INDEX (stories follow)
- Obama Urged to Rethink Pakistan Following Assassination of bin Laden
- Turkish Prime Minister Calls for Gaddafi to Step Down
- Syrian Intellectuals, Activists Go into Hiding as Security Forces Crack Down
- AFL-CIO Urges Obama Administration to Suspend Pact with Bahrain
- United Arab Emirates Shuts Down Teachers’ Association Board of Directors
- Ousted Egyptian President Faces Potential Death Penalty
- Egypt Activists Call for Social Reforms
- Palestinian Factions Sign Deal, Israel Withholds Millions in Funds as Punishment
- Canada: Conservative Party Wins Parliament Majority, NDP Becomes Opposition Party
- Japan Parents Deliver Radioactive Playground Dirt to Protest High Radiation Levels
- U.K. Police Arrest Five on Terror Suspicion Near Nuke Plant
- Google Offices Raided in South Korea
- Sony Reports Second Information Breach, 25 Million More Customers’ Information Hacked
- 360 People Missing Following Alabama Tornadoes, Scientists Link Storms to Global Warming
- Honduras Drops Charges against Ousted President Zelaya
- Vermont Protesters Rally to Support Single-Payer Healthcare
- Vandals Deface Maine Mosque
- Correction: Leonard Weinglass Memorial Service, Friday May 13
“A Violation of Norms”: U.S. & Allies Kill Gaddafi’s Son and Three Grandchildren in Bombing of Compound in Tripoli
from Democracy Now! | Healthcare Reform by firstname.lastname@example.org (Democracy Now!)
“How is hitting a residential compound and killing the children of the leader of Libya protecting civilians? It also undermines international norms. You don’t go after the children of leaders and the grandchildren of leaders,” says Alan Kuperman, a University of Texas professor and author of The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention. “I think this is a violation of norms and counterproductive for the goal of protecting noncombatants.” [includes rush transcript]
from Tikun Olam-תקון עולם: Make the World a Better Place by Richard Silverstein
The killing of Osama bin Laden is beginning to look like little more than a standard IDF targeted killing. Initially, the Obama administration clearly stated that bin Laden was armed and resisted. Now, the account has been radically revised. He wasn’t armed, but ‘resisted’ in some unspecified way. There is only one way to satisfy speculation in this matter. They have to release documentary footage of the moment of his killing to allow people to judge for themselves what happened. Not the pictures of his dead body, which they weighting the release of now. Given the radical discrepancies, it’s no longer a situation in which we can take the government’s word for what happened.
If Bin Laden resisted violently I would have no problem with his killing. If he resisted passively, there surely are ways to disable someone without killing them as they did his wife, who they shot in the leg but did not kill.
In the situation of Israeli targeted killings and anti-terror operations, the victims are often killed either in bed or unarmed. While there is always a claim that violent resistance was offered, the evidence often does not support this. That is why the Bin Laden operation is beginning to sound suspiciously like an IDF one.
I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that this was simply an execution, not an apprehension. And that it was always intended to be an execution, contrary to what the government told us when they said they were prepared to capture him if he didn’t resist violently.
The fact too that Bin Laden’s body was buried almost immediately at sea seems deeply strange to me. Why do you so fear someone’s dead body that you make it disappear? Not to mention that disposing of his earthly remains in such a way would be a deep offense even to those many Muslims who despise Bin Laden. This is more or less what the Russians did to Hitler’s remains. They wanted to leave no trace of him for his supporters to worship. As a result, the way they disappeared his body will become a bone of contention for years and decades to come.
I didn’t fear Bin Laden alive and I don’t fear him dead. We are better and stronger than anything he represented. But when we execute our enemies and disappear their remains we aren’t behaving much better than they do.
On a completely different subject, I’ve wondered why those who built this compound for Bin Laden didn’t build a panic room that couldn’t be penetrated by the type of force which invaded it and ended up killing him. If he had retreated to such a sealed bunker he could’ve waited out the onslaught and the arrival of Pakistani forces, who might’ve ended it and forced the U.S. forces to retreat. Did Al Qaeda not think that such an assault was possible? If so, they were guilty of hubris. I’m not suggesting this because I particularly wanted to protect Bin Laden or see him saved. If the Pakistanis had captured him his fate might not have been much different. But I’m just curious about the thinking of those who protected Bin Laden and why something that occurred to me didn’t occur to them.
