U.K. Parliament report details how NATO’s 2011 war in Libya was based on lies

British investigation: Gaddafi was not going to massacre civilians; Western bombing made Islamist extremism worse

By Ben Norton, Salon

Libyan rebels on a tank outside the town of Ajdabiyah on March 26, 2011 (Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning)
Libyan rebels on a tank outside the town of Ajdabiyah on March 26, 2011 (Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning)

A new report by the British Parliament shows that the 2011 NATO war in Libya was based on an array of lies.

“Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options,” an investigation by the House of Commons’ bipartisan Foreign Affairs Committee, strongly condemns the U.K.’s role in the war, which toppled the government of Libya’s leader Muammar Qaddafi and plunged the North African country into chaos.

“We have seen no evidence that the UK Government carried out a proper analysis of the nature of the rebellion in Libya,” the report states. “UK strategy was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee concludes that the British government “failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element.”

The Libya inquiry, which was launched in July 2015, is based on more than a year of research and interviews with politicians, academics, journalists and more. The report, which was released on Sept. 14, reveals the following:

  • Qaddafi was not planning to massacre civilians. This myth was exaggerated by rebels and Western governments, which based their intervention on little intelligence.
  • The threat of Islamist extremists, which had a large influence in the uprising, was ignored — and the NATO bombing made this threat even worse, giving ISIS a base in North Africa.
  • France, which initiated the military intervention, was motivated by economic and political interests, not humanitarian ones.
  • The uprising — which was violent, not peaceful — would likely not have been successful were it not for foreign military intervention and aid. Foreign media outlets, particularly Qatar’s Al Jazeera and Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabiya, also spread unsubstantiated rumors about Qaddafi and the Libyan government.
  • The NATO bombing plunged Libya into a humanitarian disaster, killing thousands of people and displacing hundreds of thousands more, transforming Libya from the African country with the highest standard of living into a war-torn failed state.

Myth that Qaddafi would massacre civilians and the lack of intel

“Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence,” the Foreign Affairs Committee states clearly.

“While Muammar Gaddafi certainly threatened violence against those who took up arms against his rule, this did not necessarily translate into a threat to everyone in Benghazi,” the report continues. “In short, the scale of the threat to civilians was presented with unjustified certainty.”

The summary of the report also notes that the war “was not informed by accurate intelligence.” It adds, “US intelligence officials reportedly described the intervention as ‘an intelligence-light decision.’”

This flies in the face of what political figures claimed in the lead-up to the NATO bombing. After violent protests erupted in Libya in February, and Benghazi — Libya’s second-largest city — was taken over by rebels, exiled opposition figures like Soliman Bouchuiguir, president of the Europe-based Libyan League for Human Rights,claimed that, if Qaddafi retook the city, “There will be a real bloodbath, a massacre like we saw in Rwanda.”

The British Parliament’s report, however, notes that the Libyan government had retaken towns from rebels in early February 2011, before NATO launched its air strike campaign, and Qaddafi’s forces had not attacked civilians.

On March 17, 2011, the report points out — two days before NATO began bombing — Qaddafi told rebels in Benghazi, “Throw away your weapons, exactly like your brothers in Ajdabiya and other places did. They laid down their arms and they are safe. We never pursued them at all.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee adds that, when Libyan government forces retook the town of Ajdabiya in February, they did not attack civilians. Qaddafi “also attempted to appease protesters in Benghazi with an offer of development aid before finally deploying troops,” the report adds.

In another example, the report indicates that, after fighting in February and March in the city Misrata — Libya’s third-largest city, which had also been seized by rebels — just around 1 percent of people killed by the Libyan government were women or children.

“The disparity between male and female casualties suggested that Gaddafi regime forces targeted male combatants in a civil war and did not indiscriminately attack civilians,” the committee says.

Senior British officials admitted in the Parliament investigation they did not consider Qaddafi’s actual actions, and instead called for military intervention in Libya based on his rhetoric.

In February, Qaddafi gave a heated speech threatening the rebels who had taken over cities. He said “they are a tiny few” and “a terrorist few,” and called them “rats” who “are turning Libya into the emirates of Zawahiri and bin Laden,” referencing the leaders of al-Qaeda.

At the end of his speech, Qaddafi promised “to cleanse Libya, inch by inch, house by house, home by home, alley by alley,” of these rebels. Many Western media outlets, however, implied or reported outright that his remark was meant as a threat to all protesters. An Israeli journalist popularized this line by turning it into a song called “Zenga, Zenga” (Arabic for “alleyway”). The YouTube video featuring the remixed speech was circulated throughout the world.

The Foreign Affairs Committee notes in its report that, at that moment, British officials had a “lack of reliable intelligence.” William Hague, who served as the British secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs during the war in Libya, claimed to the committee that Qaddafi had promised “to go house to house, room to room, exacting their revenge on the people of Benghazi,” misquoting Qaddafi’s speech. He added, “A lot of people were going to die.”

