Newsbud Exclusive- The ‘Humanitarian’ Destruction of Libya – Part 2: Gaddafi and NATO, a History of Deception

This article is part of a three-part series called “The ‘humanitarian’ destruction of Libya” that analyses the 2011 war in Libya and the motives behind it. The first article contrasts the invented war crime allegations against the Libyan government to the very real underreported war crimes by the insurgents; the second exposes a history of deceptive terrorist attacks on European soil wrongly attributed to Gaddafi and the role of NATO in the war; and the third discusses Gaddafi’s plan at creating a pan-African currency as one of the central motives lurking behind the mainstream explanation of the intervention as a just one that sought to “protect civilians” from a ruthless dictator.

Muammar Gaddafi was born in a Bedouin tent near Sirte around 1942 to a poor family. Living through the last years of Italian colonial rule and Libya’s somewhat reluctant monarchy following its independence at the behest of the Great Powers in 1952, Gaddafi grew up in a time that the country’s political unity was still subversive to regional competition between Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan. Being a rural Bedouin himself, he abhorred regionalism and developed an ideology embroiled with nationalism and anti-imperialism. Amid a bloodless coup on 1 September 1969 that overthrew King Idris, the 27-year-old Gaddafi and his fellow Free Officers rose to power.[1] Unlike many Western-backed Middle Eastern rulers that have large amounts of natural resources at their disposal, the Revolutionary Command Council was willing to put the huge oil revenues, which skyrocketed after OPEC’s 1973 boycott, to the country’s internal development. As a result, Libya grew from one of the poorest nations in the world during the 1950s to the country with the highest living standard in Africa.[2] National expenditures on literacy, health care and education expanded rapidly under Gaddafi, while the government raised minimum wages and provided interest-free loans and subsidies for farming and the construction of houses.[3] By 2009, all in stark contrast to many African nations that are stuck in the Western orbit, life expectancy at birth had risen to 72.3 years, youth literacy to 99.9% and infant mortality had dropped to 14 per 1000 births.[4] A most indicative example of the employment of oil income to national development was the Great Man-made River (GMR) project, an impressive irrigation system that solved the problem of water supply through the construction of a huge network of pipelines that transports water from the country’s southern desert ground reserves to the coastal cities, where most Libyans live. According to a BBC 2006 article, “it is impossible not to be impressed with the scale of the project,” and “Libyans like to call it ‘the eighth wonder of the world’.”[5] Indicative of NATO’s war crimes in Libya, the “humanitarian” interventionists deliberately bombed critical GMR water installations, thereby disrupting the nation’s water infrastructure and leaving millions of Libyans without potable water to this day. According to investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, this amounts to a potential genocidal strategy.[6]

More relevant to the story, however, is the fact that Gaddafi was willing to commit his country’s resources to the international cause of pan-Arabism. The new Libyan leader had an unlimited admiration for Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and he spoke about combining their strength to deter the imperial powers: “Tell President Nasser we made this revolution for him. He can take everything of ours and add it to the rest of the Arab world’s resources to be used for the battle [against Israel, and for Arab unity].”[7] Regarding the fact that Egypt and Syria had already foregone a short-lived political union from 1958 to 1961, this potential should not be underestimated. His hero died within a year after the coup, however, and Egypt’s next president, Anwar Sadat, was less concerned with Arab unity. Consequently, Gaddafi became the self-appointed guardian of Nasser’s legacy, nurturing the notion of pan-Arabism as one of the cornerstones of the Libyan revolution.[8] This made him an obvious target of the oligarchs seeking Western hegemony over the Third World, and therefore, he had to be demonised.

Enraging Europe: Yvonne Fletcher and the La Belle discotheque bombing

Despite the nationalisation of some American and British oil interests in 1973, the Libyan government showed no inclination towards an open confrontation with the West in the first years after the coup.[9] Gradually, however, as Gaddafi openly voiced his support for Palestinian resistance against Zionism, the Irish Republican Army’s struggle against British rule and the African National Congress’ battle against apartheid, the US started accusing Libya of supporting terrorism. It was only after Libya was accused of being directly involved in a series of terrorist attacks in Europe in the 1980s, though, that the US successfully managed to isolate the Libyan government from the international community.

