Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

NATO in the Dock on Libya Bombing

by VIJAY PRASHAD

On May 14, 2012, Human Rights Watch released an important report, Unacknowledged Deaths: Civilian Casualties in NATO’s Air Campaign in Libya. The 82-page report reveals conclusively that some of NATO’s ten thousand sorties flown over Libya resulted in the deaths of at least seventy-two civilians, including twenty-four children. These are not large numbers, largely because HRW’s analysis is based on the most obvious cases and because its work was not assisted by an investigation of NATO’s own paperwork. HRW did not conduct a comprehensive investigation. That was not possible. Its investigators went to eight sites of NATO air strikes and found here that NATO’s bombs had indeed killed civilians. The findings, then, are not comprehensive. They are illustrative.

The HRW report begins with some fairly plain sentences, “International humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war, requires that all attacks be directed at military targets. Civilians are immune from deliberate attack. While not all civilian casualties indicate a violation of the laws of war, attacks cannot be indiscriminate or cause disproportionate civilian loss.” The pointed statement is the second one, namely that “civilians are immune from deliberate attack.” Absent an investigation of NATO’s own materials, it would be impossible to prove that these attacks were deliberate. NATO claims, as we shall see, that it is not capable of killing civilians deliberately. If there were civilian casualties, NATO contends, these are either by “weapons system failure” or by the accidents of war. No deliberate intent can be proven, so no blame lies with NATO.

What Human Rights Watch found is consistent with other reports, notably a January 2012 report by independent Arab human rights groups, Amnesty International, the
Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, and most importantly the Commission of Inquiry appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (March 2, 2012). All find evidence of civilian casualties, with a whiff of war crimes at the margins of these reports. They are too careful to make any rash claims, but it is hard to ignore that this is the implication.

NATO has refused to cooperate with any of these inquiries. To the UN, NATO’s legal advisor Peter Olson wrote that “NATO incidents,” as he called them, are not crimes; “We would accordingly request,” he concluded in his letter from February 15, 2012, “that, in the event that the commission elects to include a discussion of NATO actions in Libya, its report clearly state that NATO did not deliberately target civilians and did not commit war crimes in Libya.” When HRW approached NATO for its cooperation, NATO replied on March 1, the day before the UN report was released. NATO pointed out that it had already helped the UN Commission, and so HRW could simply see that report. Richard Froh, Deputy Secretary General of Operations for NATO, wrote to HRW, “We encourage you to consider these comments [in the UN report] when drafting your own report.” But NATO did not cooperate with the UN’s commission. It was a brush off.

NATO has said that it has conducted its own internal review. It has not made this review public. When the UN Commission and HRW asked NATO for specific details and not just its boilerplate target selection criteria, NATO has not done so. NATO has not sent its investigators to the ground for its internal lesson learned report. The entire exercise seems like a whitewash.

When asked if it will do a more through investigation, NATO claims that it has no mandate to do so. If the Libyan government asks for such an assessment, NATO claims, it would “cooperate fully.” The Libyan government has set up an inter-ministerial task force to investigate civilian deaths. Nothing has come of this task force, and as my sources in Tripoli tell me, it is likely that its members have neither met nor been briefed as to their terms of reference. Given the turmoil in Tripoli, as I show in my Libyan Diary in the current subscriber-only edition of Counterpunch newsletter, it is understandable that this task force has done little. When rebels storm the prime minister’s office as they did on May 7, it is unlikely that a forensic analysis of civilian deaths is on the forefront of the minds of this beleaguered government.

Human Rights Watch concludes of this official Libyan government task force, “Given that NATO played a critical role in the defeat of the Gaddafi government, however, the task force is likely to avoid serious criticism of NATO’s air campaign.” David Mepham, the UK director of Human Rights Watch, suggested, “NATO’s claim that it cannot investigate civilian casualties because it has no mandate to be in Libya is feeble and disingenuous. If Human Rights Watch can visit each of the sites – to inspect weapons debris, interview witnesses and examine medical records and deaths certificates, alongside reviewing satellite imagery and photographic evidence – NATO should certainly ask the Libyans for access to the sites to do the same. It has not done so.” And it seems unwilling to do so.

Human Rights Watch asks that NATO pay compensation to the families who have lost loved ones. That is certainly a just call. But it is insufficient. NATO acts with impunity, promoting the preposterous notion that it is not in its DNA to conduct atrocities. Such pretense is dangerous. It gives the armies of the West license to act as do the helicopter pilots who killed twelve civilians (including Reuters correspondents Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen) in Baghdad on July 12, 2007, or troopers from 2010 who posed for their “atrocity photos” in Afghanistan. Drones and night-raids, depleted uranium bunker buster bombs and water boarding: these are pendants of brutality. There is no limit to them if one assumes that one is not capable of being barbaric. Absent a proper investigation of NATO’s war making this kind of warfare will be considered to be acceptable.

The scandal here is that NATO, a military alliance, refuses any civilian oversight of its actions. It operated under a UN mandate (Security Council Resolution 1973) and yet refuses to allow a UN evaluation of its actions. NATO, in other words, operates as a rogue military entity, outside the bounds of the censures and sanctions of democratic society. It is precisely because NATO refuses an evaluation that the UN Security Council will not allow another NATO-like military intervention. The new HRW report reinforces what was raised in the UN report from March. It simply underlines the necessity of a formal and independent evaluation of NATO’s actions in Libya.

Vijay Prashad’s new book, Arab Spring, Libyan Winter , is published by AK Press. He will be one of the keynote speakers at the NATO Counter-Summit in Chicago on May 18-19.

Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015).

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyon
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
Gareth Porter
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]