- Bin Laden is Dead, Long Live Bin Laden No, I haven’t become an Al Qaeda fan and I’m…
- Israeli Border Police Summarily Execute Palestinian Hit and Run Driver How’s this for “driving while Arab?” Now, keep in mind…
- ADL Says ‘No’ to Park51 Ground Zero Muslim Cultural Center, Claims ‘Survivors’ Entitled to Be Racist Abe Foxman, one of American Jewry’s leading Islamophobes, announced the…
from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by John Aravosis (DC)
This is not helpful. I have no idea what it must be like for the White House and the military to get their act together on such short notice, and to inform the world of the accurate details only hours after the attack. Still, that’s no excuse. Their credibility is going to be judged on their word. They simply cannot get the story wrong on such basic details.
First we’re told Bin Laden was firing back, now we’re told he wasn’t armed. Odd that he wouldn’t be armed. And if the mission was to extract him alive, then why was he shot if he wasn’t armed (I couldn’t care less that he was shot, but we were told the mission was to get him alive, then why was he shot? or was it collateral damage? And if so, why not just say that?) Then we were told he held his wife in front of him as a human shield. Now we’re told he didn’t. We were told he was shot twice in the head, now it’s once in the head and once in the chest. They had his body, how did they get that wrong and now get it right, when the body’s already gone?
This strikes me as unacceptably sloppy. It also begins to call into question the other “facts” of the story. What else did they tell us that at some future date we’ll find out they got wrong? Mistakes are made, I get that, and accept that. But you have his body, how do you get wrong where he was shot? How do you get wrong that he was firing back when he wasn’t? If you know the truth now, how didn’t we not know the truth then? It’s a simple matter of asking our guys who were there.
This is a huge story, and hugely important, politically, but also simply important to all of us who suffered through September 11. You just aren’t permitted to get it wrong, especially on details that seem rather easy to get right, and especially when you’re the President of the United States.
(And yes, it’s Politico. But it’s Josh Gerstein, who I’ve dealt with repeatedly, and he’s a good guy and good reporter. And in any case, Slate is reporting the same concerns.)
UPDATE: Slate seems to be suggesting that these kind factual errors are common in big stories the first few hours. They cite Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch as an example of stories that ended up wrong. Um, Pat Tillman was an intentional cover-up. And the Jessica Lynch story wasn’t much better, as I recall. Neither is what we should expect as business as usual from our government.
Then Slate talks about how the sources were anonymous, so we should have expected some error. No, our own Joe Sudbay was invited on one of those “anonymous” calls Sunday night. He was on it with a lot of top reporters, and a very senior administration official. Just because we aren’t permitted to tell you the official’s name hardly exonerates the White House for hypothetically putting an official on a call who then gets it wrong.
If you’re not 100% sure of the details, don’t give them until you are.
10 Years Too Long: Rep. Barbara Lee Renews Calls for End to Afghan War After Killing of Osama bin Laden
from Democracy Now! | Healthcare Reform by email@example.com (Democracy Now!)
In September 2001, Rep. Barbara Lee was the only lawmaker in either chamber of Congress to vote against the 2001 resolution authorizing the use of force in Afghanistan. Today she is a leading advocate for the immediate withdrawal of troops and for repealing the authorization that grants a president the authority to use force without a formal declaration of war issued by Congress. “While the head of al-Qaeda is no longer around, we have to really address the root causes of terrorism and understand that we have to refocus our resources and our strategy in a way that begins to get us out of Afghanistan,” Lee says. We also speak to filmmaker Robert Greenwald about his Rethink Afghanistan campaign and journalist Anand Gopal, reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan. [includes rush transcript]
[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Every few months I regularly launch little week-long drives for TD readers to get new subscribers for the site. At this point, I would normally issue a heartfelt thank you for all your help and end the drive, but the truth is this one’s going so splendidly, at record levels in fact, that I’m simply going to redouble my urgings. Please ask your friends, colleagues, relatives, and others to go to the “subscribe” window at the upper right of TD’s main screen, put in their email addresses, hit “submit,” answer the “opt-in” email that instantly arrives in your inbox (or, unfortunately, spam folder), and receive notices whenever a new TD post goes up. Just keep ‘em coming. It’s great. In fact, while you’re at it, be sure to tell any new readers that if they buy books (or anything else) at Amazon.com and arrive there via a TomDispatch book link like this one, we get a small cut of whatever they purchase, which is a great way to support this site at no extra cost to you! Tom]
Recently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates attended a groundbreaking ceremony at Mount Vernon for a National Library for the Study of George Washington. (“I’d like to thank the Mount Vernon Ladies Association for extending this invitation to me…”) He used the occasion for a full-throated defense of the American right to support democracy and freedom with extreme and remarkably self-interested selectivity in the Middle East. “The most successful leaders, starting with Washington,” he told the ladies, “have steadfastly encouraged the spread of liberty, democracy, and human rights… We have at times made human rights the centerpiece of our national strategy even as we did business with some of the worst violators of human rights. We have worked with authoritarian governments to advance our own security interests even while urging them to reform…”
And here, after a fashion, was the good news he had to offer, if you didn’t happen to be a Bahraini, a Yemeni, or from other states where we still like “doing business” with those “violators of human rights” and “authoritarian governments”: “When we discuss openly our desire for democratic values to take hold across the globe,” he said, taking a conveniently long view of history, “we are describing a world that may be many years or decades off.”
