There were a hundred and twelve deaths associated with the construction of the Hoover Dam but those that opposed the dam would have decried even a dozen deaths, and used them to condemn the whole project. This is the situation that the Libyan revolution and the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) face with regards to their critics.
Even though many Libyans were fighting and dying to topple the Ghadafi regime long before North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) got involved, those that opposed NATO-backed “regime change“ in Libya, are now looking for every reason to diss the revolution.
This is also the situation NATO faces with regards to the recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report demanding that it investigate the 72 civilian deaths it says NATO caused in Libya.
The Libya Herald reported from Tripoli, May 16:
Russia has renewed its call for a joint UN-NATO inquiry into violations of human rights and civilian deaths in Libya.
The call, made by Russian Commissioner for Human Rights Konstantin Dolgov, comes in the wake of a report by Human Rights Watch accusing NATO of failing to investigate 72 accidental civilian deaths it says were caused by NATO air strikes.
After concluding a year long study, on May 14, HRW issued its authoritative 76-page report “Unacknowledged Deaths: Civilian Casualties in NATO’s Air Campaign in Libya,” in which it concluded:
“NATO took important steps to minimize civilian casualties during the Libya campaign, but information and investigations are needed to explain why 72 civilians died,” said Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch and principal author of the report. “Attacks are allowed only on military targets, and serious questions remain in some incidents about what exactly NATO forces were striking.”
To be sure, the August 8, 2011 NATO bombing of four homes in the village of Majer that took 34 civilian lives with no military targets in the area begs for an explanation. At the time, the Ghadafi regime claimed 85 civilians had been killed. I challenged those claims in my 2011 August 10 and August 12 Daily Kos diaries that exposed some of the regime’s fabricated “evidence” and false testimony and cited creditable sources that put the number of civilians killed in the strike at around 30.
Still, neither that strike nor the seven others that took civilian lives, support Ghadafi claims, claims parroted by many in the anti-intervention left at the time, that thousands of Libyan civilians had been slaughtered by NATO bombs, or Dolgov’s claim now that:
NATO “did not have a mandate to kill any civilians”, Dolgov said, “…did not have any mandate to bomb schools and hospitals”.
As if NATO was bombing schools and hospitals, as if they where trying to kill civilians in Libya. That simply is not true. In Libya, NATO was on its best behavior. We know what they can do when they want to stick it to the civilians, as in Vietnam, or when they just don’t give a damn, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 72 is not the number.
Even the Russian news agency RAI Novosti remarked:
It will probably disappoint some Russian analysts, at any rate, those who talk about thousands of Libyan civilians who were killed. HRW experts who personally visited the regions hit by NATO bombing cite a much smaller figure: 72 people.
This figure is accompanied by the qualification, “at least.” In other words, it’s possible that not all victims have been accounted for. But the tragic list will not become much longer in any event.
I believe in giving credit where credit is due and as an activist that, for four decades, has strongly opposed the U.S./NATO slaughter of civilians from Vietnam to Afghanistan, I have to say that if the HRW’s figure of 72 civilians killed by NATO in Libya is even approximately correct, in this war that cost an estimated 30,000 lives, most of them civilian, they deserve a big “at a boy!” for carrying out their UN mandated military mission of protecting civilians with a minimal cost in civilian lives.
Now those that opposed NATO intervention in Libya and are now equally opposed to any military support for Syrians being slaughtered by the Assad regime at a rate that often exceeds 72 a day, are stuck with this HRW report finding 72 civilian deaths in Libya caused by NATO over the course of eight months, and an earlier UN report that put the number at 60 civilians killed. So they must point out the lemons that help make the lemonade. They have tried to give these reports all the play they would have had those organizations reported the thousands of civilian causalities that the Ghadfi regime, and its anti-interventionists supporters such as Cynthia McKinney, claimed at the time.
So they are demanding a joint UN-NATO investigation and they are inclined to give no creditability to the NATO claim that:
NATO has said that it cannot verify the claims of civilian deaths made by Human Rights Watch as it does not have a mandate to be on the ground in Libya. The organization has said that it would begin an investigation if requested to do so by the Libyan authorities.
The critics will hear none of that, they discount the Libyan government as having a say in the matter. Just as they demand Saif Ghadfi be turned over to the International Criminal Court rather than face Libyan justice, they think NATO should investigate these 72 deaths unilaterally.
