John Faulkner

Reflections on the Revolt in Libya 

When the revolt in Libya began in February 2011, many of those who genuinely welcomed the popular upsurge against Ben Ali and Mubarak saw the Libyan protests which erupted in Benghazi as a sign that something similar was under way in that country. All my Arab friends, whether middle-of-the-road or progressive, denounced Gaddafy as a dictator, implictly or explicitly equating his regime with their own dictatorial regimes. It is apparent that the Gaddafy regime was not ready to tolerate street protests. They should  not have happened, in the eyes of those in power, no matter what justified or unjustified grievances were at the root of the protests. The harsh way the regime enacted its policy of suppression in Benghazi quickly led to fatalities. The reports by Al Jazeera, a Qatar based television network, stirred up public opinion – both in the Arab World and the West. When the West, having obtained a UN mandate to protect the civilian population,  was beginning its military intervention, about 550 lives had been taken by the brutal action of the “forces of order.” In Egypt where people were paying a high price for democratic change (which has not yet been attained), the sympathies with the victims of the Gaddafy regime’s “crack-down” were overwhelming. The identification with the victims was obvious.

These days, as we see the victory of the anti-Gaddafy forces, we learn that the “humanitarian” military intervention of the West which encouraged the Benghazi-based rebels to push on with the civil war, has cost between 30,000 and 50,000 lives.(1) Perhaps more. If avoidance of human death was the goal of the intervention, that goal certainly was not attained. The question is whether it was seriously coveted at any point in time, although it served as a pretext for the intervention.

When I pointed out the likely cost of human lives to an Arab fríend at a fairly early moment of this development, saying it would have been better to let the Libyans sort out their problems by themselves rather than intervene, and when I  mentioned  the Cairo example of peaceful resistance, he said, “The rebels in Benghazi made the mistake to seek, from the first moment, a military victory. They overestimated their strength. Without the intervention of NATO, they would have been decimated.”

My friend clearly welcomed the intervention. Was it the only way to avoid more  civilian casualties? When the Organization of African Unity proposed a peaceful solution of the conflict, neither NATO nor the rebels were truly interested. Apparently, victory at all cost, “regime change” mattered to them. The value of human lives was not a principal matter of concern.

Obviously there is a difference between a readiness to sacrifice your own life and the readiness to sacrifice the life of somebody else. Today, as we see the rebels victorious thanks to NATO, we learn in the media about on-going deep divisions in Western Libya. These are not my words, they are the words of media that basically advocated the intervention or reported about it with sympathy. What is it that they express by such words if not the fact that local and regional allegiance to, or opposition to Gaddafy and his regime are both present, and that they decided the degree of involvement in the struggle against the regime.

What made Libyans support the rebels?
What made other Libyans, not just those higher ups who profited excessively perhaps, but normal people remain loyal to the regime – or at least distrust the rebels, or certain factions of the rebels?(2)

Who at any rate are the rebels? What do we know?(3)

Alicia Zukofsky alerted me to a speech by a member of Congress, Dennis Kucinich, held in Congress at the end of March, this year. To be exact, March 31, 2011.(4)  Addressing Congress, Kucinich obviously intended in the first place to alert his fellow Congresswomen and Congressmen as well as the assembled Senators to the fact that the U.S., far from being involved in the humanitarian intervention authorized by the UN, was engaged in an undeclared war. Which in fact implied, for one thing, that the President was overstepping his authority.

Kucinich was quite explicit and to the point when he said, 

“Let us make no mistake about it. Dropping 2,000-pound bombs and unleashing the massive firepower of our Air Force on the capital of a sovereign state is in fact an act of war, and no amount of legal acrobatics can make it otherwise.” 

It was a “new war doctrine” of US administrations that the critical Congressman deciphered, a doctrine first evoked by Bush senior, then Bush junior. And now it was Obama who insisted even more on stepping up covert, clandestine warfare than his two predecessors had done. (5)  Incidentally Kucinich should know. He is the senior Democratic member sitting in an interesting subcommitte, the “House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations.”

Listen to what Kucinich said:

“[A]fter eight years of war in Iraq, the president commits an all-volunteer army to another war of choice. If the criteria for military intervention in another country is government-sponsored violence and instability, overcommitment of our military will be virtually inevitable and, as a result, our national security will be undermined.”

