Following Gaddafi’s murder and the fall of Sirte this appears to be a good moment to sum up what has happened over the course of the Libyan conflict.  As I shall show in this post this has been a very disturbing affair.  It seems to me that the best way to do this is to give a narrative account of the conflict from its inception to its (apparent) end. 

1. An uprising began against the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi in the eastern Libyan province of Cyrenaica on 17th February 2011. A report by the International Crisis Group has confirmed that contrary to reports that appeared in the western press this uprising was not peaceful but was a violent insurrection from the start.  It is now also clear that this uprising was heavily infiltrated and may even have been led by Islamic groups some of which had and which possibly still have links to Al Qaeda. 

2. The uprising in Cyrenaica culminated in a violent attack on the main military barracks in Benghazi, the capital of Cyrenaica, which was stormed with the loss of perhaps a hundred lives.  Elsewhere across Cyrenaica most of the towns and villages quickly fell under rebel control.  Analysis of the protests by the International Crisis Group suggests that the number of rebels and the size of the protests was small and that the success of the rebellion in Cyrenaica hinged on the defection to the rebels of local military commanders and their troops.  That most did defect together with their troops as well as the suspiciously sudden appearance of monarchist flags suggests that the uprising was not spontaineous but planned and that contacts between the rebels and the local commanders must have been underway for some time.

3. The rebellion was not confined to Cyreinaica but its success elsewhere was limited.  The important coastal city of Misurata also rebelled whilst in the capital Tripoli the rebels staged a successful attack on the Libyan parliament building (which was burnt down), preventing the holding of a session of the Libyan parliament called by Gaddafi to discuss the uprising.  

4. Despite these rebel successes overall apart from Cyrenaica and Misurata the rebellion was a failure.  In Tripoli and in the western province of Tripolitania where the bulk of the Libyan population lives as well as in the southern province of Fazzan Gaddafi successfully rallied his supporters and regained control.  The rebels in Tripoli who attacked the parliament building were driven back and seem to have fled to the Berber town of Zuwiyah to the south west.  This they briefly captured but quickly lost as a result of a counter attack by Gaddafi’s troops. 

5. With the bulk of the army remaining loyal to Gaddafi and with solid support for Gaddafi in Tripoli and in the southern and western regions of Libya, Gaddafi was left at the end of February in control of over 70% of Libya’s population as well as most of its economic resources and oil wealth.  With the army units that had gone over to the rebels in the east unwilling to fight it is a certainty that the rebellions in Misurata and Cyrenaica would have been quickly suppressed if matters had been left to take their course.  Indeed in March counter offensives by Gaddafi’s troops came close to reconquering both Misurata and Cyrenaica and were as I have said successful in recapturing Zuwiyah.. 

6. Matters were not left to take their course.  From the outset of the rebellion the  British government made clear its support for the rebels.  William Hague, the British Foreign Minister, made public a false claim that Gaddafi had fled the country and was in Venezuela.  This claim, which was apparently made on the basis of no actual information, was surely made not out of ignorance or incompetence but in order to demoralise Gaddafi’s supporters.  The British press reported secret contacts between the British government and members of Gaddafi’s government with the British allegedly trying to persuade these persons to defect and join the rebels.  Several did in fact defect and join the rebels including the country’s Foreign and Interior Ministers, Libya’s Ambassador to the United Nations and various other senior officials and diplomats of the Libyan government.  In the end though these defections failed to undermine the Libyan government or precipitate its collapse. 

7. The British and other western governments including in particular those of the US and France also made repeated statements to the effect that Gaddafi had somehow forfeited his legitimacy and was no longer Libya’s legitimate ruler.  These statements were soon taken up and repeated by amongst others the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon though they have no legal basis with the governments and persons making these statements having no right to make them.  International law does not give foreign governments or persons the right to pronounce on the legitimacy or otherwise of the government of a particular country.  This is a matter solely for the people of that country.

8. Last but not least at the end of February came conclusive evidence of the presence of British troops in Libya supporting the rebels when local people south of Benghazi rounded up a group of SAS soldiers.  The British government has never provided a satisfactory explanation for the presence of these soldiers.  In fact as has subsequently become clear the SAS has been present in Libya throughout the conflict.  