While the Carter administration put the Libyan government on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, it was under Reagan that the situation escalated towards confrontation. In August 1981, the US’s Sixth Fleet shot down two Libyan jet fighters over the Gulf of Sirte, a territory regarded by Libya as its territorial waters but which Washington viewed as an international waterway. Although Reagan’s anti-Gaddafi rhetoric intensified, all Libyan crude oil exports to the US were embargoed, and American citizens were prohibited from traveling to Libya; the US remained unsuccessful in aggravating its NATO allies in Europe to jump on the bandwagon. That changed when Yvonne Fletcher, a London policewoman, was killed during a small anti-Gaddafi protest in St James Square on 17 April 1984. Although nobody was ever convicted, the British government and mass media outlets were quick to ascribe the murder to personnel at the Libyan embassy, located on the first floor at 5 St James. Ironically, it was a British two-part documentary aired on Channel 4 in 1996, which cites key witnesses, pathologists, gun specialists, audio experts, ex-intelligence officers and plot insiders, that eventually destroyed the official narrative.[10] The documentary revealed that an anti-Gaddafi terrorist organisation named al-Burkan, which was planning a coup against the Libyan leader, had infiltrated the embassy and that there were indeed 11 shots fired from there, but that the 12th bullet that killed Fletcher came from somewhere else on the square and was fired with a different kind of gun. Because the bullet entree angle was 60 degrees from the horizontal - not 15 degrees, what it should have been if the bullet originated from the embassy - the shot must have come from a far higher building. Drawing on two years of extensive research, the documentary makers unravel “a sinister plot” involving al-Burkan and German gun traffickers but also the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies, all of whom conspired to discredit Gaddafi and pave the way for regime change in Libya. Indeed, a month after the incident, al-Burkan and others tried to overthrow the Gaddafi government, but the coup attempt was beaten back by the Libyan army.

In early 1986, Reagan warned that the US would take additional steps to confront the Libyan government if needed. Not long after that, on 4 April, a bomb explosion at La Belle discotheque in West Berlin frequented by American servicemen killed three people and injured 200. Two weeks later, the US bombed Tripoli and Benghazi claiming that it had irrefutable evidence that Libya was responsible for the discotheque bombing, leaving at least 15 Libyan citizens dead. The main target was the Libyan leader’s headquarters. Gaddafi made it out alive, but his 15-month-old adopted daughter was killed in the attack on his residence, and two of his young sons were injured. The man charged with having masterminded the discotheque bombing was Yasser Chraidi, a driver at the Libyan embassy in East Berlin at the time. 10 years after the bombing, Chraidi - who in the meantime had moved to Lebanon - was extradited to German authorities, but a Berlin judge found the evidence presented by the prosecution so weak that he threatened to release Chraidi within three weeks unless more proof was presented. Exactly on the last day of these three weeks, Musbah Eter, one of the perpetrators that provided the operating instructions for the bomb used in the attack, confessed after having made a deal with the German prosecutors: in exchange for immunity, he incriminated Chraidi. A 1998 documentary aired on German television channel ZDF, however, discovered that although Eter indeed worked for the Libyan embassy in East Berlin in 1986, he paid regular visits to the US embassy and was most likely a CIA agent. Furthermore, ZDF asserted that members of a professional group of terrorists led by a certain Mahmoud Abu Jaber were involved in the attack, too, but had barely been bothered by the prosecution and had lived safely in other countries since the discotheque bombing. ZDF interviewed Abu Jaber’s right-hand man Muhammed Amairi and his lawyer in Norway as part of the preparation for the documentary. Amairi stopped the interview when he was asked what secret service he had been working for, but his lawyer continued the conversation. “Was Amairi a Mossad agent?”, ZDF asked. “He was a Mossad man,” the lawyer answered.[11]

