[News] NATO’S Craven Coverup of Its Libyan Bombing

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Mar 15 12:40:19 EDT 2012

March 15, 2012

Investigations Around Libya
NATO’S Craven Coverup of Its Libyan Bombing

Ten days into the uprising in Benghazi, Libya, 
the United Nations’ Human Rights Council 
established the International Commission of 
Inquiry on Libya. The purpose of the Commission 
was to “investigate all alleged violations of 
international human rights law in Libya.” The 
broad agenda was to establish the facts of the 
violations and crimes and to take such actions as 
to hold the identified perpetrators accountable. 
On June 15, the Commission presented its first 
report to the Council. This report was 
provisional, since the conflict was still ongoing 
and access to the country was minimal. The June 
report was no more conclusive than the work of 
the human rights non-governmental organizations 
(such as Amnesty International and Human Rights 
Watch). In some instances, the work of 
investigators for these NGOs (such as Donatella 
Rovera of Amnesty) was of higher quality than that of the Commission.

Due to the uncompleted war and then the unsettled 
security state in the country in its aftermath, 
the Commission did not return to the field till 
October 2011, and did not begin any real 
investigation before December 2011. On March 2, 
2012, the Commission finally produced a two 
hundred-page document that was presented to the 
Human Rights Council in Geneva. Little fanfare 
greeted this report’s publication, and the HRC’s 
deliberation on it was equally restrained.

Nonetheless, the report is fairly revelatory, 
making two important points: first, that all 
sides on the ground committed war crimes with no 
mention at all of a potential genocide conducted 
by the Qaddafi forces; second, that there remains 
a distinct lack of clarity regarding potential 
NATO war crimes. Not enough can be made of these 
two points. They strongly infer that the rush to 
a NATO “humanitarian intervention” might have 
been made on exaggerated evidence, and that 
NATO’s own military intervention might have been 
less than “humanitarian” in its effects.

It is precisely because of a lack of 
accountability by NATO that there is hesitancy in 
the United Nations Security Council for a strong 
resolution on Syria. “Because of the Libyan 
experience,” the Indian Ambassador to the UN 
Hardeep Singh Puri told me in February, “other 
members of the Security Council, such as China 
and Russia, will not hesitate in exercising a 
veto if a resolution – and this is a big if – 
contains actions under Chapter 7 of the UN 
Charter, which permits the use of force and punitive and coercive measures.”

Crimes Against Humanity.

The Libyan uprising began on February 15, 2011. 
By February 22, the UN Human Rights Chief Navi 
Pillay claimed that two hundred and fifty people 
had been killed in Libya, “although the actual 
numbers are difficult to verify.” Nonetheless, 
Pillay pointed to “widespread and systematic 
attacks against the civilian population” which 
“may amount to crimes against humanity.” Pillay 
channeled the Deputy Permanent Representative to 
the UN from Libya, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who had 
defected to the rebellion and claimed, “Qaddafi 
had started the genocide against the Libyan 
people.” Very soon world leaders used the two 
concepts interchangeably, “genocide” and “crimes 
against humanity.” These concepts created a mood 
that Qaddafi’s forces were either already 
indiscriminately killing vast numbers of people, 
or that they were poised for a massacre of Rwanda proportions.

Courageous work by Amnesty International and 
Human Rights Watch last year, then much later the 
2012 report from the UN belies this judgment, (as 
does my forthcoming book Arab Spring, Libyan 
Winter, AK Press), which goes through the 
day-by-day record and show two things: that both 
sides used excessive violence and that the rebels 
seemed to have the upper hand for much of the 
conflict, with Qaddafi’s forces able to recapture 
cities, but unable to hold them.

The UN report is much more focused on the 
question of crimes committed on the ground. This 
is the kind of forensic evidence in the report:

(1)  In the military base and detention camp of 
Al Qalaa. “Witnesses, together with the local 
prosecutor, uncovered the bodies of 43 men and 
boys, blindfolded and with their hands tied 
behind their backs.” Qaddafi forces had shot 
them. Going over many of these kinds of 
incidents, and of indiscriminate firing of heavy 
artillery into cities, the UN Report notes that 
these amount to a war crime or a crime against humanity.

