Myths about the Libyan intervention


The key “fact” in justifying British and other Western intervention in Libya was that Colonel Gaddafi was killing his own people from the air.  Here’s Prime Minister Cameron on the subject on 1 March 2011:


"It is not acceptable to have a situation where Colonel Gaddafi can be murdering his own people using aeroplanes and helicopter gunships and the like and we have to plan now to make sure if that happens we can do something to stop it.  That is why I have said it is right for us to look at plans for a no-fly zone and why I have asked the Chief of Defence Staff to do that." (Daily Telegraph, Cameron vows not to abandon the Libyan people, [1])


This story of Gaddafi murdering innocent and helpless civilians from the air was repeated over and over again in late February and early March and was used to whip up support for a No Fly Zone over Libya.  This was eventually imposed by the Security Council in Resolution 1973 passed on 17 March 2011, having been backed a few days earlier by the Arab League.


Of course, Resolution 1973 went much further than imposing a No Fly Zone and authorised UN member states “to take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” in Libya [2].  But, it was the oft-repeated “fact” that Gaddafi was killing his own people from the air that established Gaddafi as an evil monster (having been a huggable ally a couple of weeks earlier) and produced the outrage necessary to make military intervention politically possible.



No evidence of aerial attacks


At the time, I was puzzled by the fact that, while politicians and the media continually asserted that Gaddafi was attacking civilians from the air, they never gave information about specific attacks, for example, where and when they had taken place and estimates of the numbers killed or injured.  At the time, I tried to find information, but failed to unearth any.


It now appears that there wasn’t any evidence, because there weren’t any attacks.  In a report entitled Making Sense of Libya [3], published in early June, the International Crisis Group (ICG) has stated that it had found no evidence that the Gaddafi regime ever attacked civilians from the air.  And the ICG cannot be said to be a pro-Gaddafi propaganda outfit, since it receives substantial financial support from a host of Western governments, including France, UK and the US, which are leading NATO’s military assault on Libya.


Here’s the relevant part of the ICG report:


“… there are grounds for questioning the more sensational reports that the regime was using its air force to slaughter demonstrators, let alone engaging in anything remotely warranting use of the term ‘genocide’.


The ‘genocide’ claim was made by Ibrahim Dabbashi, formerly Libya’s deputy ambassador at the UN in New York on 21 February; see Sarah El Deeb and Maggie Michael, Gadhafi’s regime may be on the brink in Libya, Associated Press, 21 February 2011. The Associated Press story, while reporting the shooting of protesters by security forces on the ground, reports only the intimidating effect of ‘helicopters hovering over the main seaside boulevard’ and that ‘warplanes swooped low over Tripoli in the evening’.


“Two senior Western journalists interviewed on their return from eastern Libya told Crisis Group that none of their Libyan interlocutors in Benghazi or other towns under the opposition’s control had made any mention of the regime’s supposed use of airpower against unarmed demonstrators in the first few days of the protests.” (p 4-5)


The report also says that much Western media coverage “presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no real security challenge”, and ignored “evidence that the protest movement exhibited a violent aspect from very early on”.  So, it was an armed uprising from very early on, to which the regime responded with armed force, and which has developed into a civil war.


Needless to say, the politicians and their dutiful servants in the media which spread the lie that Gaddafi had murdered civilians from the air have not gone out of their way to eradicate the false impression they created in the public mind a few months earlier.



Other myths


Another myth perpetrated by Western media and governments early on was that the Qaddafi regime was employing black mercenary troops from Central and West Africa against its own people.  Security Council Resolution 1973 even placed a travel ban on the Libyan Ambassador to Chad and on the Governor of Ghat (South Libya) for being “directly involved in recruiting mercenaries”.  But Amnesty International has found no evidence for this – the alleged mercenaries were mostly black sub-Saharan migrants working in Libya without documents.  However, thanks to the myth, more than a few of them got lynched in rebel areas.


Another myth perpetrated by Western media and governments, was that the Gaddafi regime was using mass rape against opponents and supplying his troops with Viagra in order to improve their effectiveness.  This charge surfaced in early June and was given credibility by, amongst others, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who told the world that he had information that Gaddafi himself had authorised the rapes [4], and by Hillary Clinton, who said she was "deeply concerned" that Gaddafi's troops were participating in widespread rape in Libya [5].


But Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, said that "we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped".  She stressed this does not prove that mass rape did not occur but there is no evidence to show that it did.  Liesel Gerntholtz of Human Rights Watch, which also investigated the charge of mass rape, said: "We have not been able to find evidence”.


(See Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as weapon of war by Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, 24 June 2011, [6]).



NATO stops “terror broadcasts”


On 30 July 2011, NATO destroyed three ground-based Libyan state TV satellite transmission dishes in Tripoli, in order to stop “terror broadcasts” by Colonel Gaddafi, the media dutifully reported.


This strike, like the thousands before it in the previous four and half months, was said by NATO to have been “conducted in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 1973”.   A NATO spokesman explained:


“Our intervention was necessary as TV was being used as an integral component of the regime apparatus designed to systematically oppress and threaten civilians and to incite attacks against them.  Qadhafi’s increasing practice of inflammatory broadcasts illustrates his regime’s policy to instill hatred amongst Libyans, to mobilize its supporters against civilians and to trigger bloodshed.  In light of our mandate to protect civilian lives, we had to act.” [6]


The relevant part of Resolution 1973 is in paragraph 4, where UN member states are authorised “to take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” in Libya.