Mission Accomplished: Lockerbie & Sanctions

Despite the alleged involvement of the Libyan government in state sponsored terrorist attacks on European soil, Washington’s European allies remained reluctant to imposing economic sanctions. On 21 December 1988, however, Pan Am flight 103 flying from Frankfurt to New York via London exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie shortly after it took off at London Heathrow. In late 1991, The US and UK formally accused two Libyan security officials of masterminding the attack in which all 259 passengers, most of them American and British, were killed. What followed was a series of UN Security Council resolutions demanding the extradition of the suspects. When Libya rejected these demands as a violation of its national sovereignty, the Security Council and the US congress both imposed severe sanctions on Libya. After many countries worldwide started to oppose the sanctions and the Organisation of African Unity in 1998 announced that its members would no longer enforce the UN sanctions unless America and Britain agreed to hold the trial of the Lockerbie suspects in a neutral country, the US, UK and Libya came to the agreement to hold a trial in The Hague in the Netherlands. The verdict acquitted one of the two suspects but found the other, Abdel Basset Ali Muhammad al-Megrahi, guilty.[12]

It turns out that one of the key prosecution witnesses at al-Megrahi’s trial, a Maltese shopkeeper who identified al-Megrahi as buying clothes from him that were found in the suitcase which allegedly carried the bomb, was paid $2 million by the US Department of Justice.[13] The shopkeeper also failed several times to identify al-Megrahi, only “recognising” him after having seen his photo in a magazine and being shown the same photo in court.[14] In addition, a chief Scottish investigator declared in 2005 that the main piece of evidence, the bomb timer, had been planted at the crime scene by a CIA agent.[15] In 2007, the expert who had analysed the bomb timer for the court admitted that he had lied at the trial, had manufactured the timer himself and had given it to a Lockerbie investigator. Moreover, the fragment he identified was never tested for residue of explosives, although it was the only evidence of possible Libyan involvement.[16] Finally, a London Heathrow airport security guard revealed that Pan Am’s luggage area had been broken into 17 hours before the flight, which suggests that the bomb was planted at Heathrow, not by al-Megrahi in Malta from where it would have had to bypass the security systems of two additional airports and in total would have travelled on three different planes before exploding.[17]

There are several theories about who exactly was responsible for the terrible crime. Some put forward circumstantial evidence that the bombing was a retaliatory attack by Iran and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command in reaction to the shooting down of an equally large Iranian plane over the Persian Gulf by a US warship a couple months earlier;[18] others suspect CIA and/or Mossad involvement.[19] But many are certain of one thing: al-Megrahi was innocent, and Libya was not responsible. This includes Hans Köchler, an Austrian professor who was appointed by the UN as international observer at the trial in The Hague, who called the trial “a spectacular miscarriage of justice.”[20]

Reconciliation and Betrayal

From the 1990s onwards, reconciliation gradually gained the upperhand over animosity. Libya suffered badly under the Washington-led isolation and was therefore willing to make concessions. After the Libyan government in 1999 agreed to hand over the two Lockerbie suspects and concurred with paying compensation to the relatives of Yvonne Fletcher and the victims or UTA flight 722 - a French airliner downed in a similar manner as Pan Am flight 103 in 1989 of which Libya was also (in all likelihood falsely)[21] accused - the US acquiesced to the suspension of the UN sanctions. In exchange for Libya paying compensation to the Lockerbie victims as well - but not accepting responsibility - and agreeing to give up its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program, the UN sanctions were officially lifted in 2003, and the US promised to suspend its own sanctions, most of which were lifted in 2004. Finally, during a 2006 trip to the country, Congressman Tom Lantos met with Gaddafi and announced that Libya had been removed from the US list of sponsors of terrorism.