9. These actions of the British government went hand in hand with a ferocious campaign against Gaddafi in the British press.  This was quickly taken up by the western press as a whole and also by certain sections of the Arab press namely the Qatari and Saudi owned television stations Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.  This campaign basically amounted to the uncritical reproduction often with a measure of further elaboration of unsupported stories that subsequent investigation by amongst others the International Crisis Group show originated with the Libyan opposition.  These included claims that Gaddafi’s troops had fired on peaceful protesters with heavy calibre machine guns, that governnment snipers had shot at mourners participating in funeral processions for murdered protesters, that the Libyan airforce had bombed residential districts with jet aircraft, that helicopter gunships had been deployed and had fired upon demonstrators and that Gaddafi’s army consisted largely or even entirely of African mercenaries.  At a later stage of the conflict further claims were made that Gaddafi had incited his troops to carry out rapes and had distributed viagra tablets for this purpose and that cluster munitions had been fired into residential districts of the rebel held city of Misurata.

10. By the end of February the British government and the British press were reporting a death toll in Libya running into thousands.  The United Nations Commission for Human Rights gave support to these claims.  The alleged death toll was in fact so high that for a time there was serious talk of genocide charges being brought against Gaddafi. 

11. Subsequent investigations on the ground in Libya by the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have established that none of these claims were true.  None of the newspapers or media outlets that made these claims has however admitted this fact or has retracted these claims and nor has the fact that these claims have been discredited been admitted by the western governments that based their actions on them .  Nor has the fact that these claims have been proved to be untrue been given anywhere near the same amount of publicity as were the claims themselves when they were originally made.  Indeed in the immediate aftermath of Gaddafi’s death many of the claims were repeated at least by the British press with no acknowledgement or recognition that they have been proved to be untrue. The result is that though the claims have been shown to be untrue they continue to inform most people’s perception of the Libyan conflict and they continue to colour much of the coverage of the Libyan conflict.

12. At this point I wish to make a specific observation about one aspect of the media coverage of the Libyan conflict that has especially troubled me.  The investigations carried out by the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have shown that the number of casualties in the original uprising in Benghazi on 17th February 2011 was not the hundreds or thousands claimed at the time but was approximately one hundred.  I clearly recall that this was the same number given by Gaddafi’s son Saif in a television speech he made on 20th February 2011.   I have tried to confirm this by checking this speech on the internet.  Every single copy of the speech I have found including several which purport to give the complete text delete the relevant sentence.  Unless my memory of Saif’s speech is completely wrong (which I do not believe) this means (1) that the most accurate information provided at the time about the events in Benghazi was the one given by Gaddafi’s government and (2) that someone has systematically gone through and edited all the versions of Saif’s speech readily available on the internet in order to suppress this fact.  

13.  This is not the first time I have noticed signs of such tampering.  In George Orwell’s 1984 historic texts are routinely “corrected” to make them conform to the political needs of the moment.  It is disturbing to find evidence that this sinister practice is now actually taking place.

14. The press campaign against Gaddafi was accompanied by a mass evacuation of westerners from Libya.  It has subsequently become known that several western governments including especially the US government were concerned that the Libyan government would try to prevent this evacuation and would seek to hold these westerners hostage.  Nothing of the sort in fact happened.  Not only were western nationals able to leave Libya but western journalists were able to stay and report from Libya throughout the conflict.

15. As it became increasingly clear that the rebellion had no prospect of success without external intervention a campaign for such intervention by the western powers took shape.  Disproportionate stress was given to a single passage in a long speech of Gaddafi’s in which he promised that his troops would clear the rebels from Benghazi if necessary house by house.  This was misrepresented as a threat to carry out a general massacre in Benghazi.  In fact Gaddafi made no such threat.  On the contrary he went out of his way in the same speech to reassure the people of Benghazi that they had nothing to fear from his troops or from him.  By this time Gaddafi’s troops had already recaptured several rebel towns including Zuwiyah and had not carried out any massacres so grounds to suppose that a massacre in Benghazi was being threatened or would take place in the event of its fall did not exist.

