Reflections on the Revolt in
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)
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
What made Libyans support the
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
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
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
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
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
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 Minutes.fr, Aug. 30, 2011 http://www.20minutes.fr/monde/libye/777804-libye-50000-personnes-
(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 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/23/gaddafi-slams-nato-libya-
(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 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/
See also: ROD NORDLAND and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK,
“Islamists’ Growing Sway Raises Questions for Libya”, in: The New York
Times, Sept.14, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/15/world/africa/in-libya-islamists-growing-
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 http://blackagendareport.com/content/fauntroys-libya-massacres-story-
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
(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 http://www.thenation.com/blog/160870/lawmakers-ask-hillary-clinton-explain-erik-princes-
(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 Page.com,
September 6, 2011 [An article about the increasing tendency to wage ‘covert’
war]; http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htintel/articles/20110906.aspx -
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 http://www.thenation.com/article/163210/blowback-somalia?rel=emailNation
And see also: Greg Miller and Julie
Tate, “CIA shifts focus to killing targets”, in: The Washington Post, September
2 , 2011 http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-
(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
Speech before U.S. Congress, March 31, 2011
(The Nation; April 4, 2011)
Cockburn,"Bombing Libya: Gaddafi is Likely to
Fall, But What Next? "
(in: CounterPunch, March 25, 2011 and in Z
wollen das Öl - oder?
(20. Maerz 2011)
in Libya" (in: CounterPunch, March 25,
2011 and in Z Net)
M. Navarrete, "Rebeldes (libios) sin causa",
(13 de Septiembre de 2011)
Al Ahram Weekly
Arab Spring and the crisis of the elite"
Azouz, Egypt govt mulls
raising workers' incentives
in bid to thwart labor strikes
Fouad Najem, "Forbidden"
Hayden, "The Defunding
of the Peace Movement"
Not in our name
US Attorney General Testifies for Plowshares Activists"
Justice with Peace
(United for Justice with Peace
Democracy real YA!
Democracia real YA!
"Spanish Revolution" y los movimientos sociales en la red
Romero Gil, Movimientos ciudadanos, la red se mueve
Romero Gil, "Una semana
de España acampada, por la democracia
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