Years or decades off. In fact, in the Persian Gulf, from Kuwait to Yemen, Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, the Pentagon has been working quite diligently to insure the accuracy of that schedule. TomDispatch regular and Associate Editor Nick Turse has been working no less diligently to ensure that we have a record of just what the Pentagon has been doing when it comes to arming and training the security forces of those authoritarian governments to insure that democracy doesn’t arrive a second ahead of the SecDef’s schedule. In mid-March, Turse focused on Bahrain where, with the help of the Saudis and Pentagon weaponry, that country’s security forces brutally represseda democracy movement. Now, as part of an ongoing series, he turns to Yemen where some of the same impulses are evident. You might think of this not as a “hearts and minds” winning, but a hearts-and-minds-stopping policy. Tom
Hueys Over Yemen
Is U.S. Aid Suppressing Another Mideast Freedom Struggle?
By Nick Turse
In recent weeks, Yemeni protesters calling for an immediate end to the 32-year reign of U.S.-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh have been met with increasing violence at the hands of state security forces. A recent pledge by Saleh to step down, one of many that haven’t met demonstrators’ demands, has yet to halt the protests or violence by the troops backing his regime. During a demonstration earlier this month in the city of Taiz, protesters marching down a central street were confronted by security forces and Saleh supporters, while government helicopters flew overhead. “The thugs and the security forces fired on us with live gunfire,” Mahmud al-Shaobi, one of the protesters told the New York Times. “Many people were shot.”
In the days since, more demonstrators have been attacked by government forces — with the death toll now estimated to exceed 130. Witnesses have also been reporting the increased use of military helicopters in the crackdown. Some of those aircraft may be recent additions to Saleh’s arsenal, provided courtesy of the Obama administration as part of an $83-million military aviation aid package.
Since the beginning of 2011, under a program run by the U.S. Department of Defense, the United States has overseen the delivery of several new Bell UH-1Hs, or “Huey II” helicopters, current models of the iconic Huey that served as America’s primary gunship and troop transport during the Vietnam War. Although these helicopters are only the latest additions to a sizeable arsenal that the Pentagon has provided to Yemen in recent years, they call attention to how U.S. weapons and assistance support regimes actively suppressing democratic uprisings across the Middle East.
How to Arm a Dictator
Last December, 26-year-old Tunisian fruit-seller Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a local municipal office, touching off popular protests that continue to sweep across the Middle East and North Africa. By the end of January 2011, the country’s U.S.-backed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had fled and demonstrations, which would eventually also topple corrupt autocrat and long-time U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak, had broken out in Egypt. In Yemen, as is the case elsewhere in the region, anger at government corruption, rampant poverty (40% of all Yemenis live on less than $2 a day), high unemployment (also running at 40%), and decades of harsh rule by an authoritarian strongman brought tens of thousands into the streets.
In January, as freedom struggles were spreading across the region, President Barack Obama publicly avowed support for “certain core values that we believe in as Americans[,] that we believe are universal: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, people being able to use social networking or any other mechanisms to communicate with each other and express their concerns.” Just days earlier, however, his government had transferred military equipment to the security forces of Yemen’s so-called president for life.