From the outset, NATO has operated on the assumption that this authorised the killing of Gaddafi and the destruction of anything and everything that could be said to be a military asset available to him.  They have never felt the need to provide evidence that any asset was being used, or was about to be used, to attack civilians.


To make their argument effective, they have been able to rely on the fact that Gaddafi has been successfully painted as an evil monster – hadn’t he killed his own people from the air? – who would use whatever military assets in his possession to kill civilians.  Therefore, so their argument goes, to protect civilians NATO was required by Resolution 1973 to destroy anything and everything that could be said to be a military asset available to Gadaffi. 


Various states have complained that NATO has exceeded, and is exceeding, the mandate provided by Resolution 1973.  But, if you consider Gaddafi to be evil monster, then NATO’s argument has substance to it.  What can you do with an evil monster but deny him the assets with which he can kill civilians, activity to which he is apparently addicted?


More fundamentally, arguing about what is or is not authorised in Resolution 1973 is a pointless waste of time.  The states that are deciding what Resolution 1973 means (France, the UK and the US) are all veto-wielding members of the Security Council.  That being so, they can make Resolution 1973 mean what they want it to mean, since, even if they stretch its meaning way beyond credibility, they are immune from sanction by the Security Council for doing so – since each of them has a veto.



International Criminal Court


Libya is not a party to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  But, on 26 February 2011, the Security Council voted unanimously, in Resolution 1970, to refer events in Libya to the ICC.  To be precise, it decided


to refer the situation in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya since 15 February 2011 to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court;” [7]


Such an extension in the jurisdiction of the Court is allowed under Article 13(b) of the Rome Statute of the Court if:


“A situation in which one or more of such crimes appears to have been committed is referred to the Prosecutor by the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations;” [8]


Amongst those states who voted for this referral were 5 states (China, India, Lebanon, Russia and the US) who are not parties to the Rome Statute and don’t accept the jurisdiction of the ICC – which is blatant hypocrisy.


As a result, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC Prosecutor, applied for warrants for the arrest of Colonel Gaddafi, his son Saif and his head of security, Abdullah Al-Senussi, for crimes against humanity, specifically, for murder and persecution in the days following 15 February, contrary to Articles 7(1)(a) and 7(1)(h) of the Rome Statute [9].  These acts were allegedly ordered by these three parties in furtherance of a plan, drawn up after the events in Tunisia and Egypt, to quell opposition to the Gaddafi regime.  The Court granted the warrants on 27 June 2011.


Soon after the reference to the ICC, the Western interventionists realised that it was a mistake, that the prospect of having to face charges in The Hague, and spend the rest of his life in prison, was not an encouragement for Gaddafi to relinquish power.  There was speculation that some African state, not a party to the ICC and therefore not required to hand over people wanted by the ICC, would express a willingness to play host to Gaddafi and his associates and keep them safe from the clutches of the ICC indefinitely.


Now, another “solution” to the ICC problem is being publicly mooted, for example, by Mark Urban on BBC’s Newsnight programme on 28 July 2011.  Under the Rome Statute, not only may the Security Council extend the jurisdiction of the Court, under Article 16 it may also interfere in any individual case and defer its investigation or prosecution.  This applies to any case, not just to cases that have come about because of a referral by the Security Council.  However, it cannot cancel a case or grant an amnesty to an individual.


Article 16 states:


No investigation or prosecution may be commenced or proceeded with under this Statute for a period of 12 months after the Security Council, in a resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, has requested the Court to that effect; that request may be renewed by the Council under the same conditions.” [10]


In theory, therefore, the Security Council could defer the Libyan cases for 12 months, and in 12 months time for a further 12 months, and so on.  However, it seems unlikely that the Western powers would do so – even once – since it would add further to the conviction in Africa and elsewhere that the ICC is a tool of the West and not an independent judicial body.  In any case, a 12 month deferral would not be much of an encouragement for Gaddafi to retire, since he would not be foolish enough to trust the West to repeat the exercise annually for the rest of his life.


(The ICC likes to boast of its independence, describing itself on its website as “an independent, permanent court that tries persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern” [11].  Elsewhere, it states that it “is not part of the United Nations system” [12].


These statements are a travesty of the truth.  How can a court be said to be “independent” when its jurisdiction can be extended by a political entity, namely, the Security Council, which can also interfere in the investigation or prosecution of individual cases? How can it be said to be “not part of the UN system”, when it can be interfered with by the UN Security Council?)



National Transitional Council recognised by UK


On 27 July 2011, Foreign Secretary, William Hague announced that “the United Kingdom recognises and will deal with the National Transitional Council as the sole governmental authority in Libya”.   He justified this step as follows:


“This decision reflects the NTC's increasing legitimacy, competence and success in reaching out to Libyans across the country. Through its actions the NTC has shown its commitment to a more open and democratic Libya - something that it is working to achieve through an inclusive political process. This is in stark contrast to Qadhafi, whose brutality against the Libyan people has stripped him of all legitimacy.” [13]


The next day it transpired that the NTC’s military commander in chief, Abdel Fattah Younes, had been killed by dissident elements within their own ranks.  Legitimacy, competence and success of that calibre are hard to come by.


David Morrison

3 August 2011