Mutual distrust lingered on, however. Although the isolation was over in official terms, bilateral relations remained cumbersome. Clear from a statement he made in 1999, Gaddafi remained hostile to the dominant American worldview:

“America unfortunately treats us as if the world was the way it used to be [before the fall of the Soviet Union]. Some analysts call this a new colonialism. But colonialism is colonialism, and it is always unjust. It is how we were treated by the Italians, Algeria by the French, India by the British. This is imperialism, and we seem to be entering a new imperialist era. The cause of our conflict with America is not that we attacked them. We have never attacked an American target. America started the aggression against us right here in the Gulf of Sirte. When we defended ourselves, they attacked us in these very tents. We were bombed by missiles in our own territorial waters. In 1986 our own children were killed. No one can bring my daughter back to me. Then Lockerbie came along. Now we would like this chain of events to be over. But America does not want to turn the page. We shall, however, show courage and be patient, and America will be the loser.”[22] (emphasis added)

Gaddafi’s reservations about reconciliation - he often appeared to show regret for some of the compromises he made for which Libya received very little in return, especially giving up his WMD program as a deterrent to Western aggression - were likely not unfounded. In a 2007 interview, retired four-star US General Wesley Clark revealed that several Middle Eastern countries, including Libya, were already on the Pentagon’s imperialist drawing board in the immediate wake of 9/11:

“I [General Clark] came back to see him [a general of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said: ‘Are we still going to war with Iraq?’ And he said: ‘Oh it is worse than that.’ He reached over on his desk and picked up a piece of paper. He said: ‘I just got this down from upstairs [meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office] today. This is a memo that describes how we are going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.’”[23]

Flash forward to 2011. With the adoption of UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 in March, NATO embarked on a seven months-long military adventure under the guise of “protecting civilians,” leaving behind a trail of destruction with Sirte bombed back to the stone ages. After Operation Unified Protector had officially come to an end on 31 October 2011, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen concluded that “we have carried out this operation very carefully, without confirmed civilian casualties,”[24] and NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu claimed that “no target was approved or attacked if we had any evidence or reason to believe that civilians were at risk.”[25] UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, too, rejected claims that NATO had exceeded its mandate, asserting that “Security Council resolution 1973, I believe, was strictly enforced within the limit, within the mandate.”[26] That this is categorically false is substantiated even by the most pro-interventionist institutions that investigated NATO’s military campaign in retrospect. Human Rights Watch,[27] Amnesty International[28] and the New York Times[29] have all amply documented NATO airstrikes in which, if not deliberately at least knowing full well the likelihood of “collateral damage,” numerous civilians were killed. A report published by Middle Eastern human rights groups after a fact-finding mission to Libya even implicated NATO in war crimes, referring to “a NATO attack on 15 September which resulted in the death of 57-59 individuals, of whom approximately 47 were civilians.” The report described how two jeeps carrying combatants were destroyed by NATO air fire in Sirte, after which a large crowd of civilians flocked to the scene in an attempt to rescue survivors and retrieve the dead. Five minutes later, a third missile targeted the exclusively civilian crowd, killing 47 of them.[30] NATO’s operational media update for 15 September noted the destruction of the two armed vehicles but made no mention of the large swathes of civilians it had just slaughtered.[31]

Gaddafi’s Death: “We came, we saw, he died.”

The above-mentioned 15 September attack does not only illustrate the ruthlessness of NATO’s military campaign, it also signals its importance as a necessary accessory to the advances of the rebel fighters, especially in the final battle of the war in Sirte. Whereas the insurgents were allowed to freely move tanks into place to surround and enter the last Gaddafi stronghold, any attempt by government forces to move as much as a jeep was met with NATO air fire. So when a convoy of 75 vehicles leaving the scene of the battle was intercepted and attacked by a US predator drone and French jets on the morning of 20 October, NATO did not elaborate on how the convoy was posing a threat to the local population. Although “an intelligence breakthrough” allowed NATO forces to pinpoint Gaddafi’s location a week prior to the attack according to the Telegraph,[32] the military alliance supposedly did not know the Libyan leader was in one of the convoy trucks fleeing Sirte.