That may be a narrow view dictated by considerations that put the US first. It evokes military planning rationality, and it may therefore be a view loathed by liberal and Green advocates of honest humanitarian intervention. 

But Kucunich had more to say. Based on access to official documents and insider knowledge gained, perhaps, as a  subcommittee member, he informed his colleagues of what appears to be a scandalous fact. He declared,

”It is clear that the administration planned a war against Libya at least a month in advance, but why? The president cannot say that Libya is an imminent or actual threat to our nation. He cannot say that war against Libya is in our vital interests. He cannot say that Libya had the intention or capability of attacking the United States of America. He has not claimed that Libya has weapons of mass destruction to be used against us.

We’re told that our nation’s role  [in Libya, in the context of the intervention] is limited; yet, at the same time, it is being expanded. We’ve been told that the administration does not favor military regime change, but then they tell us the war cannot end until Qaddafi is no longer the leader. Further, two weeks earlier, the President signed a secret order for the CIA to assist the rebels who are trying to oust Qaddafi.” 

He went on to say:

“We’re told that the president has legal authority for this war under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, but this resolution specifically does not authorize any ground elements. Furthermore, the administration exceeded the mandate of the resolution by providing the rebels with air cover. Thus, the war against Libya violated our Constitution and has even violated the very authority which the administration claimed was sufficient to take our country to war.”

Far from denying the undemocratic nature of the Gaddafy regime (a quality that did not hinder Western leaders to shake hands with Gaddafy in the past, just as they get along now  with scores of undemocratic regimes in every corner of the world), Kucinich questioned the image of the regime and its leader as an exceptional pariah in the international community.

He pointed out certain inconsistencies in the message broadcast to us. Kucinich said, “We are told that the Qaddafi regime has been illegitimate for four decades, but we’re not told that in 2003 the US dropped sanctions against Libya. We’re not told that Qaddafi, in an effort to ingratiate himself with the West in general and with America specifically, accepted a market-based economic program led by the very harsh structural adjustment remedies of the IMF and the World Bank.” He then underscored the destabilizing effect of this program forced upon the regime. It was in fact a prelude to the present revolt. As the Gaddafy regime implemented the IMF and World Bank backed reforms, “[t]his led to the wholesale privatization of estate enterprises, contributing to unemployment in Libya rising to over 20 percent.” 

We all know how high youth unemployment contributed to frustration, anger and an “islamist” radicalization in Algeria. The consequence in Algeria was a dirty civil war, with bloody massacres committed both by “islamist” underground fighters and the army. It was the civilian population, to the extent that they had not joined the fighting “islamist” rebels, which was taken hostage in that war, by both side.
In his speech, Kucinich took issue with a position defended by the US government that it did not amount to a breach of Security Council Resolution # 1973 if they armed the rebels when, at the same time, the use of military force against the armed onslaught of the rebels by the Gaddafy regime was interpreted as a breach of exactly that resolution. In fact Kucinich might have added that any country, democratic or not, even the United States, would use such force against an armed rebellion. International law, not primarily interested in the degree of democracy that has been realized or not in a given country, defends the monopoly of power and the exclusive (monopolistic) right of governments to use lethal or non-lethal force against any insurgency, regardless of the reasons and real grievances that lead up to it. Obviously, rebels and revolutionaries always knew that the state and the powers that be which they put in question relying on armed force, will respond with armed force. It is the privilege of today’s liberal and Green humanitarians to call for NATO bombs when rebels engaged in armed insurrection are about  to be defeated. Incidentally, the governments of all NATO countries and first of all, the U.S. government, considered and continue to consider various rebel movements as terrorists, among them the ELN, the ETA, the FARC,  the NPA, the PKK, etc.  There was a time when Third Worldists spoke of liberation movements. Rest assured, even Nelson Mandela’s ANC was considered a terrorist group when they staged the revolt against the racist, undemocratic Apartheid regime that denied the majority of South Africa’s population the right to vote. Perhaps it depends on friendship with the West whether a rebel movement is considered terrorist or not. And it also seems to depend on friendship with the West whether an openly undemocratic regime is supported or toppled. 

Further above, I asked the question, “Who at any rate are the rebels? What do we know?” Incidentally, that’s a question Kucinich posed in Congress, as well.