For example Vijay Prashad author of Arab Spring, Libyan Winter, told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, February 21, 2012 that this demand for an investigation into the 72 deaths last year in Libya was not a distraction from the plight of those dying tomorrow in Syria:
The question is—the Libyans right now barely have control over the state. They barely have monopoly over violence in the country itself. The government is not fully formed. To expect them to come out and ask for a NATO probe at the same time as there are 8,500 extrajudicial detainees inside Libyan jails is rather, I think, a distraction in itself.
He is right, of course, to say that the Libyans have bigger fish to fry than demanding that a probe be conducted as to why these 72 out of the ten of thousands, met with a tragic end last year, but to brand the less than nine thousand alleged counter-revolutionaries still being held in Libyan jails as “extrajudicial” as opposed to what? Gitmo? Ghadafi jails? is simply to take another gratuitous swipe at the Libyan revolution.
Like most of the anti-interventionists turned counter-revolutionaries, Vijay Prashad views the Libyan revolution from the point of view of the NATO intervention.
Since Ghadafi used his army against the protesters, and the struggled turned into a war, Vijay Prashad doesn’t see the uprising in Libya that started about the same time Tunisia’s Ben Ali was forced from power, in mid-January 2011, as part of the “good” Arab Spring. He has branded it the “bad” Libyan Winter. He told Amy:
The uprising, it seems to me, [his pov - clay] within a month of breaking out in February, had gained immense momentum. And at its highest point, it was at the time when NATO decided to intervene. There was a conversion of an uprising, an internal civil war, into a NATO intervention.
Nevermind that the people of Benghazi were very publicly demonstrating for NATO intervention because Ghadafi was about to do to them what Assad has been doing to the people of Homs, Syria. Nevermind that the UN mandated it and even the Russian and Chinese voted for it. It’s “when NATO decided to intervene.”
Characteristic of many who opposed NATO intervention in Libya, they assume they and their world are at the center of everything. Their point of view is the most valid one from which to judge the Libyan situation.
Hence, as soon as NATO got involved, that became the dominant aspect of the struggle, not just for anti-war activist in the U.S., but also for the Libyans too. Because of the introduction of this external factor, their struggle loses all validity. The anti-interventionists don’t have to consider the internal dynamics of the Libyan struggle or show how it was changed by NATO support. They just have to know that NATO supports it so they will oppose it. It’s not about Libya. It’s about them. Some of these people actually call themselves Marxists!
Prashad continues with his historical point of view on the Libya struggle:
By May, there were already concerns from Amnesty International that there were maybe atrocities by NATO, by rebel forces and by Gaddafi’s troops, that it was a very dangerous soup of violence in Libya.
Yes, there were atrocities committed in Libya and thousands were killed. They had been going on for many decades under Ghadafi’s rule. They intensified when Ghadafi’s forces open fired on unarmed protesters. Some were committed by those protesters after they armed themselves and started fighting back, and we now know at least 72 civilian were killed by NATO in support of the rebels, but why does Prashad list them in reverse order of their responsibility for atrocities and why does he act like violence in Libya just “happened”?
While Prashad, like the Russians, Chinese and others, opposed UN-NATO intervention in Libya by means of air support, they now believe that intervention gives them a license or even an obligation to meddle in Libyan affairs in ways that can only be accomplished on the ground:
One has to not only document violence, but also see that the perpetrators are prosecuted. And one has to bring a society to some kind of closure.
Like this can’t be left to the Libyans. Is this now some sort of “white man’s burden”?
Revealing the counter-revolutionary soul of the anti-interventionist, he was quick to diss any claims Amy made for the revolution and talk more trash:
In Misurata, yes, you’re right, there was an election on Monday to create a new city council. At the same time, Médecins Sans Frontières withdrew its entire team, because they are worried about the custodial deaths and extrajudicial torture that is taking place. In the town of Kufra, in the south of Libya, there is the continuation of the war. Weapons are all across the country.
Amnesty International found some people, less than two dozen, had been tortured to death in post-revolutionary jails and Doctors Without Borders withdrew its team in protest. Those looking to trash the Libyan revolution like to cite that because the condemnation of Europeans is most damning.
The outbreak of tribal violence between the Zuwayya and Tobu in southeast Libya around Kufra that cost more than a hundred lives this February before the NTC and new Libyan army could effectively intervene, is another darling of those that oppose the Libyan revolution. They just can’t help but bring it up because it is probably the series of post -Ghadafi violence that has taken the most lives. They like to point to it as a prime example of the “chaos” reigning in Libya.
