Recently, officials in the US administration have been suggesting that the Libyan intervention could become a model for how the US dispenses force in the future. This war is a model of how to wage a noble, humanitarian intervention, even though President Obama had to leave the constitution behind on his march to war—by going to war without congressional approval, by invoking a War Powers Act that grants the President the authority to go to war without congress only for sixty days and then only if there is a national emergency created by an attack on the US, and then dismissing the War Powers Act after the sixty days had passed by saying it was not really a war since the defenseless victim could not seriously threaten US pilots—and even though the UN justification for force had to be so badly tortured and abused to get it to cough up an interpretation that legitimized the US and NATO answering of the call: providing arms to one side despite the UN arms embargo on both sides, as well as intelligence, advisors and, if not boots, then sneakers on the ground.
But a series of recent revelations, each disturbing enough on its own, when put together form a pattern that blows the manhole cover off the presentation of the noble, humanitarian war, revealing the sewage of the truth below.
The first are leaked US diplomatic cables originating from the embassy in Tripoli that show the US promising to arm the very same Qaddafi regime that the US was promising to disarm to protect Libyan civilians. The promises were made by John McCain and other prominent Senators, including Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham, as recently as 2009: not a different incarnation of the protean Qaddafi, this Qaddafi. At the Tripoli meeting, McCain promised to help Qaddafi obtain US military equipment, assuring him “that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its . . . security”. McCain’s assurances included saying that he understood the need for Libya to upgrade its C130 Hercules military aircraft and promising to “see what he could do to move things forward in congress” and to resolve the issue with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Libya also asked for helicopters.
As for how the US perceives Qaddafi, McCain described the US’s military relationship with Libya as “strong” and, incredibly, referred to the American training of Libyan officers: the very same officers we now had to fight in order to oust. And despite McCain, representative of the public US government voice, now calling Qaddafi a terrorist who would train and export terrorism, the cables show that “[t]he Senators expressed appreciation for Libya’s counterterrorism cooperation in the region”. Lieberman also called Libya “an important ally in the war on terrorism,” according to the cables.
What did McCain and Lieberman mean by Libya’s counterterrorism cooperation and being an important ally in the war on terrorism? That’s the second dirty revelation. Documents discovered in Tripoli as the regime withdrew covering the period of 2002 to 2007 show that there were actually very close ties between the CIA and Libyan intelligence. The documents strongly suggest that Libya was a US partner in extraordinary rendition, with the US sending suspected terrorists to Libya for questioning despite Libyan intelligence’s long time reputation for torture. In 2005, the State Department expressed its awareness that Libyan “[s]ecurity forces reportedly subjected detainees to cruel, inhumane, or degrading conditions and denied adequate medical care, which led to several deaths in custody." Despite this awareness, the New York Times reports that the documents suggest that the US rendered terror suspects to Libya, not once, but at least eight times.
In a series of communications about extraordinary rendition, there is discussion of aircrafts being sent to bring arrested terror suspects to Libya for questioning. The communications even include the questions that were supplied to Libyan intelligence to ask the suspects.
These documents show once again that we were working with Qadaffi. A Reuters report says, “It has been known that Western intelligence services began cooperating with Libya after Gaddafi abandoned his program to build unconventional weapons in 2004. But the files show cooperation with the CIA and MI-6 was more extensive than previously understood”.
So extensive was the cooperation, according to Human Rights Watch, that the CIA and MI6 actually even helped Qaddafi suppress the very same opponents who are now helping to rebel against him. The found documents reveal that Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a military commander of the rebel National Transitional Government, was captured in Thailand by the CIA, whom he says tortured him, and then rendered to Libya where he was tortured and interrogated. Though Jack Straw, British foreign secretary at the time, denies it, government sources admit that MI6’s tipping the CIA off had “ministerial approval”.
Both the potential arms sales to Libya and the actual partnership in extraordinary rendition mention Qaddafi’s abandonment of his weapons of mass destruction program as a cause. And that is the third dirty secret. It is not quite true. The truth is not only the remarkable story of Libya’s cooperating in dismantling her nuclear program, but the far more remarkable story of her agreeing to partially fabricate the nuclear program she was dismantling.
In 2003, Libya announced that she had been cooperating with the CIA and MI-6 for some time and was now prepared to get rid of her chemical and biological weapons programs: neither of which were really viable anymore anyway. In exchange for this and other acts of cooperation, sanctions would be terminated and Libya would be welcomed back into the international community.
But Britain had a better idea. Libya was proving cooperative, and Britain wanted to use that cooperation to trap nuclear arms merchant A.Q. Khan of Pakistan. Fearing regime change from the US, Qaddafi had approached Khan to secure a nuclear insurance policy. When Britain returned to full diplomatic relations with Libya after Libya turned over the Lockerbie bombing suspects, she started helping Libya win the same from the US. So the UK convinced Qaddafi to assist in the trapping of A.Q. Khan.
So British intelligence started helping Libya increase her illegal nuclear dealings with Khan in order to attain access to his network. It worked. Then, in 2003, Britain suggested the US establish relations with Libya in exchange for Libya abandoning its exaggerated and entrapping nuclear weapons program. All the parties went along, resulting in Libya winning improved relations with the US and the US getting the evidence it wanted on Khan.
Libya was, once again, working with us: if not just with the US this time, then with the UK. The weapons program Libya abandoned was, at least in part, fabricated by the West.
The fourth lie about Libya and Qaddafi shows, not only were we willing to arm him and willing to cooperate with him in torturing terror suspects, and not only was his threat as a pursuer of weapons of mass destruction exaggerated, but that, history does not even permit recourse to the central claim that this war was a noble and humanitarian one because it was undertaken out of a care and concern to stop Qaddafi from killing civilians.
American David Crane, chief prosecutor of the international tribunal on Sierra Leone, says that the case against former president Charles Taylor is incomplete because the prosecution wanted to charge Qaddafi as being “ultimately responsible for the mutilation, maiming and/or murder of 1.2 million people”. Noam Chomsky says that the charges against Qaddafi never materialized because the US and UK blocked them. Crane has said, “It was my political sense, dealing with senior leadership in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, United Nations, and the Netherlands, that this would not be welcome.” Crane says that he believed funding for the court would have been pulled if he had pursued charges against Qaddafi because of oil interests.
So unless there is a reason why we would protect Libyans from Qaddafi but not other Africans, this is not the reason we are going after him now. So little a concern was the responsibility to protect civilians from the murderous Qaddafi that the US and others went so far as to help Qaddafi by shielding him from prosecution.
The truth exposed by the blowing off of the cover by these revelations is that, far from protecting from Qaddafi, we were working with him. Working with him by promising not to disarm, but to further arm him. Working with him by deep intelligence cooperation, including extraordinary rendition with a partner known to torture to the point of death. Working with him in the appearance of a surrendering of nuclear weapons, allowing the Americans to claim a successful consequence of the war in Iraq and the British to close in on A.Q. Khan. And working with him by, not protecting civilians, but enabling him to maim or murder over a million civilians by protecting him from persecution.
So much for the model of future US exportation of force.