16. With the press campaign by now in full flood the western powers presented the UN Security Council with a draft Resolution prepared by the British government.  This was unanimously supported by all the members of the Security Council and was passed as Resolution 1970.  The Resolution placed all the blame for the conflict in Libya squarely on the Gaddafi government, repeated many of the claims of atrocities supposedly perpetrated by the Gaddafi government that have since been discredited and imposed on Libya an arms embargo and a ban on flights including commercial flights.  Resolution 1970 also forbade the deployment of foreign mercenaries in Libya and instructed UN member states to take action to prevent their citizens from serving in Libya as mercenaries.  Lastly Resolution 1970 also referred Gaddafi, several of his sons and various other members of his government to the International Criminal Court, imposed travel bans upon them and ordered seizure of their assets.

17. Disgracefully, though Libya is a member state of the United Nations, its government was prevented from attending or participating in the meeting of the Security Council at which Resolution 1970 was passed.  Gaddafi’s government did attempt to send a representative but in an extraordinary abuse of its position as the host state of the United Nations the United States prevented this person from attending the meeting by denying him a visa.  In place of this representative Libya was “represented” by its former ambassador who had in the meantime defected to the rebels and who could be relied upon to speak in favour of a Resolution imposing sanctions upon his own country.  I believe I am right in saying that this is the first time since the United Nations was created that the United States has abused its position in this way.  It is a disturbing precedent with ominous implications for the future.

18. Though all the members of the Security Council voted for Resolution 1970 the speeches of the ambassadors of several member states show that they did so with some unease.  The Indian ambassador made clear his unhappiness at the way in which Resolution 1970 had been pushed through before the Security Council had been provided with all the facts.  News from Libya was at this time however dominated by the atrocity stories in the western press, which appeared to suggest that a massacre was imminent and with no alternative source of information no state represented on the Security Council was prepared to oppose a Resolution that appeared to be the one thing that stood in the way of such a massacre.  

19. Resolution 1970 did not change the situation on the ground in Libya where Gaddafi’s army continued its advance on Cyrenaica and its siege of Misurata.  With a succession of rebel towns falling to Gaddafi’s troops demands began in the west for a further stronger Resolution imposing a no fly zone.  These demands were given further impetus following a decision of the International Criminal Court after what can only have been at best a cursory investigation to indict Gaddafi and several of his sons and officials for war crimes and human rights abuses.

20. Demands for a further Resolution intensified following what has been represented as a decision by the Arab League to demand a no fly zone purportedly to protect the civilian population in the rebel held towns from Gaddafi’s troops.  In reality the meeting of the Arab League that issued this call was one attended by only a small caucus of Arab states consisting mainly of the various Gulf monarchies headed by Saudi Arabia, a country with a long history of antagonism towards Gaddafi.  Nonetheless the fact that the Arab League, one of the two regional organisations to which Libya belonged, appeared to be calling for military intervention to “protect the civilians” in Libya was seized on in the west by the advocates of such intervention.  The fact that the other regional organisation of which Libya is a member, the African Union, strongly opposed such intervention, was completely ignored.

21. When the Security Council therefore met again it did so in an atmosphere of tension and crisis.  The countries that might normally be expected to resist demands for intervention, the BRICS states, found themselves confronted by a draft Resolution authorising such intervention drawn up by Britain and France with the participation of  the US, which also however appeared to enjoy the support of the Arab League.  As on the previous occasion the country that was to be the subject of the Resolution, Libya, was not represented at the meeting.  On this occasion the US did not need to deny its representative a visa since the flight ban imposed on Libya by Resolution 1970 made it physically impossible for him to attend. 