To make their point, they depend on complete ignorance of the context. This fighting broke out in a region down near the Chad-Sudan border, that unfortunately, is no stranger to tribal warfare, but the anti-interventionists weren’t paying attention before. The nearest major Libyan army bases are in Ghat and Bayda and are both around 400 miles away. This is a Ghadafi-era problem. This is a product of 42 years of his rule. Southeast Libya didn’t have the oil, so it didn’t get the attention or infrastructure, including a local national army that could, even under Ghadafi, exercise what Prashad calls a “monopoly over violence in the country itself.”
Perhaps Vijay Prashad, and other anti-interventions turned counter-revolutionaries, that like to crow about Kufra would prefer it if the NTC handled the tribal clashes around Kufra the way Mummar Ghadafi did in 2009. Having failed to position ground troops equal to the task in the region, he sent in the helicopter gunships to sort things out.
Meanwhile, since voter registration opened on May Day over 2.2 million Libyans have already registered for national elections scheduled for June 19th.
On another front, Russia is quietly attempt to free Russian nationals being held for trial in Libya for their support for the Ghadafi regime during the revolution. It would seem that opposition to foreign intervention in the Libyan struggle was more of a public policy. But then, their foreign policy is hard to understand. They threw NATO a lifeline after Pakistan shut down its supply routes to the NATO troops in Afghanistan, so apparently sometimes even NATO “intervention” is okay by them.
For more background on the Libyan Revolution and links to lots of information see my other writings at the DailyKos and WikiLeaks Central:
#LyElect Libyans register to vote 1st time in 60 years
Libya’s Revolution: How We Won – The Internationale in the 21st Century
Good News from Libya
On Libya & Glenn Greenwald: Are the anti-interventionists becoming counter-revolutionaries?
UN: NATO killed 60 civilians in Libya
Libya in the news today
Amnesty International on Libya again
The Current Situation in Libya
Democracy Now & Amy Goodman gets it wrong again.
Why is Chris Hedges calling for “boots on the ground” in Libya?
The Worm Has Turned: Good Film on Libyan Revolution from PressTV
Why NATO’s mission in Libya isn’t over yet
Libya’s Freedom Fighters: How They Won
Racism in Libya
Abdul Rahman Gave his Eyes to See the End of Qaddafi
BREAKING: Secret files reveal Dennis Kucinich talks with Qaddafi Regime
BREAKING: Libyan TNC won’t extradite Lockerbie bomber
Who really beat Qaddafi?
#Feb17: @NATO Please help MEDEVAC wounded from #Libya
What should those that opposed NATO’s intervention in Libya demand now?
BREAKING: Qaddafi’s Tripoli Compound Falls!
Does PDA Support Qaddafi?
BREAKING: Operation Mermaid Dawn, the Battle to Liberate Tripoli is Joined
Helter Skelter: Qaddafi’s African Adventure
Qaddafi’s Long Arm
SCOOP: My Lai or Qaddafi Lie? More on the 85 Civilians presumed killed by NATO
Did NATO kill 85 Libyan Villagers As Qaddafi Regime Contends?
CCDS Statement on Libya – a Critique
The Assassination of General Abdul Fattah Younis
NATO over Tripoli – Air Strikes in the Age of Twitter
How Many Libyans has NATO Killed?
Qaddafi Terror Files Start to Trickle Out!
Have Libyan Rebels Committed Human Rights Abuses?
Tripoli Green Square Reality Check
Behind the Green Curtain: Libya Today
Gilbert Achcar on the Libyan situation and the Left
NATO slammed for Libya civilian deaths NOT!
2011-07-01 Qaddafi’s Million Man March
NATO’s Game Plan in Libya
February 21st – Tripoli’s Long Night
Did Qaddafi Bomb Peaceful Protesters?
Tripoli Burn Notice
Libyans, Palestinians & Israelis
‘Brother’ Qaddafi Indicted plus Libya & Syria: Dueling Rally Photofinishs
An Open Letter to ANSWER
ANSWER answers me
2011-06-22 No Libyans allowed at ANSWER Libya Forum
Are they throwing babies out of incubators yet?
Continuing Discussion with a Gaddafi Supporter
Boston Globe oped supports Gaddafi with fraudulent journalism
2011-04-13 Doha summit supports Libyan rebels
Current Events in Libya
Amonpour Plays Softball with Gaddafi
North African Revolution Continues
Is Libya Next? Anonymous Debates New Operation