The Telegraph had previously already reported that SAS commandos (British special forces) “dressed in Arab civilian clothing and wearing the same weapons as the rebels [...] were spearheading the hunt for Col Muammar Gaddafi.”[33] As NATO had repeatedly bombed Gaddafi compounds during the war (and as we have seen above, before the war, too), and as the US government internally discussed covert action to assassinate Gaddafi as early as 1969 according to the memoirs of Henry Kissinger,[34] this means that Western involvement in Gaddafi’s brutal murder in the streets of Sirte is at least plausible. Indeed, according to Mahmoud Jibril, then interim prime minister of the rebel-led National Transition Council, “it was a foreign agent who mixed with the revolutionary brigades to kill Gaddafi.”[35] Either way, the Western war hawks probably did not mourn the death of the Libyan leader, judging from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first reaction to the death of Gaddafi. Followed by an arrogant laugh, she concluded: “We came, we saw, he died.”[36]

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Bas Spliet, Newsbud  Analyst,  is a bachelor’s student History and Arabic at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is interested in geopolitics, focusing most of his time in getting a better understanding of wars in the Middle East. His analyses can be found atwww.scrutinisedminds.com. He can be reached at bas.spliet@gmail.com.

Notes

[1] Maximilian Forte, Slouching towards Sirte: NATO’s war on Libya and Africa (Montreal: Baraka Books, 2012), 35-41.

[2] “The standard of living in Libya - compilation of data, studies, articles and videos,” Global Civilians for Peace in Libya, 09.11.2011, http://globalciviliansforpeace.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/the-standard-of-living-in-libya/.

[3] Dirk Vandewalle, A history of modern Libya, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 87-95.

[4] “The standard of living in Libya.”

[5] John Watkins, “Libya’s thirst for ‘fossil water’,” BBC, 18.03.2016, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4814988.stm.

[6] Nafeez Ahmed, “War crime: NATO deliberately destroyed Libya’s water infrastructure,” Truth Out, 30.05.2015, http://truth-out.org/news/item/30999-war-crime-nato-deliberately-destroyed-libya-s-water-infrastructure.

[7] Mohammed Heikal, The road to Ramadan (New York: Quadrangle / New York Times Company, 1975), 70.

[8] Vandewalle, A history of modern Libya, 79.

[9] Vandewalle, A history of modern Libya, 128-30.

[10] Murder in St James’s, produced and directed by Richard Belfield (Channel 4: Dispatches, 1996), available in full at http://sott.net/article/236576-Murder-in-St-James-Square-The-Death-of-Yvonne-Fletcher.

[11] “German TV exposed CIA, Mossad links to 1986 Berlin disco bombing,” Word Socialist Web Site, 27.08.1998, http://wsws.org/en/articles/1998/08/bomb-a27.html.

[12] Vandewalle, A history of modern Libya, 167-9.

[13] Gordon Rayner, “Lockerbie bombing: are these the men who really brought down Pan Am 103?”, Telegraph, 10.03.2014, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/10688179/Lockerbie-bombing-are-these-the-men-who-really-brought-down-Pan-Am-103.html.

[14] Robert McFadden, “Megrahi, convicted in 1988 Lockerbie bombing, dies at 60,” New York Times, 20.05.2012, http://nytimes.com/2012/05/21/world/africa/abdel-basset-ali-al-megrahi-lockerbie-bomber-dies-at-60.html.

[15] “Police chief - Lockerbie evidence was faked,” Scotsman, 28.08.2005, http://scotsman.com/news/police-chief-lockerbie-evidence-was-faked-1-1403341.

[16] McFadden, “Megrahi.”

[17] McFadden, “Megrahi.”

[18] Rayner, “Lockerbie bombing;” Alexander Zaitchik, “The truth about the Lockerbie bombing - and the censored film that dared to reveal it,” Alternet, 15.12.2014, http://alternet.org/world/truth-about-lockerbie-bombing-and-censored-film-dared-reveal-it; John Ashton and Ian Ferguson, “Flight from the truth,” Guardian, 27.06.2001, http://theguardian.com/uk/2001/jun/27/lockerbie.features11.