Under the terms of a $27 million contract between the Pentagon and Bell Helicopter, Yemen received four Huey IIs. Prior to this, 12 Yemeni Air Force pilots and 20 maintenance personnel were trained to fly and service the aircraft at Bell’s flight instruction facility in Alliance, Texas. “The swift execution of the Yemen Huey II program demonstrates that the military departments — in this case the U.S. Army — can quickly deliver defense articles and services to U.S. partners with the cooperation of U.S. industry,” said Brandon Denecke of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the branch of the Pentagon that coordinates sales and transfers of military equipment to allies.
The recent helicopter deal is just the latest example of Pentagon support for the forces of the Yemeni dictator through its so-called “1206 program,” a Congressionally-authorized arrangement that “allows the executive branch to rapidly provide foreign partners with military equipment and training…” Named for section 1206 of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, the program allows the Pentagon to enhance the capabilities of foreign military forces for “counterterrorism and stability operations.”
Since 2006, more than $1.3 billion worth of equipment has been allocated under the 1206 program and Yemen has been the largest recipient worldwide, benefitting from about one-fifth of the funding or approximately $253 million through 2010. This assistance, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, has provided Yemeni security forces with light airplanes, helicopters, small arms, ammunition, light tactical vehicles, trucks, radios, surveillance cameras, computers, body armor, patrol boats, and helicopter parts, among other materiel.
Since 2000, the Pentagon has also transferred weapons and equipment directly from U.S. stockpiles to Yemen’s security forces. These items include armored personnel carriers, M-60 machine guns, 2.5-ton military trucks, radios, and motorboats, according to an analysis of Defense Department documents by TomDispatch. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency did not respond to repeated requests for further information.
All told, over the past five years, the U.S. has providedmore than $300 million in aid to Yemen’s security forces, with the dollars escalating precipitously under the Obama administration. In 2008, under President George W. Bush, Yemen received $17.2 million in baseline military assistance (which does not include counterterrorism or humanitarian funding). In 2010, that number had risen to $72.3 million while, overall, Yemen received $155.3 million in U.S. aid that year, including a “$34.5 million special operations force counterterrorism enhancement package.” These funds have provided Yemen’s security forces with helicopters, Humvees, weapons, ammunition, radio systems, and night-vision goggles.
Additionally, U.S. special operations troops (along with British and Saudi military personnel) have been supporting, advising, and conducting training missions with some of Yemen’s elite forces — including the Republican Guard, Special Operations Forces, and the National Security Bureau — which are commanded and staffed by Saleh’s sons and other close relatives.
As his part of the bargain, Saleh allowed the U.S. to launch missile strikes against suspected al-Qaeda camps in Yemen while instructing his government to take credit for the attacks (for fear that if their American origins were made clear, there might be an anti-American backlash in Yemen and the larger Arab world), according to classified State Department documents released last year by the whistleblower group Wikileaks. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh told then-CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus following strikes in December 2009.
The Yemeni government also came up with a cover story for, and even excused, the deaths of civilians in those strikes. Rashad al-Alimi, a deputy prime minister, claimed that the Yemeni citizens killed in an attack were “acting in collusion with the terrorists and benefiting financially” when, in reality, they were likely Bedouin families involved in little more than peddling food.
Not So Tough Talk
As Yemen’s security forces have escalated their violence against demonstrators this spring, the Obama administration has offered mixed signals regarding Saleh, but has yet to issue an outright condemnation of the dictator, no less sever ties with a leader seen as crucial to the fight against al-Qaeda. “We have had a good working relationship with President Saleh. He’s been an important ally in the counterterrorism arena,” said U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on March 23rd. “But clearly, there’s a lot of unhappiness inside Yemen. And I think we will basically just continue to watch the situation. We haven’t done any post-Saleh planning, if you will.”
On April 5th, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney came out more forcefully. “The United States strongly condemns the use of violence by Yemeni government forces against demonstrators in Sanaa, Taiz, and Hodeida in the past several days,” he said. “The Yemeni people have a right to demonstrate peacefully, and we remind President Ali Abdullah Saleh of his responsibility to ensure the safety and security of Yemenis who are exercising their universal right to engage in political expression. “
That same day, however, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell was more equivocal, justifying enduring U.S. support for Yemen’s strongman as a “prudent course of action,” while including the protestors as the equals of the security forces in his condemnation of the use of force: “The protests, the demonstrations need to be nonviolent. Obviously, the government needs to respond to them in a nonviolent manner. So we are — we condemn the violence all around.”