22. An account of the meeting has been provided by the Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin.  He has described a chaotic meeting in which changes were made to the text of the Resolution right up to the moment it was put to the vote in breach of the Security Council’s procedures and in a manner that was apparently designed to prevent proper discussion.  The final draft continued to place all the blame for the conflict on Gaddafi.  It reaffirmed the arms embargo, travel ban, flight ban, seizure of assets and ban on the use of mercenaries set out in Resolution 1970.  It added a no fly zone and a provision that allowed members of the Security Council to use “all necessary means” to protect civilians. It specifically ruled out “an occupying force” from any part of Libyan territory. It also called for a ceasefire and for negotiations between the parties to be brokered by a special mediator appointed by the UN Secretary General, which would lead to a settlement.

23. The summary of the discussion of the Resolution in the Security Council that has been published on the UN’s website shows the deep unease felt by several of the delegations at the wide scope of the Resolution.  None of the states represented on the Security Council were however in the end prepared to vote against it.  Of the BRICS states Brazil, Russia, India and China abstained as did Germany.  South Africa voted for the Resolution on the instructions of its President, Jacob Zuma, who had been persuaded to support it by none other than President Obama himself.  The failure of Russia and South Africa to vote against the Resolution caused controversy in these two countries and triggered minor political crises.  The Presidents of these countries, Dimitri Medvedev and Jacob Zuma, have explained their decision by saying they were moved by worries that their countries might have been exposed to criticism if Benghazi had fallen and the massacre that had supposedly been threatened had actually taken place. 

24. This Resolution, known as Resolution 1973, provided the western powers with what they say is their mandate for the war they have subsequently waged against Gaddafi and his government.

25. As was pointed out at the time Resolutions 1970 and 1973 are a further disturbing development.  It is a fundamental principle of the UN System that member states are sovereign over their own internal affairs.  This builds on the previously established law of nations that countries do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and do not take sides or interfere in their civil wars.  Over time this principle has been modified to permit intervention in exceptional circumstances such as where genocide is taking place or is beiing threatened.  These exceptions are however hedged around with safeguards and procedures all of which were completely disregarded in this case.  As a matter of fact we now know as a result of the investigations carried out by the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that the situation in Libya was not in fact of the sort as would justify intervention in accordance with these exceptions.  

26. Despite the fact that the situation in Libya was not such as to justify outside intervention in its conflict that is precisely what Resolutions 1970 and 1973 in practice made possible.  The Security Council passed these Resolutions in breach of its own procedures and of standard diplomatic practice on the basis of information that has now been shown to have been false and without giving the country that was the object of these Resolutions an opportunity to state its case.  This happened because a small number of powerful states on the Security Council were able to abuse the monopoly the western media still has over information in order to blackmail the rest.  There is moreover no doubt that this was done in pursuit of a straightforward agenda of regime change even though this was not actually authorised by the Resolutions. 

27. That this is so is shown by the failure of the western powers to propose to the Security Council the kind of Resolution that would in fact have been best calculated to protect civilians had that actually been the intention and had they actually been in danger.  This would have been a Resolution that ordered both sides to observe an immediate ceasefire whilst authorising the deployment of a peacekeeping force to the two threatened cities of Misurata and Benghazi.  There are numerous precedents for such Resolutions and there is no doubt that had such a Resolution been proposed it would have been unanimously carried.  There is also no doubt that a peacekeeping force could have been assembled and deployed quickly (most probably from the African Union states) and that Gaddafi would have complied with such a Resolution and would have agreed to the deployment of such a force.  He had in fact already said as much and he was to go on saying it throughout the remainder of the conflict.

28. Notwithstanding these major deficiencies in Resolutions 1970 and 1973 it is important to stress that they did not authorise regime change and that they limited the use of military action to the protection of civilians.  As a matter of fact the only form of military action expressly authorised by Resolution 1973 was a no fly zone.  The Resolutions certainly did not authorise an unrestricted bombing campaign in support of one side in a civil war or the use of force to assist in the violent overthrow of Gaddafi or his government.  They also expressly forbade the deployment of foreign troops or mercenaries in Libya and imposed an embargo on arms supplies that the Resolutions expressly said applied both to the Libyan government and to the rebels.  Lastly they also called for a ceasefire and for negotiations leading to a political settlement.

