What’s Really Going On in Libya?

It looks as though eastern Libya will slide into the Mediterranean under the sheer weight of western journalists assembled in Benghazi and Misrata.  A tsunami of breathless reports suggests that Misrata is enduring travails not far short of the siege of Leningrad in World War 2.  The reports have been seized on by Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy to raise the ante on Mission Odyssey Dawn. In their joint newspaper column published both sides of the Atlantic they now say that to leave Gaddafi in power would be an “unconscionable betrayal” and speak of Misrata as enduring “a medieval siege.” Not yet, surely. A medieval siege was something that usually lasted at least a year, in which the city’s inhabitants were reduced to eating rats, then each other, and the besiegers all succumbed to plague.

Maybe it will turn out that way, with reporters eying each other from a gastronomic perspective and wiring Ferran Adria, seeking recipes for preparing Haunch of Hack sous vide. “So long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds,” write the three leaders. This is not Mission Creep but, once again, Mission Leap, way beyond the UN mandate.

On closer inspection, the reports suggest something less than a medieval siege or Leningrad. Reuter’s man in Misrata could only come up with this:  “A local doctor told Al Jazeera at least eight people died and seven others were wounded in the second day of intense bombardment of Misrata, a lone rebel bastion in western Libya.” The UK Independent’s Kim Sengupta did better: “The attacks started early in the morning as the residents of this besieged and battered city were starting their hours of queuing for bread…. Even by the grim standards of Misrata, the most violent battleground of this savage civil war, what happened yesterday was a cause of deep shock….At least 16 people died, and 29 were injured, almost all of them civilians – including a mother and her two young daughters.”

It’s always a cause for dismay that any civilians die in such conflicts but again, 16 fatalities fall well short of medieval catastrophe. Sengupta noted that NATO is simultaneously bombing Tripoli, though no journalists seemed to be available to report what sort of damage or casualties had been inflicted. Meanwhile the hated leader appeared to have no qualms in touring the city in an open jeep.

It seems that the rebels might actually be under the overall supervision of the international banking industry, rather than the oil majors. On March 19 they announced the “[d]esignation of the Central Bank of Benghazi as a monetary authority competent in monetary policies in Libya and appointment of a Governor to the Central Bank of Libya, with a temporary headquarters in Benghazi.’”

CNBC senior editor John Carneyasked, “Is this the first time a revolutionary group has created a central bank while it is still in the midst of fighting the entrenched political power?  It certainly seems to indicate how extraordinarily powerful central bankers have become in our era.”

Ellen Brown, author of the terrific  Web of Debt: the Shocking Truth About Our Money System and How We Can Break Free, wrote recently about the rebels’ sophisticated financial operations in the following terms:

“According to a Russian article titled “Bombing of Lybia – Punishment for Ghaddafi for His Attempt to Refuse US Dollar,” Gadaffi made a similarly bold move: he initiated a movement to refuse the dollar and the euro, and called on Arab and African nations to use a new currency instead, the gold dinar. Gadaffi suggested establishing a united African continent, with its 200 million people using this single currency.  During the past year, the idea was approved by many Arab countries and most African countries.  The only opponents were the Republic of South Africa and the head of the League of Arab States.  The initiative was viewed negatively by the USA and the European Union, with French president Nicolas Sarkozy calling Libya a threat to the financial security of mankind; but Gaddafi was not swayed and continued his push for the creation of a united Africa.

“And that brings us back to the puzzle of the Libyan central bank.  In an article posted on the Market Oracle, Eric Encina observed: ‘One seldom mentioned fact by western politicians and media pundits: the Central Bank of Libya is 100% State Owned. . . . Currently, the Libyan government creates its own money, the Libyan Dinar, through the facilities of its own central bank. Few can argue that Libya is a sovereign nation with its own great resources, able to sustain its own economic destiny. One major problem for globalist banking cartels is that in order to do business with Libya, they must go through the Libyan Central Bank and its national currency, a place where they have absolutely zero dominion or power-broking ability.  Hence, taking down the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) may not appear in the speeches of Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy but this is certainly at the top of the globalist agenda for absorbing Libya into its hive of compliant nations.’”

I’d really like to see an objective account of Qaddafi’s allocation of oil revenues versus the US’s, in terms of social improvement.

KFF — Killed by ‘friendly fire’

The Libyan rebels are learning that ‘no-fly zone’ can translate in practice into lethal onslaughts in which Nato planes have killed or wounded their comrades. Civilians in Tripoli have also died in large numbers from aerial onslaughts by Nato planes.