(2)  “Over a dozen Qadhafi soldiers were 
reportedly shot in the back of the head by thuwar 
[rebel fighters] around 22-23 February 2011 in a 
village between Al Bayda and Darnah. This is 
corroborated by mobile phone footage.” After an 
exhaustive listing of the many such incidents, 
and of the use of heavy artillery against cities 
notably Sirte, the UN report suggests the 
preponderance of evidence of the war crime of 
murder or crimes against humanity.

There is no mention of genocide in the Report, 
and none of any organized civilian massacre. This 
is significant because UN Resolution 1973, which 
authorized the NATO war, was premised on the “the 
widespread and systematic attacks currently 
taking place in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya 
against the civilian population” which “may 
amount to crimes against humanity.” There was no 
mention in Resolution 1973 of the 
disproportionate violence of the thuwar against 
the pro-Qaddafi population (already reported by 
al-jazeera by February 19), a fact that might 
have given pause to the UN as it allowed NATO to 
enter the conflict on the rebels’ behalf. NATO’s 
partisan bombardment allowed the rebels to seize 
the country faster than they might have had in a 
more protracted war, but it also allowed them 
carte blanche to continue with their own crimes against humanity.

With NATO backing, it was clear that no one was 
going to either properly investigate the rebel 
behavior, and no-one was going to allow for a 
criminal prosecution of those crimes against 
humanity. Violence of this kind by one’s allies 
is never to be investigated as the Allies found 
out after World War 2 when there was no 
assessment of the criminal firebombing of, for 
example, Dresden. No wonder that the UN Report 
notes that the Commissioners are “deeply 
concerned that no independent investigation or 
prosecution appear to have been instigated into 
killings committed by thuwar.” None is likely. 
There are now over eight thousand pro-Qaddafi 
fighters in Libyan prisons. They have no charges 
framed against them. Many have been tortured, and 
several have died (including Halah al-Misrati, the Qaddafi era newscaster).

The section of the UN report on the town of 
Tawergha is most startling. The thirty thousand 
residents of the town were removed by the 
Misratan thuwar. The general sentiment among the 
Misratan thuwar was that the Tawerghans were 
given preferential treatment by the Qaddafi 
regime, a claim disputed by the Tawerghans. The 
road between Misrata and Tawergha was lined with 
slogans such as “the brigade for purging slaves, 
black skin,” indicating the racist cleansing of 
the town. The section on Tawergha takes up twenty 
pages of the report. It is chilling reading. 
Tawerghans told the Commission “that during 
‘interrogations’ they were beaten, had hot wax 
poured in their ears and were told to confess to 
committing rape in Misrata. The Commission was 
told that one man had diesel poured on to his 
back which was then set alight; the same man was 
held in shackles for 12 days.” This goes on and 
on. The death count is unclear. The refugees are 
badly treated as they go to Benghazi and Tripoli.

To the Commission, the attacks against Tawerghans 
during the war “constitute a war crime” and those 
that have taken place since “violate 
international human rights law” and a “crime 
against humanity.” Because of the “current 
difficulties faced by the Libyan Government,” the 
Commission concludes, it is unlikely that the 
government will be able to bring justice for the 
Tawerghans and to undermine the “culture of 
impunity that characterizes the attacks.”

NATO’s Crimes.

For the past several months, the Russians have 
asked for a proper investigation through the UN 
Security Council of the NATO bombardment of 
Libya. “There is great reluctance to undertake 
it,” the Indian Ambassador to the UN told me. 
When the NATO states in the Security Council 
wanted to clamor for war in February-March 2011, 
they held discussions about Libya in an open 
session. After Resolution 1973 and since the war 
ended, the NATO states have only allowed 
discussion about Libya in a closed session. When 
Navi Pillay came to talk about the UN Report, her 
remarks were not for the public.