Here is what he pointed out to his fellow members of Congress:

“The administration has told us, incredibly, they don’t really know who the rebels are, but they are considering arming them, nonetheless. The fact that they are even thinking about arming these rebels makes one think the administration knows exactly who the rebels are. While a variety of individuals and institutions may comprise the so-called opposition in Libya, in fact, one of the most significant organizations is the national Front for the Salvation of Libya, along with its military arm, the Libyan National Army. It was the National Front’s call for opposition to the Qaddafi regime in February which was the catalyst of the conflict which precipitated the humanitarian crisis which is now used to justify our intervention.

But I ask, Mr. Speaker, how spontaneous was this rebellion? The Congressional Research Service in 1987 analyzed the Libyan opposition. Here’s what the Congressional Research Service wrote: “Over 20 opposition groups exist outside Libya. The most important in 1987 was the Libyan National Salvation Front, formed in October 1981.” This national Front “claimed responsibility for the daring attack on Qaddafi’s headquarters at Bab al Aziziyah on May 8, 1984. Although the coup attempt failed and Qaddafi escaped unscathed, dissident groups claimed that some 80 Libyans, Cubans, and East Germans perished.” Significantly, the CRS cited various sources as early as 1984 which claim, “The United States Central Intelligence Agency trained and supported the national Front before and after the May 8 operation.” By October 31, 1996, according to a BBC translation of Al-Hayat, an Arabic journal in London, a Colonel Khalifa Haftar, who is leader of this Libyan National Army, the armed wing of the National Front, was quoted as saying, “Force is the only effective method for dealing with Qaddafi.”

Now follow me to March 26, 2011. The McClatchy Newspapers reported, “The new leader of Libya’s opposition military left for Libya 2 weeks ago,” apparently around the same time the president signed the covert operations order. And I am making that observation. The new leader spent the past two decades of his life in Libya? No. In suburban Virginia, where he had no visible means of support. His name, Colonel Khalifa Haftar. One wonders when he planned his trip and who is his travel agency?

Congress needs to determine whether the United States, through previous covert support of the armed insurrection, driven by the American-created National Front, potentially helped create the humanitarian crisis that was used to justify military intervention. We need to ask the question. If we really want to understand how our constitutional prerogative for determining war and peace [sc. as members of Congress] has been preempted by this administration, it is important that Congress fully consider relevant events which may relate directly to the attack on Libya.
Consider this, Mr. Speaker: On November 2, 2010, France and Great Britain signed a mutual defense treaty which included joint participation in Southern Mistral, a series of war games outlined in the bilateral agreement and surprisingly documented on a joint military website established by France and Great Britain.

Southern Mistral involved a long range conventional air attack called Southern Storm against a dictatorship in a fictitious southern country called Southland in response to a pretended attack. The joint military air strike was authorized by a pretended United Nations Security Council resolution. The composite air operations were planned, and this is the war games, for the period of March 21 through 25, 2011.

On March 20, 2011, the United States joined France and Great Britain in an air attack against Libya, pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1973.
So the questions arise, Mr. Speaker, have the scheduled war games simply been postponed, or are they actually under way after months and months of planning under the named of Operation Odyssey Dawn?

Were operation forces in Libya informed by the US, the UK or France about the existence of these war games, which may have encouraged them to actions leading to greater repression and a humanitarian crisis?

In short, was this war against Qaddafi’s Libya planned, or was it a spontaneous response to the great suffering which Qaddafi was visiting upon his opposition? Congress hasn’t even considered this possibility.

NATO, which has now taken over enforcement of the no-fly zone, has morphed from an organization which pledged mutual support to defend North Atlantic states from aggression.

They’ve moved from that to military operations reaching from Libya to the Chinese border in Afghanistan. North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
We need to know, and we need to ask what role French Air Force General Abrial and current supreme allied commander of NATO for transformation may have played in the development of operation Southern Storm and in discussions with the US and the expansion of the UN mandate into NATO operations.

What has been the role of the US African Command and Central Command in discussions leading up to this conflict?

What did the administration know, and when did they know it?
The United Nations Security Council process is at risk when its members are not fully informed of all the facts when they authorize a military operation. It is at risk from NATO, which is usurping its mandate, the UN mandate, without the specific authorization of UN Security Council Resolution 1973.”