Morrell also sought to distance the Pentagon’s aid for the country’s security forces from the violence being meted out in Yemen’s streets. He told reporters, “To suggest that the aid to Yemen has somehow been used against protesters I think is a leap of faith for which there is no evidence to support.” Recent reports, however, suggest that Yemen’s elite U.S.-trained counterterrorism troops have now been deployed in the capital, Sanaa, to deal with the massive ongoing protests.
Late last year, the Pentagon floated a new proposal to pump up to $1.2 billion more into Yemen’s security forces over the next five years. However, with protesters in the streets week after week in vast numbers and significant elements of the military defecting from the regime, the Obama administration failed to writeSaleh a check and began quietly urging him, through back-channel communications, to hand over power — assumedly to a successor likely to favor U.S. interests.
Finally, on April 23rd, after Saleh seemingly agreed to an arrangement brokered by Arab mediators that would grant immunity from prosecution to his family and him, and eventually shift power to his deputy for an interim period, the Obama administration threw its support behind the plan. A spokesman characterized it as “responsive to the aspirations of the Yemeni people.” Not only have many opposition protesters rejected the deal, while Saleh’s troops continue to attack them, but the dictator has slowly backed away from it as well.
And yet, despite weeks of violence that have left hundreds dead or wounded, President Obama has yet to publicly and unequivocally call for Saleh to step down as he did, albeit belatedly, with former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and, more recently, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Sending a Message
Earlier this month, Tawakul Karman, a Yemeni human rights activist and antigovernment protest leader, told the New York Times of her anger at Obama for his failure to issue such a call. ”We feel that we have been betrayed,” she said. Hamza Alkamaly, another prominent youth leader, echoed the same sentiments: ”We students lost our trust in the United States.”
After watching two allied autocrats fall in Tunisia and Egypt, the United States has focused on its periodic enemy, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, in Libya and has done little of substance to advocate for, let alone facilitate, demands for democracy and social change by protesters in allied states that are more integral to its military plansin the region, including Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Instead, Washington has continued to support repressive governments to which it has provided training, weapons, and other military equipment that has already been used or could be used to suppress grassroots democratic movements.
In the case of Bahrain, the U.S. has provided millions of rounds of live ammunition, helicopters, and tanks. For Saudi Arabia, it was a weapons deal worth tens of billions of dollars that will have Saudi pilots training in the U.S. In Iraq, the U.S. is aiding the very units of the security forces implicated in crackdowns on the free press. And these are only a few examples of recent U.S. efforts in the Middle East.
A survey of Yemeni adults conducted in January and February by the U.S.-based polling firm Glevum Associates found exceptional hostility to the United States. Ninety-nine percent of those surveyed viewed the U.S. government’s relations with the Islamic world unfavorably, 82% considered U.S. military influence in the world “somewhat bad” or “bad,” 66% believed that the U.S. hardly ever or never took into account the interests of countries like Yemen, and just 4% “somewhat” or “strongly approved” of President Saleh’s cooperation with the United States.
The numbers could hardly get more dismal, but anger and resentment can deepen and become even more entrenched. When protesters look to the skies over Sanaa in the days and weeks ahead, they may notice new American-made, U.S. taxpayer-financed helicopters hovering above them. Unless the Hueys are seen ferrying the dictator away in a scene reminiscent of Saigon in 1975, Yemenis — more than two-thirds under the age of 24 — are likely to remember for a very long time which side the United States took in their freedom struggle.
Nick Turse is a historian, essayist, investigative journalist, the associate editor of TomDispatch.com, and currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books). You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, onTumblr, and on Facebook. His website is NickTurse.com. This piece is part of Turse’s ongoing coverage on U.S. military impacts on the Arab Spring and thesecond in his TomDispatch series on the subject.
Copyright 2011 Nick Turse
from ‘Just World News’ with Helena Cobban by Helena
I generally have broad respect for the military assessments made by Anthony Cordesman, and his latest assessment of the situation in Samantha’s War in Libya contains much excellent analysis.
Including this opening paragraph:
- At some point in time, it will be critical to examine the historical record behind the French, British, and US intervention in Libya and why they dragged NATO and allies like Qatar and the UAE into such a gamble. It seems likely, however, that the choice to act came after watching the rebels advance with seeming ease towards Qaddafi’s overthrow and suffer what still seemed like limited reverses. Given past cases, it is likely that regional, intelligence, and military experts in each country all expressed caution and gave warning about the problems and uncertainties involved, but were overruled by their respective political leaders – who saw their staffs as needlessly cautious.
