The time we killed civilians in order to save civilians… (NATO in Libya)

UPDATE: NYTimes reporters have increased the estimate of deaths. “The acknowledgement came after a New York Times investigation revealed at least 40 civilians, and perhaps more than 70, were killed by NATO airstrikes, including at least 29 women or children.” One of the coauthors of the article states that “that’s just what we know of […] so the death toll is probably much larger.” Good interview of NYTimes’s Eric Schmitt here.

I won’t dwell very long in this post on the details of NATO’s terrible intervention in Libya, but it is worth reminding ourselves of the stated pretext for intervention, in light of the recent NYTimes findings (detailed below) of at least “scores of civilian casualties” including “at least 29 women and children” many of whom “had been asleep” when the ‘humanitarian intervention’ provided by NATO bombings scorched, obliterated, maimed, and vaporized their bodies.

Qaddafi had clearly been the friend of the West in important ways, including the Italian prime minister’s pronouncement that he was “a friend of Italy,” securing major oil contracts with Western companies, and visits by prominent members of Congress, including Lieberman and McCain, who reiterated to the Libyan leaders that Libya was “an ally” and that the US was interested in pushing through arms deals. It was only at the very last minute, when the winds had long changed direction, that US politicians (including McCain and Secretary Clinton) become sudden critics of the Libyan dictator. Here are some details from an internal US cable regarding the 2009 visit of prominent congressmen to Libya:

CODEL McCain (R-Az), including Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Senator Susan Collins (R-SC) and Senate Armed Services Committee Staffer Richard Fontaine held back-to-back meetings August 14 with Libyan National Security Advisor Muatassim al-Qadhafi and Libyan leader Muammar Al-Qadhafi. […] McCain opened [the] August 14 meeting with National Security Advisor Muatassim al-Qadhafi by noting the drastic change that the relationship had undergone over the last five years. “We never would have guessed ten years ago that we would be sitting in Tripoli, being welcomed by a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi,” remarked Senator Lieberman. He stated that the situation demonstrated that change is possible and expressed appreciation that Libya had kept its promises to give up its WMD program and renounce terrorism. Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism. […] Senator McCain assured Muatassim that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its […] security. He stated that he understood Libya’s requests regarding the rehabilitation of its eight C130s (ref D) and pledged to see what he could do to move things forward in Congress. […] He described the bilateral military relationship as strong and pointed to Libyan officer training at U.S. Command, Staff, and War colleges as some of the best programs for Libyan military participation.

NATO arrived on scene with two major pretexts, both of which proved, as many had predicted, to be mere pretenses for doing whatever it wanted once it had a foot in the door.

The first pretext was that NATO was not taking sides in a civil war, but merely intervening briefly in order to prevent a civilian massacre, which NATO alone had sure evidence for (NATO said that Qaddafi was about to massacre the city of Benghazi, but this was mere speculation, since there was no evidence of this).

The second pretext was that NATO was only going to establish a “no-fly zone” above Libya, so that Qaddafi could not use airplanes to bombard defenseless citizens.

As soon as NATO shored up enough public and international support (convincing home populations in Western Europe and America, and key states abroad, including some key Arab regional players), then it went ahead with the “humanitarian” operation, which immediately became an aggressive campaign against Qaddafi’s forces.

It bombed relentlessly, and flew countless missions; it had drone operations and bombed Qaddafi’s headquarters multiple times. The NYTimes reports that “NATO warplanes flew thousands of sorties that dropped 7,700 bombs or missiles.” There was zero accountability for where these bombs were landing, and throughout the period there were many rumors that large numbers of civilians were being killed under NATO’s “humanitarian” “no-fly-zone” mission. And now comes the evidence.

When the NYTimes confronted NATO with the evidence of civilian deaths, NATO basically said: Oops, but well, it happens. In other words: out of sight, out of mind; who cares? (1)

Conclusion: “humanitarian” in the context of political discourse is pretty-much inevitably a mere rhetorical code word for “military intervention to enforce Western state interests” without regard for civilian life or harm to native populations.

NYTimes piece by CJ Chivers:

By NATO’s telling during the war, and in statements since sorties ended on Oct. 31, the alliance-led operation was nearly flawless — a model air war that used high technology, meticulous planning and restraint to protect civilians from Colonel Qaddafi’s troops, which was the alliance’s mandate.

“We have carried out this operation very carefully, without confirmed civilian casualties,” the secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in November.

But an on-the-ground examination by The New York Times of airstrike sites across Libya — including interviews with survivors, doctors and witnesses, and the collection of munitions remnants, medical reports, death certificates and photographs — found credible accounts of dozens of civilians killed by NATO in many distinct attacks. The victims, including at least 29 women or children, often had been asleep in homes when the ordnance hit.

[…] because The Times did not examine sites in several cities and towns where the air campaign was active, the casualty estimate could be low.

Here is one specific example, among many, detailed by the Times:

A retiree in Tripoli, Mr. Gharari owned a three-story house he shared with his adult children and their families. Late on June 19 a bomb struck it squarely, collapsing the front side. The rubble buried a courtyard apartment, the family said, where Karima, Mr. Gharari’s adult daughter, lived with her husband and two children, Jomana, 2, and Khaled, 7 months.