“Given the lack of reliable intelligence, both Lord Hague and Dr Fox highlighted the impact of Muammar Gaddafi’s rhetoric on their decision-making,” the report notes, also referencing then-Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox.

George Joffé, a scholar at King’s College London University and an expert on the Middle East and North Africa, told the Foreign Affairs Committee for its investigation that, while Qaddafi sometimes used intimidating rhetoric that “was quite blood-curdling,” past examples showed that the longtime Libyan leader was “very careful” to avoid civilian casualties.

In one instance, Joffé noted, “rather than trying to remove threats to the regime in the east, in Cyrenaica, Gaddafi spent six months trying to pacify the tribes that were located there.”

Qaddafi “would have been very careful in the actual response,” Joffé said in the report. “The fear of the massacre of civilians was vastly overstated.”

Alison Pargeter, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and specialist on Libya who was also interviewed for the investigation, agreed with Joffé. She told the committee that there was no “real evidence at that time that Gaddafi was preparing to launch a massacre against his own civilians.”

“Émigrés opposed to Muammar Gaddafi exploited unrest in Libya by overstating the threat to civilians and encouraging Western powers to intervene,” the report notes, summarizing Joffé’s analysis.

Pargeter added that Libyans who opposed the government exaggerated Qaddafi’s use of “mercenaries” — a term they often used as a synonym for Libyans of Sub-Saharan descent. Pargeter said that Libyans had told her, “The Africans are coming. They’re going to massacre us. Gaddafi’s sending Africans into the streets. They’re killing our families.”

“I think that that was very much amplified,” Pargeter said. This amplified myth led to extreme violence. Black Libyans were violently oppressed by Libyan rebels. The Associated Press reported in September 2011, “Rebel forces and armed civilians are rounding up thousands of black Libyans and migrants from sub-Sahara Africa.” It noted, “Virtually all of the detainees say they are innocent migrant workers.”

(The crimes rebels committed against black Libyans would go on to become even worse. In 2012, there were reports that black Libyans were put in cages by rebels, and forced to eat flags. As Salon has previously reported, Human Rights Watch alsowarned in 2013 of “serious and ongoing human rights violations against inhabitants of the town of Tawergha, who are widely viewed as having supported Muammar Gaddafi.” Tawergha’s inhabitants were mostly descendants of black slaves and were very poor. Human Rights Watch reported that Libyan rebels carried out “forced displacement of roughly 40,000 people, arbitrary detentions, torture, and killings are widespread, systematic, and sufficiently organized to be crimes against humanity.”)

In July 2011, State Department spokesman Mark Toner acknowledged that Qaddafi is “someone who’s given to overblown rhetoric,” but, in February, Western governments weaponized this speech.

The Foreign Affairs Committee notes in its report that, despite its lack of intelligence, “the UK Government focused exclusively on military intervention” as a solution in Libya, ignoring available forms of political engagement and diplomacy.

This is consistent with reporting by The Washington Times, which found that Qaddafi’s son Saif had hoped to negotiate a ceasefire with the U.S. government. Saif Qaddafi quietly opened up communications with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intervened and asked the Pentagon to stop talking to the Libyan government. “Secretary Clinton does not want to negotiate at all,” a U.S. intelligence official told Saif.

In March, Secretary Clinton had called Muammar Qaddafi a “creature” “who has no conscience and will threaten anyone in his way.” Clinton, who played a leading role in pushing for the NATO bombing of Libya, claimed Qaddafi would do “terrible things” if he was not stopped.

From March to October 2011, NATO carried out a bombing campaign against Libyan government forces. It claimed to be pursuing a humanitarian mission to protect civilians. In October, Qaddafi was brutally killed — sodomized with a bayonet by rebels. (Upon hearing the news of his death, Secretary Clinton announced, live on TV, “We came, we saw, he died!”)

The Foreign Affairs Committee report points out, nonetheless, that, while the NATO intervention was sold as a humanitarian mission, its ostensible goal was accomplished in just one day.

On March 20, 2011, Qaddafi’s forces retreated approximately 40 miles outside of Benghazi, after French planes attacked. “If the primary object of the coalition intervention was the urgent need to protect civilians in Benghazi, then this objective was achieved in less than 24 hours,” the report says. Yet the military intervention carried on for several more months.

The report explains “the limited intervention to protect civilians had drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change.” This view has been challenged, however, by Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Zenko used NATO’s own materials to show that “the Libyan intervention was about regime change from the very start.”

In its investigation, the Foreign Affairs Committee cites a June 2011 Amnesty International report, which noted that “much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no security challenge.”

 

 

Article originally found on Salon: http://www.salon.com/2016/09/16/u-k-parliament-report-details-how-natos-2011-war-in-libya-was-based-on-lies/#

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