29. In the event and entirely predictably, having bullied and blackmailed the Security Council into passing the Resolution against the better judgement of several of its members, the western powers treated Resolution 1973 as giving them licence to wage what was in effect an unrestricted war against the Libyan government.  That the western powers always intended to use Resolution 1973 in this way became immediately clear  when a Libyan military unit was attacked by French aircraft outside Benghazi the day after Resolution 1973 was passed. The unit was attacked when it was actually retreating from Benghazi and posed no threat to the civilians the Resolution was intended to protect.  It was attacked anyway and it seems most of the soldiers who belonged to it were killed.

30. The western powers subsequently dispelled any possible doubt about their intentions by issuing a joint statement signed by the US and French Presidents and by the British Prime Minister.  This openly said that the objective was the overthrow of Gaddafi.  All the steps taken thereafter by the western powers during the conflict have been directed to achieving this goal even though it is not the goal that appears in Resolution 1973.

31. To that end the western powers conducted an extensive bombing campaign over the next few months whose scope went far beyond the protection of civilians.  Repeated efforts were made to kill Gaddafi failing to kill him but killing several members of his family including some of his children.  Libyan military formations were bombed even when they were on the defensive for example in the town of Adjabiya or in Sirte.  Libya’s civilian infrastructure, including its radio and television stations and its water supply projects (the so called “Great Man Made River”), were repeatedly attacked causing extensive damage.  Western aircraft also provided close ground support to rebel units in the battles of Adjabiya and Misurata and in the attacks on Tripoli and Sirte acting in effect as the rebels’ airforce.  In keeping with what has become usual western practice the western powers refused to keep or publish a count for the number of civilians the bombing campaign killed.  Conservative estimates put this in the hundreds and probably thousands.

32. When it became clear that the bombing campaign by itself would not suffice to overthrow Gaddafi the western powers stepped up arms supplies to the rebels and introduced increasing numbers of Special Forces troops into the country.  As the discovery of a British SAS unit south of Benghazi at the end of February shows British SAS troops had in fact been in Libya from the start and were almost certainly in the country at the time Resolutions 1970 and 1973 were passed.  Resolutions 1970 and 1973 expressly prohibit arms supplies to either party in the conflict and also expressly prohibit the introduction of foreign troops into the country.  Both Resolutions were largely drafted by British diplomats acting on instructions from the British government.  If as seems likely British SAS troops were in Libya when these Resolutions were passed then British diplomats drafted Resolutions that prohibited activities the British government was already secretly engaged in.

33. Western governments have never formally admitted the presence of their troops in Libya though the presence of these troops has been observed by western journalists working in the country.  Informally western governments have sought to explain away the presence of these troops with a number of arguments as follows:

(1) that the Resolutions do not prohibit the presence of foreign troops but only the presence of “an occupation force”;

(2) that the troops were not engaged in actual combat but were merely advisers and/or were merely providing targeting information to aircraft engaged in the bombing campaign;

(3) that many or even most of the troops were not serving soldiers but were civilian contractors some of whom had previously served in the military.

34. None of these arguments stands up:

(1) International law defines “an occupation force” as a foreign military force that enters a country without the consent of its government.  The troops the western powers sent to Libya did not enter that country with the consent of the Libyan government.  On the contrary they were waging war against it.  The western powers have tried to get round this by claiming that Gaddafi’s regime had ceased to be Libya’s “legitimate” government.  As I have said earlier in this post it is not for western governments to decide whether Libya’s government is legitimate or not.  Anyway Resolutions 1970 and 1973 refer to Gaddafi’s regime as Libya’s government as shown by the fact that both Resolutions refer to Libya by the name Gaddafi gave it, which is the “Libyan People Jamahariya”;

(2) Resolutions 1970 and 1973 prohibit the presence of foreign troops in Libya regardless of whether or not these troops engage in combat operations.  Even if it could definitely be shown that western troops present in Libya have not engaged in combat operations their presence would still be illegal.  In reality it is ridiculous to pretend that activities such as providing military advice to armed rebels aiming to overthrow Libya’s government and providing targeting information to aircraft engaged in a bombing campaign do not amount to combat operations;

(3) if the troops in questions are civilian contractors rather than serving soldiers that makes them mercenaries whose presence in Libya is also expressly prohibited by the two Resolutions.   