[19] “What if they are innocent?”, Guardian, 27.04.1999, http://theguardian.com/uk/1999/apr/17/lockerbie; Maidhc Ó’Cathail, “Deception over Lockerbie,” Global Research, 27.12.2009, http://globalresearch.ca/deception-over-lockerbie/15362; Cem Ertür, “Propaganda alert: the Lockerbie bombing. Who was behind it? Libya, Iran … or the CIA?”, Global Research, 12.10.2014, http://globalresearch.ca/deception-over-lockerbie/15362.

[20] “UN Observer: Lockerbie trial a US/UK CIA fake “a spectacular miscarriage of justice,” William Bowles, 14.10.2005, http://williambowles.info/spysrus/lockerbie.html.

[21] Pierre Péan, “Les preuves trafiquées du terrorisme Libyen,” Monde Diplomatique, March 2001, http://monde-diplomatique.fr/2001/03/PEAN/6174. Translated to English: Pierre Péan, “Tainted evidence of Libyan terrorism,” UNA Bombers, http://unabombers.com/TheTaintedEvidence.htm.

[22] Quoted in Forte, Slouching towards Sirte, 79.

[23] Amy Goodman, interview with Wesley Clark, Daily Show, Democracy Now, 02.03.2007, available online: “Gen. Wesley Clark weighs presidential bid: ‘I think about it every day’,” Democracy Now, 02.03.2007, http://democracynow.org/2007/3/2/gen_wesley_clark_weighs_presidential_bid.

[24] Rachel Shabi, “NATO accused of war crimes in Libya,” Independent, 19.1.2012, http://independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/nato-accused-of-war-crimes-in-libya-6291566.html.

[25] Human Rights Watch, Unacknowledged deaths: civilian casualties in NATO’s air campaign in Libya, 13.05.2012, http://hrw.org/report/2012/05/13/unacknowledged-deaths/civilian-casualties-natos-air-campaign-libya.

[26] Shabi, “NATO accused of war crimes in Libya.”

[27] Human Rights Watch, Unacknowledged deaths.

[28] Amnesty International, Libya: the forgotten victims of NATO airstrikes, March 2012, http://amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/mde190032012en.pdf.

[29] C.J. Chivers and Eric Smith, “In strikes on Libya by NATO, an unspoken civilian toll,” New York Times, 17.12.2011, http://nytimes.com/2011/12/18/world/africa/scores-of-unintended-casualties-in-nato-war-in-libya.html?pagewanted=all.

[30] Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Arab Organization for Human Rights and International Legal Assistance Consortium, Report of the Independent Civil Society Fact-Finding Mission to Libya, 44-6, January 2012, http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/2012/FFM_Libya-Report.pdf.

[31] NATO, NATO and Libya: operational media update for 15 September, http://nato.int/nato_static/assets/pdf/pdf_2011_09/20110916_110916-oup-update.pdf.

[32] Thomas Harding, “Col Gaddafi killed: convoy bombed by drone flown by pilot in Las Vegas,” Telegraph, 20.10.2011, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8839964/Col-Gaddafi-killed-convoy-bombed-by-drone-flown-by-pilot-in-Las-Vegas.html.

[33] Thomas Harding, Gordon Rayner and Damien McElroy, “Libya: SAS leads hunt for Gaddafi,” Telegraph, 24.08.2011, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8721291/Libya-SAS-leads-hunt-for-Gaddafi.html.

[34] Bill van Auken, “The murderer calls for an investigation into the crime,” SWAPO, 24.10.2011, http://swapoparty.org/the_us_and_gaddafi.html.

[35] Peter Allen, “Gaddafi was killed by French secret serviceman on orders of Nicolas Sarkozy, sources claim,” Daily Mail, 30.09.2012, http://dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2210759/Gaddafi-killed-French-secret-serviceman-orders-Nicolas-Sarkozy-sources-claim.html.

[36] “Hillary Clinton on Gaddafi: We came, we saw, he died,” Youtube channel of FederalJacktube6, 20.10.2011, consulted on 14.02.2017, http://youtube.com/watch?v=Fgcd1ghag5Y.

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