacement of many black Libyans and Africans from other neighboring countries who had taken refuge and found employment in Gaddafi’s Libya, and many other deeply troubling developments.
Who Should Pay?
Because the entire narrative of the Libya war has been shown to be a fabrication of the State Department, CIA, International Criminal Court, NGOs and other appendages of US hard and soft power, the question of guilt and culpability comes into play. The United States, along with its allies, has been howling for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, held illegally by the Zintan militia since 2011, to be taken to the International Criminal Court to be tried for war crimes. Now that both mainstream and non-mainstream, western and non-western sources have emerged to challenge this narrative, it’s time we start asking who in the West should be held to account.
First among the criminals must be high-ranking officials in the Obama administration, including former Secretary of State Hillary “We Came, We Saw, He Died” Clinton, and President Obama himself. Not only have they, and their subordinates, blatantly fabricated intelligence leading to an aggressive war (a crime against peace, the most serious of the Nuremburg charges), they deliberately misled the world as to the nature of their operation in Libya. Russia and China certainly feel betrayed by the US and its lies in the UN Security Council. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg.
What price should be paid by media organizations and NGOs deliberately spreading misinformation? Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International should face serious investigations into criminal negligence, or at least gross misconduct, in terms of their dissemination of lies – lies which were used as the prime justification for the war in terms of how it was sold to the people. Is it a crime to inflate by 1000% casualty figures, the end result of which is a justification for war? If not, it should be, as without such propaganda, the war could never have been sold to the public.
Media organizations, especially some ostensibly on the Left, should also be held to account for their misinformation and disinformation. Democracy Now is at the top of the list of guilty organizations. As Bruce Dixon, Managing Editor of Black Agenda Report, wrote at the height of the war:
So like every other Western reporter, Anjali Kamat [Democracy Now’s Libya correspondent] never saw any “mercenaries,” just their oversized bullets. She never saw any mass graves of the hundreds or thousands allegedly killed by Khadaffi’s “heavy machine gun fire” either, or that would be on Democracy Now too. It’s not. Nobody’s located the thousands of wounded survivors either, that must have been the result of shooting into crowds killing hundreds of people, and none of this has stopped Democracy Now from carrying the story just like Fox News or CNN or MSNBC…Something is really wrong with this picture. We have to wonder whether, at least as far as the war in Libya goes, whether Democracy Now is simply feeding us the line of corporate media, the Pentagon and the State Department rather than fulfilling the role of unembedded, independent journalists.
As Dixon points out, Democracy Now exhibited at the very least poor journalistic practice, and at worst, served as the left flank of the imperial propaganda machine. By faithfully reporting the “facts”, which have now been utterly discredited, Kamat and Democracy Now primed the pump of left progressive support for “humanitarian” war.
Of course, Democracy Now is not the only outlet that should be held responsible. All major media in the US obviously toed the US line on Libya. So too did Al Jazeera, the Qatari-owned news outlet which gained notoriety during the Bush years as a news outlet hostile to US policy in Iraq. However, by the time of the war in Libya, Al Jazeera had purged its staff of anyone truly critical of US foreign policy, particularly as it pertained to the “Arab Spring” narrative. In fact, insiders have told me that a wave of resignations, forced resignations, and firings at Al Jazeera coincided with the refusal by some of the more principled journalists to suppress the truth of what was happening in Libya. It would seem then that, rather than reporting the news, Al Jazeera, like its western counterparts, was more interested in serving power than challenging it.
In fact, Al Jazeera was the first news organization to report, and repeat ad nauseam, the lie that Gaddafi’s soldiers were systematically raping women in Benghazi, and that they had been issued Viagra by their commanding officers. This claim, repeated by Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, and many others has since been debunked, with absolutely zero evidence ever surfacing to substantiate the allegation. And yet, it was one of the principal claims used to justify the indictment issued by Luis Moreno-Ocampo as head of the International Criminal Court. This fact, among many others, shows how the irresponsibility of Al Jazeera, and nearly every other journalistic and human rights organization, led directly to the war in Libya.
Sadly, it is unlikely that any of the parties responsible for the criminal and shameful war on Libya will ever be held to account for their crimes in a courtroom. However, they can be held to account in the court of public opinion. Their institutions must be discredited. Their names and faces must be known and repeated the world over. They all share responsibility for the misery inflicted on the innocent people of Libya. And we who have stood against this war from the beginning, we have been vindicated. Unfortunately, there is no solace to be found in a Libyan graveyard.
Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, he is the founder of StopImperialism.org and OP-ed columnist for RT, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”