35. Whilst the western powers pursued their military campaign they also placed Libya under naval blockade tightening the economic stranglehold on the country.  Libya’s foreign currency reserves held before the outbreak of the conflict in western banks had already been seized by western governments.  Gaddafi’s government appears to have put aside substantial stocks of food and fuel but over time as these ran out the civilian population especially in Tripoli began to suffer increasing hardship. 

36. None of these actions was authorised by Resolutions 1970 and 1973.  The supply of weapons to the rebels and the introduction of foreign troops into Libya were  expressly prohibited by the Resolutions.  Resolutions 1970 and 1973 were supposedly intended to protect Libya’s civilians.  The bombing campaign killed many Libyan civilians whilst the destruction of Libya’s infrastructure and the blockade imposed on the country made life harder for the others.

37. The western powers justify their actions by claiming that the words in Resolution 1973 “all necessary means” permit actions which the Resolutions otherwise either prohibit or do not authorise.  As I explained in an earlier post this argument is absurd.  One part of a Resolution does not invalidate another part.  Both Resolutions expressly say that the Security Council remains “seized of the manner”, which means that it is for the Security Council and not the western powers to decide such questions as what means are “necessary” or not.

38. At the same time that the western powers were actively breaching Resolutions 1970 and 1973 Gaddafi appeared to be doing his best to comply with them.  From an early stage in the conflict Gaddafi and his regime made overtures to the rebels.  As early as 20th February 2011 Gaddafi’s son Saif in his television address offered talks aimed at a new constitution.  The session of the Libyan parliament that Gaddafi tried to call on 21st February 2011 and which was prevented by the rebel attack on the parliament building was supposed to provide the framework for such talks.  Shortly after in another conciliatory gesture Gaddafi sent a convoy with food and other supplies to Benghazi, which was by then under rebel control.  After Resolution 1973 was passed Gaddafi through his foreign minister (who subsequently defected) accepted the ceasefire and withdrew the military unit that had reached Benghazi.  This was the same unit that was attacked and destroyed by French aircraft whilst engaged in this retreat.  Thereafter Gaddafi repeatedly offered talks with the rebels and accepted a peace proposal by the African Union for a ceasefire and negotiations leading to a political settlement.

39. All these offers for a ceasefire and negotiations were rejected by the rebels and by the western powers who continued to insist that Gaddafi’s departure was a precondition for any talks.  Western spokesmen and commentators have questioned Gaddafi’s sincerity in making these offers.  Whether Gaddafi was sincere or not in making these offers by making the offers he complied with Resolution 1973.  Resolution 1973 provides no basis for refusing such offers on the grounds that it might be breached at some future time.  As for making Gaddafi’s departure a precondition for the talks the International Crisis Group has pointed out that it is absurd to set as a precondition the outcome the talks are supposed to achieve.  Resolution 1973 anyway does not impose preconditions for the talks other than a ceasefire.

40. The western powers justify this hardline by claiming that they would have been unable to guarantee the safety of Libyan civilians whilst Gaddafi was still in Libya and remained free.  Supposedly Libyan civilians would always have been in danger from Gaddafi so long as he was in Libya and remained free.  This would apparently have been the case even if a ceasefire was in existence and talks were underway. This argument elevates the supposed threat from Gaddafi to superhuman and even mythic levels.  It is a bizarre endorsement of the personality cult he had previously created around himself.

41. The end of Gaddafi’s regime came at the end of August 2011 when Tripoli was stormed by a rebel Berber force operating from the Nafusa mountains to the west.  The French government has openly admitted that it provided arms supplies to these rebels and it has been informally admitted that this force was assembled in Tunisia and was “advised” (or commanded) by western Special Forces.  It seems that these Special Forces (mainly British and French) actually took part in the fighting.  The attack on Tripoli was apparently planned at NATO headquarters and was given the codename “Operation Mermaid Dawn”.