These were clear words. And they throw a horrendous shadow of doubt on the assertion, taken up and spread by the international media, that spontaneous peaceful protests in Benghazi and perhaps other towns, triggered by the Tunisian and Egyptian example, were met with unwarranted and exceedingly brutal repression by the Gaddafi regime that surpassed anything that had happened in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen (and of course the incidents in Bahrain) by far. Was the Libyan National Salvation Front bent on provoking sharp and violent repression from the very beginning? Were they prepared for an armed rebellion? And did they have assurances from  the US and NATO? Since what date did US, British and French special forces operate on the ground?(6) Since when did the military council in Cairo supply the rebels with arms?

Above all I would like this fact to be reconsidered once more: In Cairo, by the time the UN resolution # 1973 was passed, more than 800 civilians had died due to military force exerted by special police units and by the army. That number continued to rise and it rose to more than one thousand. No nation’s government demanded a humanitarian intervention. Because the protesting masses, in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Suez etc.  remained peaceful? In Benghazi, peaceful protest soon gave way to armed revolt. When UN resolution # 1973 was adopted, about 550 civilians (and armed fighters?) had died at the hands of government forces, and “more victims were feared” to be the consequence of future government repression. It was basically the image of an unusually “brutal regime” transported by the Western media and Qatar-based Al Jazeera that served as a justification of military intervention. By these standards, any regime might be attacked by the US – “because of what it might do.” Do we have to expect an insurrection, backed by foreign special forces, in Venezuela next time? Or in Ecuador? Or in Bolivia? And will the US government be all too ready and willing to intervene, with or without the endorsement of the UN Security Council?

Congressman Kucinich made another interesting observation. He said, “We know that the war has already cost our nation upwards of $600 million, and we’re told that the long-term expenses could go much, much further. We’re looking at spending additional billions of dollars in Libya at a time when we can’t even take care of our people here at home.” Right now, as I write this in October 2011, we learn that the US government admits spending 2 billion US-dollar on the war in Libya, announcing at the same time that it has confiscated 1 billion US-dollars in Libyan assets that belong to the Libyan people, not Gaddafy and his family, as partial payment for the intervention. Tripolis has been bombed. Towns like Sirte have paid a high price. How much national wealth has been destroyed in Libya, how much has been lost, in addition to the perhaps 50,000 human beings who have died? Was the OAU proposal to seek a peaceful political solution unreasonable? Was the West intent on regime change regardless of the price? And why? Because it mattered to push out Chinese and Russian competitors eager for oil and raw materials which the West covets so much? If that should be true, the victory of the people might just be a first step towards new subservience.


(1) “Libye: 50.000 personnes ont été tuées depuis le début du soulèvement”, in :  20, Aug. 30, 2011

(2) “Reports of civilian deaths have provoked intense anger among Gaddafi supporters. Pro-Gaddafi protesters rallying in Tripoli on Thursday railed against NATO for striking civilians. Some women at the demonstration came armed, vowing to fight to defend their country and its leader,” the Huffington Post reported on June 23, 2011. See: N.N. (and AP writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, who contributed reporting), “Gaddafi Slams NATO Over Libya Civilian Deaths”, in: The Huffington Post, June 23, 2011