All four were killed, as was another of Mr. Gharari’s adult children, Faruj, who was blasted from his second-floor bed to the rubble below, two of his brothers said. Eight other family members were wounded, one seriously.

And here is an incident of friendly-fire, where NATO planes somehow just bombed the wrong guys. So much for “saving civilian lives:”

As the shepherds approached over the sand, a bomb slammed in again, said one of them, Abdul Rahman Ali Suleiman Sudani. The blast knocked them over, he said. His two cousins were hit.

One, he said, was cut in half; the other had a gaping chest wound. Both died. Mr. Sudani and other relatives returned to the wreckage later and retrieved the remains for burial in Kufra. The men had died, he said, trying to help.

As well as the of Mustafa Morabit, who was sleeping when NATO’s humanitarian intervention exploded their quiet house:

Calamity struck two days later. A bomb roared down in the early morning quiet and slammed into their concrete home, causing its front to buckle.

Mr. Morabit’s wife, Eptisam Ali al-Barbar, died of a crushed skull. Two of their three sons — Mohammed, 6, and Moataz, 3 — were killed, too. Three toes on the left foot of Fatima Umar Mansour, Mr. Morabit’s mother, were severed. Her lower left leg was snapped.

“We were just in our homes at night,” she said, showing the swollen leg.

The destruction of their home showed that even with careful standards for target selection, mistakes occurred. Not only did NATO hit the wrong building, survivors and neighbors said, but it also hit it more than two days late.

Only four days later, NATO was helping save civilian lives again:

On Aug. 8, four days after destroying the Morabit home, NATO hit buildings occupied by civilians again, this time in Majer, according to survivors, doctors and independent investigators. The strikes were NATO’s bloodiest known accidents in the war.

The attack began with a series of 500-pound laser-guided bombs, called GBU-12s, ordnance remnants suggest. The first house, owned by Ali Hamid Gafez, 61, was crowded with Mr. Gafez’s relatives, who had been dislocated by the war, he and his neighbors said.

The bomb destroyed the second floor and much of the first. Five women and seven children were killed; several more people were wounded, including Mr. Gafez’s wife, whose her lower left leg had to be amputated, the doctor who performed the procedure said.

Minutes later, NATO aircraft attacked two buildings in a second compound, owned by brothers in the Jarud family. Four people were killed, the family said.

Several minutes after the first strikes, as neighbors rushed to dig for victims, another bomb struck. The blast killed 18 civilians, both families said.

Mohammed Zarog’s wife was also a beneficiary of NATO’s interest in averting a civilian massacre by Qaddafi:

Mahmoud Zarog Massoud, his hand swollen with an infection from a wound, wandered the broken shell of a seven-story apartment building in Surt, which was struck in mid-September. His apartment furniture had been blown about by the blast.

He approached the kitchen, where, he said, he and his wife had just broken their Ramadan fast when ordnance hit. “We were not thinking NATO would attack our home,” he said.

Judging by the damage and munitions’ remains, a bomb with a delayed fuze struck another wing of the building, burrowed into another apartment and exploded, blasting walls outward. Debris flew across the courtyard and through his kitchen’s balcony door.

His wife, Aisha Abdujodil, was killed, both her arms severed, he said. Bloodstains still marked the floor and walls.

NATO was very careful both to avoid killing civilians, as we have seen above, and to accurately report when it did kill any or might have killed any. Early in the “humanitarian” campaign, NATO reconfigured its definition for “civilian deaths” to be defined as “civilian deaths NATO itself has investigated and confirmed.” And since NATO itself relegated precisely zero resources toward investigating possible civilian deaths (2), it was able to accurately report that, according to its high standards of measurement, NATO could found no confirmed civilian casualties resulting from its amazingly accurate smart-bombs and incredibly reliable intelligence.

In summary, the obvious conclusion is that when Western powers declare that they will proceed to kill and bomb whomever they please, then those people instantly become either evil people whom it is permissable to kill and injure or else invisible people whose deaths and injuries become invisible and didn’t happen.

“It’s crystal clear that civilians died in NATO strikes,” said Fred Abrahams, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. “But this whole campaign is shrouded by an atmosphere of impunity”


1. NATO’s version of “oops”:

“From what you have gathered on the ground, it appears that innocent civilians may have been killed or injured, despite all the care and precision,” said Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for NATO headquarters in Brussels. “We deeply regret any loss of life.”

2. The Times reports that “Faced with credible allegations that it killed civilians, the alliance said it had neither the capacity for nor intention of investigating and often repeated that disputed strikes were sound. “

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2 Responses to The time we killed civilians in order to save civilians… (NATO in Libya)

  1. Andrea says:

    I understand the huge problems of 1) civilian casualties and 2) inadequate/nonexistent investigation of those casualties, both done under a guise of “humanitarianism” enabled by Western power. But why does NATO want to bomb Libya? It’s not bombing civilians for fun, even if it doesn’t care about their lives/deaths. What IS the motive for doing criminal things under a humanitarian guise, if, as you claim, the motive is clearly not humanitarian?

  2. Pingback: “Humanitarian” intervention in Syria? | Political Crumbs

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