Indeed, when it became clear to NATO that the UN 
Commission wished to investigate NATO’s role in 
the Libyan war, Brussels balked. On February 15, 
2012, NATO’s Legal Adviser Peter Olson wrote a 
strong letter to the Chair of the Commission. 
NATO accepted that the Qaddafi regime “committed 
serious violations of international law,” which 
led to the Security Council Resolution 1973. What 
was not acceptable was any mention of NATO’s “violations” during the conflict,

     “We would be concerned, however, if ‘NATO 
incidents’ were included in the Commission’s 
report as on a par with those which the 
Commission may ultimately conclude did violate 
law or constitute crimes. We note in this regard 
that the Commission’s mandate is to discuss ‘the 
facts and circumstance of
.violations [of law] 
crimes perpetrated.’ We would accordingly 
request that, in the event the Commission elects 
to include a discussion of NATO actions in Libya, 
its report clearly state that NATO did not 
deliberately target civilians and did not commit war crimes in Libya.”

To its credit, the Commission did discuss the 
NATO “incidents.” However, there were some 
factual problems. The Commission claimed that 
NATO flew 17,939 armed sorties in Libya. NATO 
says that it flew “24,200 sorties, including over 
9,000 strike sorties.” What the gap between the 
two numbers might tell us is not explored in the 
report or in the press discussion subsequently. 
The Commission points out that NATO did strike 
several civilian areas (such as Majer, Bani 
Walid, Sirte, Surman, Souq al-Juma) as well as 
areas that NATO claims were “command and control 
nodes.” The Commission found no “evidence of such 
activity” in these “nodes.” NATO contested both 
the civilian deaths and the Commission’s doubts 
about these “nodes.” Because NATO would not fully 
cooperate with the Commission, the investigation 
was “unable to determine, for lack of sufficient 
information, whether these strikes were based on 
incorrect or outdated intelligence and, 
therefore, whether they were consistent with 
NATO’s objective to take all necessary 
precautions to avoid civilian casualties entirely.”

Three days after the report was released in the 
Human Rights Council, NATO’s chief Anders Fogh 
Rasmussen denied its anodyne conclusions 
regarding NATO.  And then, for added effect, 
Rasmussen said that he was pleased with the 
report’s finding that NATO “had conducted a 
highly precise campaign with a demonstrable 
determination to avoid civilian casualties.” 
There is no such clear finding. The report is far 
more circumspect, worrying about the lack of 
information to make any clear statement about 
NATO’s bombing runs. NATO had conducted its own 
inquiry, but did not turn over its report or raw data to the UN Commission.

On March 12, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon 
went to the UN Security Council and stated that 
he was “deeply concerned” about human rights 
abuses in Libya, including the more than eight 
thousand prisoners held in jails with no judicial 
process (including Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, who 
should have been transferred to the Hague by 
NATO’s logic). Few dispute this part of the 
report. The tension in the Security Council is 
over the section on NATO. On March 9, Maria 
Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva of the Russian Mission 
to the UN in Geneva noted that the UN report 
omitted to explore the civilian deaths caused by 
NATO. “In our view,” she said, “during the NATO 
campaign many violations of the standard of 
international law and human rights were 
committed, including the most important right, 
the right to life.” On March 12, Russia’s Foreign 
Minister Sergei Lavrov accused NATO of “massive 
bombings” in Libya. It was in response to 
Lavrov’s comment that Ban’s spokesperson Martin 
Nesirky pointed out that Ban accepts “the 
report’s overall finding that NATO did not 
deliberately target civilians in Libya.”

NATO is loath to permit a full investigation. It 
believes that it has the upper hand, with Libya 
showing how the UN will now use NATO as its 
military arm (or else how the NATO states will be 
able to use the UN for its exercise of power). In 
the Security Council, NATO’s Rasmussen notes, 
“Brazil, China, India and Russia consciously 
stepped aside to allow the UN Security Council to 
act” and they “did not put their military might 
at the disposal of the coalition that emerged.” 
NATO has no challenger. This is why the Russians 
and the Chinese are unwilling to allow any UN 
resolution that hints at military intervention. 
They fear the Pandora’s box opened by Resolution 1973.

Vijay Prashad’s new book, Arab Spring, Libyan 
Winter (AK Press) will be out in late March. On 
March 25, he will be speaking at the plenary 
panel of the United National Anti-War Coalition 
National Conference in Stamford, CT, alongside 
Bill McKibben, Richard Wolff and Nada Khader on 
“Global Economic Meltdown, Warming and War.”

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