(3) On Sept. 7, 2011, the Daily Telegraph (UK) reported  statements by a high-ranking member of an important rebel group, Mr. Sami Saadi, described as a “former deputy leader of the Islamic Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)”. Mr. Saadi said that he was handed over to the Gaddafy regime by the British secret service.Obviously, the British as well as US authorities regarded Mr. Saadi as well as other former allies who fought the Soviet troops in Afghanistan as dangerous “islamists” a bit later. (See: Andrew Gilligan, “Libya: MI6 tricked me into trap, claims torture victim”, in: The Daily Telegraph, Sept. 7, 2011
8748437/Libya-MI6-tricked-me-into-trap-claims-torture-victim.html ) 
See also: ROD NORDLAND and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, “Islamists’ Growing Sway Raises Questions for Libya”, in: The New York Times, Sept.14, 2011.
Incidentally, both the Algerian government and governments to the South of Libya have expressed fears that a flow of weapons to “islamist” groups operating on their  territory exists already. Some critics say that this may even be desired by the US because in this way African governments might be more willing to accept the presence of US troops. Apparently  US corporations and the US government are  eager to replace entrenched French as well as new Chinese influence in Northwest and West Africa.
Another dimension of the revolt is highlighted by the US-commentator Glen Ford . Ford said about some of the rebels on  US-based Black Agenda Radio: “They assassinated their own military commander back in July. They have beheaded, lynched and burned countless Libyans, without the necessity of prodding from NATO. They laid siege to the black city of Tawergha, vowing to “purge black skin” and wipe the town from the face of the earth. Tawergha is now empty, its inhabitants slaughtered and dispersed, ethnically cleansed from the new Libya.”  Black Agenda Report, Sept. 14, 2011
no-time-teasing - The lynchings of African immigrant workers and of refugees trying to make it to Europa that were committed by some rebels have been independently verified. African immigrant workers are seen as cheap competitors on the job market by certain Libyans; they are often assumed to sympathize with the Gaddafy regime, and some were suspected to be mercenaries. All of this may have contributed to the murders. 
(N.B.: There can be no question that African mercenaries engaged in the fighting during the Libyan civil war. Just as in Bahrain where Pakistani and other mercenaries were recruited and used against protesting crowds, and in the US where Central Americans were recruited and promised citizenship if they served in Afghanistan or Iraq, the Gaddafy regime actually seems to have recruited a number of mercenaries. 
More recently, the Blackwater Corporation which was recently renamed for PR-reasons was reported to build a mercenary army in the United Arab Emirates. See: Jeremy Scahill, “Lawmakers Ask Hillary Clinton to Explain Erik Prince’s Mercenaries in the UAE”, in: The Nation, May 23, 2011

(4) All the Kucinich quotes are from: Dennis Kucinich, “Congressman’s Kucinich’s Address to Congress on the War in Libya,” in: The Nation, April 4, 2011. 

(5) “The CIA Armed Forces”, in: Strategy, September 6, 2011 [An article about the increasing tendency to wage ‘covert’ war]; - See also Jeremy Scahill’s report: “When President Obama took office in 2009, the United States increased its covert military involvement in and around Somalia, as the CIA and JSOC intensified air and drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen, and began openly hunting people the United States alleged were Al Qaeda leaders.” (Jeremy Scahill, “Blowback in Somalia”, in: The Nation, Sept.26, 2011
And see also:  Greg Miller and Julie Tate, “CIA shifts focus to killing targets”, in: The Washington Post, September 2 , 2011

(6) There exist several reports on US and other special forces operating on the ground in Libya. Take this one as an example: “Gaddafi still in Libya claims his spokesman as RAF spy planes and SAS join hunt“, in: The Daily Mail, Aug. 29, 2011





The Nation

Kucinich, Speech before U.S. Congress, March 31, 2011
(The Nation; April 4, 2011)

backup copy

Patrick Cockburn,"Bombing Libya: Gaddafi is Likely to Fall, But What Next? "
(in: CounterPunch, March 25, 2011 and in Z  Net)

backup copy

Sie wollen das Öl - oder?
(20. Maerz 2011)

Vijay Prashad, "Intervening 
in Libya" (in: CounterPunch, March 25, 2011 and in Z  Net) 

Manuel M. Navarrete, "Rebeldes (libios) sin causa", in: insurgente
(13 de Septiembre de 2011)

backup copy


Al Ahram Weekly

Galal Nassar, "The Arab Spring and the crisis of the elite" 

backup copy


Mohamed Azouz, Egypt govt mulls 
raising workers' incentives in bid to thwart labor strikes 

Ahmad Fouad Najem, "Forbidden"

backup copy


Tom Hayden, "The Defunding 
of the Peace Movement" 

backup copy

Not in our name

backup copy

disarm now

"Former US Attorney General Testifies for Plowshares Activists"

backup copy

Justice with Peace
(United for Justice with Peace Coalition)


Democracy real YA!

Manifesto of Democracia real YA!

backup copy

Carolina Castañeda López, La "Spanish Revolution" y los movimientos sociales en la red

backup copy

Lola Romero Gil, Movimientos ciudadanos, la red se mueve

backup copy

Lola Romero Gil, "Una semana 
de España acampada, por la democracia real"

backup copy



Esther Vivas

backup copy

backup copy  (doc.file)

Local to

Left Forum, Theses on the global crisis 

backup copy

Forum Social Mundial

Z Communications  AND Z mag

documenta 11:
demokratie als permanenter,
unabgeschlossener  prozess



                                                                                                 go back to URBAN DEMOCRACY issue  # 6