What is already certain is that the end result was a set of decisions that focused on short term considerations and bet on the outcome…
- there is nothing amusing about the fact that the lives and futures of some 6.6 million Libyans are at stake. The Franco-Anglo-American gamble now seems far too likely to fail at their expense. Moreover, it seems likely to drag the other nations that support the operation into their failure — along with part of the reputation of NATO and credibility of the UN…
A weak, divided, poorly led, and badly equipped and supplied set of rebel forces can only hang on with the present level of air support. Yesterday’s announcement that British and French military advisors are going to help is not going to alter that situation quickly. It will take months more – at a minimum – to properly train and equip them and it will take a radical shift in rebel leadership to give them meaningful unity and discipline.
In the interim an enduring war of attrition will turn a minor humanitarian crisis into a major one…
So what does Cordesman recommend? If he truly had the “humanitarian” interests of the Libyan people as his prime goal, surely he would join me in calling an urgent humanitarian ceasefire and the speedy deployment of all international diplomatic mechanisms possible, with the aim of resolving the very tough political matters at issue between Qadhdhafi and his opponents.
But no. He argues instead for a massive escalation of the western war effort:
- France, Britain, the US and other participating members of the Coalition need to shift to the kind of bombing campaign that targets and hunts down Qaddafi’s military and security forces in their bases and as they move – as long before they engage rebel forces as possible. Qaddafi, his extended family, and his key supporters need to be targeted for their attacks on Libyan civilians, even if they are collocated in civilian areas. They need to be confronted with the choice between exile or death, and bombing needs to be intense enough so it is clear to them that they must make a choice as soon as possible.
This kind of operation cannot be “surgical’ – if “surgical” now means minimizing bloodshed regardless of whether the patient dies. Hard, and sometimes brutal, choices need to be made between limited civilian casualties and collateral damage during the decisive use of force and an open-ended war of attrition that will produce far higher cumulative civilian casualties and collateral damage. The Coalition will also need to avoid the trap of blundering into some kind of ceasefire…
His text illustrates something very important about the nature of war. War is a slippery slope. Once you think it’s okay to engage in it, it can very easily face you with exactly the same kind of tough dilemma that Cordesman describes.
For what it’s worth, I think he may be right that, as between launching a huge, “a-l’outrance” escalation now and continuing with the current half-hearted western war effort, probably the escalatory approach would cause less human suffering over the short run of, let’s say, six months.
But then what? As we saw in Iraq, 2003, even a decisive western military victory that succeeds in ousting a hated Arab opponent doesn’t solve the problems of that country’s people. Indeed, in Iraq, on April 9, 2003 the Iraqi people’s travails had barely started to begin.
Look, I have a personal confession to make. Back in 1991, during the early days of the (very speedy) western military campaign to push Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait, I was still a supporter of the utility of war (under some circumstances.) Up to the eve of Operation Desert Storm, I had been publicly urging Pres. Bush to give diplomacy and negotiation every single chance he could. But when he did not do that but instead launched the military effort, I then publicly urged him– as Cordesman does here– to pursue the war wholeheartedly and with massive force, in order to make it short and decisive.
Afterwards, I hated myself for having written those belligerent newspaper columns; and sometime in the mid-1990s I became a completely convinced pacifist.
I completely understand the technical-military expertise and deep realism that Anthony Cordesman brings to his analysis. And I believe that Cordesman– unlike so many of the armchair analysts and liberal hawks who have been baying for this war– does have a deep understanding of the dynamics and consequences of warfare. But because of my own experience in 1991, I urge him to follow the path I adopted in the years after 1991… Above all, people should never let themselves get railroaded and rushed into reaching the conclusion that “only” war can solve their problems. This is never the case. There is always a better way.
Last week, the NYT’s military-affairs writer C.J. Chivers was one of the first to do detailed reporting of the use by Libyan government forces of cluster bombs in the heavily populated port city of Misrata. Today, the NYT carriesanother piece of well researched reporting by him– this time on laws of war violations (and other very questionable actions) by the rebel forces in Libya.