42. The capture of Tripoli did not lead to the end of the war.  Gaddafi and some of his followers including his sons Mutaizzim and Saif escaped to Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte.  There they fought their last stand.  Over the next few weeks Sirte was heavily bombed by western aircraft and placed under siege by rebel troops who were again “advised” by western Special Forces in this case mainly British.  Recent pictures show that by the end of this fighting Sirte had become a devastated city and reports by Human Rights Watch speak of mass reprisals and murders carried out by the rebels against Gaddafi’s followers.  The fighting in Sirte eventually ended on 20th October 2011 when the city finally fell and Gaddafi and his son Mutaizzim were captured.  As I have discussed in two previous posts both Gaddafi and Mutaizzim were then murdered in Gaddafi’s case after lengthy and brutal torture carried out in public by his captors.  Since I wrote my posts it seems that more film has appeared, which shows that Gaddafi was sodomised with a knife before he was killed.

The above is a factual account of the Libyan war.  Describing the war in this way exposes it for what it was.  Taking advantage of an internal conflict western governments have committed a cynical act of aggression against a small country of 6 million people with the intention of overthrowing its government.  In the process they have broken almost every principle of international law they claim to uphold.  They have repeatedly falsified facts and have done everything in their power to prevent a peaceful settlement of the conflict.  Their aggression, justified by the need to prevent a massacre in Benghazi, which was never threatened, has ended with a massacre in Sirte.  Libya’s infrastructure has been devastated and thousands of people have been killed.  No one knows the true number and the figure of 30,000 (22,000  after the start of the bombing) that has been cited seems to be no more than a guess.  What we do know is that as of the time of writing of this post and two months after the fall of Tripoli the city remains without fresh water and has only sporadic electricity supplies.  Such systems of administration as the country once had have collapsed.  Libya’s cities and regions are controlled by rival armed rebel factions, who appear to be in bitter dispute with each other, and who have so far failed to agree on a government.

Whatever Gaddafi’s previous record at the time the war was launched he had mended his fences with his neighbours and with the west.  So far from posing a threat to international security Gaddafi had made a sustained effort to reintegrate Libya in the international community and had opened its economy to outside investment.  To their intense embarrassment many of the western politicians who were at the forefront of the war against him such as Senator McCain of the United States and President Sarkozy of France had gone out of their way to make friends with him.  As Gaddafi’s son Saif pointed out in his broadcast of 20th February 2011 at the time the war broke out the Libyan economy was set to benefit from a $200 billion investment programme, which would have completely transformed such a small country.  All this is now obviously in jeopardy.  Whilst everyone must sincerely hope that Libya under a new government will recover and that the Libyan people will achieve the security and prosperity they have been promised, in the event that this does not happen there should be no doubt that the responsibility will lie with the western powers who have waged a war of aggression against a small country that was no threat to them and with which they were at peace.  Beyond this the damage done to the fabric of international law and of international trust by western conduct has been immeasurable and because of the cynical misuse of a mandate provided by the United Nations may actually turn out to be greater than that done by the Iraq war.



  1. Thank you. Could you expand on point 13: have you ever noticed such deletions from the internet in any other actual cases? Could you also, in another post, give your analysis as to the motivations of the Western powers in behaving as they did, having behaved so recently towards Gadaffi as they had?

  2. On point 13 I will give an example. In 1986 Mikhail Gorbachev made a speech in which he referred to Afghanistan as a “bleeding wound”. My clear recollection of this speech is that the comment was made in the context of a strong attack on US policy towards Afghanistan and was intended to refer to the suffering caused to the Afghan people by this policy. Examples of this speech I have found on the internet have altered the meaning of these words to convey the false impression that Gorbachev was talking of the losses suffered in Afghanistan by the Soviet army. Another example is one that I think we have previously discussed and is a talk Rowan Williams the Archbishop of Canterbury gave to Radio 4 at the time of the Beslan massacre. As I very clearly remember he condemned the massacre in extremely strong terms and expressed special horror that its perpetrators had targeted children. When I have tried to look up these comments I have found only a pale reflection of what Rowan Williams said with the force of his condemnation edited out.