There’s no evidence that the missions flown by Nato planes have been anything other than a plus for Gaddafi. As always, bombardment swiftly engenders loathing for the bombardiers. Relatives of the slain in Tripoli shake their fists at the sky; the rebels proclaim that they have been “betrayed” by their supposed protectors.

The tiny number of planes now deployed by France and Italy, after the Americans withdrew their attack aircraft and handed off the mission, displays the half-hearted nature of the intervention. (This could be the reason why the Pentagon is now saying that U.S. aircraft are again flying missions over Libya.)

As the leader of the A-10 and F-16 design teams, Pierre Sprey, points out to me, “Thirty-three French and 17 British planes is a laughably miniscule force – the inevitable consequence of designing and buying $100 million hyper-complex fighters. In October of 1935, the Italians deployed 595 airplanes to launch their gallant invasion of Ethiopia.”

The deputy commander of Nato’s operation in Libya caused further outrage among the rebels by bluffly refusing to say he was sorry for the screw-ups.

Rear Admiral Russ Harding, a British officer, said: “It would appear that two of our strikes yesterday may have resulted in [rebel] deaths. I am not apologising. The situation on the ground was and remains extremely fluid and until yesterday we did not have information that [rebel] forces are using tanks.”

It turns out that ‘friendly fire’ is one of war’s really big killers. An amazing essay on ‘friendly fire by Lt Col Michael J. Davidson ran in the Naval War College Review this last winter. Davidson was chiefly concerned with the performance (lamentable) of the military justice system in connection with episodes of friendly fire, which he defines as the accidental killing in a combat setting of one soldier by another of the same or an allied force”.

He notes that the concept of friendly fire is similar in many respects to the accidental killing of civilians, but such accidental killings appear to be treated differently and are often referred to as “civilian casualties” or by more sterile terms like “collateral damage”.

The colonel adds dryly: “Reported cases of courts-martial involving the accidental deaths of civilians are rare.” He notes: “The most famous court-martial involving an accidental attack on civilians occurred during World War II, and its fame was generated less by the nature of the alleged misconduct than by the identity of the president of the court – a movie star, Col Jimmy Stewart.”

Davidson cites some numbers which could swiftly instruct the Libyan rebels that the deaths of their comrades at the hands of Nato planes is nothing out of the ordinary: “The number of casualties [ie. killed and wounded] associated with friendly fire has often been stunning. One French general estimated that approximately 75,000 French casualties in World War I were caused by French artillery fire.

“An estimated five per cent of [US] Vietnam casualties were attributed to friendly fire. During the first Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, 23–24 per cent of US fatalities and 77 per cent of American vehicle losses were attributed to friendly fire.”

Another military military scholar, Kenneth K. Steinweg, wrote a paper, Dealing Realistically with Fratricide (Parameters, Spring 1995), estimating that 10 to 15 per cent of US casualties during the 20th century were caused by friendly fire, which equates to between 177,000 and 250,000 casualties.

Historical examples of friendly fire are so prevalent as to be characterized as normal rather than exceptional. In some cases, friendly fire was the result of inexperience and inadequate training.

For example, in 1643, during the English Civil War, poorly trained and inexperienced parliamentary infantry organised in three lines attacked a heavily fortified building held by royalist troops. Instead of the forward line firing first and then retiring to the rear to re-load while the next line in turn fired, all three fired simultaneously, effectively eliminating the front rank.

A particularly bitter case came right at the end of World War Two when RAF pilots flying Typhoons attacked four German ships in the Bay of Lubeck in the Baltic Sea, believing them to be carrying escaping SS officers.

The Typhoons sank the ships and then, under orders to spare no one, spent an hour strafing the survivors in the water, only to find later that they had machine-gunned about 10,000 Jews from the Neuengamme Camp in northern Germany.

A Medal for Shaukat

On March 11  the New York Times gave top billing to a story by Jane Perlez and Ismail Khan, headed “Pakistan Tells U.S. It Must Sharply Cut C.I.A. Activities. The second paragraph told NYT readers that “Pakistani and American officials said in interviews that the demand that the United States scale back its presence was the immediate fallout from the arrest in Pakistan of Raymond A. Davis, a C.I.A. security officer who killed two men in January during what he said was an attempt to rob him.”

The story was interesting but would have been somewhat familiar to readers of this site. Our intrepid correspondent in Lahore, Brigadier Shaukat Qadir (late of the Pakistan armed forces) had an infinitely better and more detailed story on March 22, detailing the deal struck between the top military officers of the US and Pakistan, to prompt Davis’ release.

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ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.