Weapons in rebel hands, Chivers writes,
- include… heavier weapons — Type 63 and Grad rockets — that
rebels have fired indiscriminately
- , endangering civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Read the following parts of his piece carefully:
- Among the Forces of Free Libya [i.e., the rebels], an absence of discipline and experience, a fleeting appreciation for both the tactical and technical aspects of weapons employment and a disregard for, or perhaps ignorance of, international conventions are all on display.
Put simply, the rebels have a limited sense of how to use modern weapons in ways that maximize their effectiveness while minimizing their risks to everyone else.
They have exhibited what seems to be a tolerance for at least a small number of child soldiers. Such was the case of Mohamed Abdulgader, a 13-year-old boy seen at a forward checkpoint earlier this month with an assault rifle in his grip.
Mohamed claimed not be a front-line fighter. But he was in area that within an hour came under fire, and made clear his readiness to fight. “If the Qaddafi men try to do anything to me, I will hurt them,” he said. None of the fighters present, or their commander, appeared concerned.
Similarly, the rebels have little evident command-and-control and no clear or consistent rules of engagement — factors that have perhaps contributed to instances of abusive or outright brutal conduct.
There have been credible accounts of rebels beating and robbing African men on the mere suspicion of their being mercenaries, and on April 9 two journalists observed rebels capture and immediately kill a suspected Qaddafi informant.
Countries that provide arms to such lawless forces could later be accused of encouraging or enabling these kinds of crimes. Similarly, many rebels have assembled powerful but inaccurate weapons systems that they have been firing near Ajdabiya and Brega. These include 107-millimeter rockets on pickup trucks, as well as makeshift mounts for 122-millimeter Grad rockets and 57-millimeter air-to-ground rocket launchers removed from former Qaddafi attack helicopters.
Journalists have seen these high-explosive munitions fired repeatedly, and often haphazardly. The rebels firing them typically have no evident communication with forward observers who might watch where their ordnance lands, and have shown no ability to adjust their aim.
In tactical terms, this is indiscriminate fire — the very behavior rebels and civilians have decried in the Qaddafi forces, albeit on a smaller scale.
Well, I don’t believe Chivers or anyone else is in a position right now to make a judgment on whether the rebels in Libya have been using indiscriminate fire more or less than the (presumably, better trained) government forces. Hard, too, to know exactly how to measure this…
Regardless of that quibble, here is a well substantiated account of widespread violations of the laws of war being committed by the rebel forces in Libya. (And recall, too, how admiring many western journos back at the beginning of the Libyan insurrection seemed to be, of the very young age of some of the rebels taking up arms… )
So now, shall we see Human Rights Watch or any other international organizations writing reports about these violations that Chivers has so carefully described and documented?
The second of those reports was based largely on Chivers’s earlier reporting. If his reporting on that occasion provided an adequate basis for HRW to rush out a follow-up report under their own imprimatur, surely they should do the same thing now?
So now, in response to his latest reporting, can we expect HRW to rush out another statement based on it? I’m not holding my breath.
… In general, HRW’s reporting on this deeply tragic, NATO-escalated war in Libya– maybe we should call it “Samantha’s War”?— has had many of the moral and political qualities of those warmongers of earlier eras who would rush around waving the bloody shirts of those wounded or killed in order to whip up war fever.
War is always hell. Anyone who has ever spent serious amounts of time living in a war zone, as I have, knows that very well. (And no, just “visiting” a war zone in pursuit of a career in journalism or human-rights advocacy is not the same experience, though I salute the courage of all who do that, including Samantha Power, back in the 1990s in Bosnia.)
The suffering that Libya’s people are experiencing today was exacerbated considerably by the France-Britain-U.S. decision to join in (and thereby considerable escalate) the fighting there, back on March 19. There was an alternative at that point. If only Washington, London, and Paris had devoted even one-tenth as much cash and attention to active pursuit of a negotiated resolution of all the matters at issue between Qadhdhafi and his opponents as what they have poured into this very hard-to-end war, then the situation of all the country’s civilians would be considerably better than it is today. And the prospects for their coming days and months would be considerably rosier than the endless strife, hurt, train of deaths, lingering resentments, uprooted families, and broken infrastructure that now seem almost certain to lie ahead of them.
It is not too late to turn away from this war, and to turn back to a path of energetically pursued negotiation and diplomacy. But the western powers– along with their handy maidservant, Qatar– seem determined to continue escalating.