    Having said this, the amendment of the speech of Saif Al Gaddafi is far and away the most substantial and thorough example of such editing I have encountered up to now. It is possible to find complete copies of Gorbachev’s speech whilst Rowan Williams’s comments are distorted through inaccurate summaries rather by changing the words he used. By contrast I have spent a whole day trawling through the internet locating copies of Saif Al Gaddafi’s speech. Not one has the words I remember.

    I watched the entire speech on the BBC website on the day Saif Al Gaddafi delivered it. Immediately after I commented about it in an email. I distinctly recall Saif Al Gaddafi’s expression and the gestures he made when he discussed the number of casualties in Benghazi. I also clearly remember him saying that he was giving the true number, and that this was significantly lower than the number quoted by western news agencies. The fact that I cannot find these comments anywhere must mean not only that they have been deliberately deleted but that this has been done in a systematic way and on a scale that requires a very level of political power and influence, very substantial resources and a very high degree of planning and organisation.

    I shall write about the west’s motives in attacking Libya in a later post

  3. To anyone now reading this post,an Oxford Academic who is an Arabist and who unlike me speaks Arabic has tried to find for me a complete and unedited Arabic version of Saif’s speech on the internet but has been unable to do so and has spoken of the difficulty of finding even edited versions of it.

    Doubtless complete versions of Saif’s speech can be found somewhere. Possibly we shall learn about them at his trial though like the ongoing trials of Karadic and Mladic at the Hague I doubt that the details of this trial (if it takes place) will be extensively reported.

  4. On the wider subject of the alteration of historic documents on the internet, I would say that I recently came across what appeared to be an academic study of the Soviet Afghan war of the 1980s obviously written in the US that was littered with extensive quotations of Soviet military and political officials. This study, which had all the external apparatus of scholarship including references and footnotes, took a strong neo conservative line in its treatment of the war, which it basically described as a debacle for the Soviet army. The supposed quotations supported this line. I am fairly sure I have read the same quotations in articles that have appeared in the British press about the Soviet Afghan war of the 1980s. I am fairly sure that their origin is this same study. Oddly enough the quotations tend to get cited in articles by anti war British journalists who cite them as “proof” for a general proposition that wars in Afghanistan are supposedly unwinnable.

    I have my doubts about many or even most of these quotations, which I suspect are inventions. There is in fact a long history in the west of inventing supposed quotations or documents attributed to Russian political and military leaders, which are then used to propagandise Russophobic claims. The most notorious example is the so called Testament of Peter the Great, which was fabricated by the French Foreign Ministry in the eighteenth century but which was still being quoted as an authentic document as recently as the 1980s. Another example is the so called Ten Commandments of Nikolai Lenin, quoted in a speech by Ronald Reagan when President in the 1980s but actually a Nazi forgery from the 1940s. Yet another example is a speech supposedly delivered by Stalin to the Politburo in the summer of 1939 in which Stalin explained the rationale of the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact intended to play Germany and the west off against each as part of a masterplan to achieve Soviet domination of Europe. This speech, which first appeared in a French newspaper in December 1939, has long been shown to be a fabrication but I found it included in a book of important twentieth century speeches published only last year. Recently I read a book about the Crimean War of the 1850s by Orlando Figes, which showed that a widely circulated pamphlet written in Britain before that war and supposedly exposing Russia’s plans on the basis of Russian documents allegedly found by Polish rebels in the Russian Vice Regal Palace in Warsaw, was also largely based on documents that had been fabricated in this case almost certainly by the author.

    I do not know for certain that the quotations of the Soviet politicians and officers in the study about the Soviet Afghan war of the 1980s are definitely false but they do not feel right to me. Recently I read a genuinely scholarly account of that war by the former British Ambassador Sir Rodric Braithwaite who unlike me not only speaks Russian but who has access to the relevant archives and has even conducted interviews with many of the people involved. Importantly none of the quotations that have caused me concern appear in this study even though there is a sentence in this study which suggests to me that Braithwaite is aware of them. Significantly this same sentence suggests to me at least that like me Braithwaite has doubts about them.

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