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How the world was misled into the Libyan war

October 25, 2018 at 10:00 am

People sourrunf the scene of a car bomb attack in Benghazi, Libya on 25 May 2018 [Ahmed Sanalla/Twitter]

Seven years have passed since the United Nations authorised military intervention in Libya under the pretext of “humanitarian intervention” and a “responsibility to protect”. At the time it was claimed that Libya’s civilians needed protection against the brutality of President Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, amidst an uprising against the government.

Eight months later, the regime was toppled. The civil war that took place from February to October 2011 consumed the country, transforming Libya from the safest, richest country in Africa to a broken nation and dangerous place. Gaddafi was murdered on 20 October 2011, changing the face of Libya forever.

Those who supported the UN’s “humanitarian“ intervention at the time believed that the world should be celebrating that, at last, it had come together to carry out military intervention for purely for humanitarian reasons. We Libyans in particular we were supposed to jump for joy and happiness that the UN came to our rescue in an unprecedented way.

Yet the victory claimed in Libya seven years ago was nothing but another Western war aimed at weakening a previously-stable country. Western intervention aimed to change the Libyan regime by force, in contravention of international law and the UN charter, which prohibits any country from intervening in the internal affairs of another.

Furthermore the UN adopted resolution 1973 Libya in March 2011 – authorising the use of force against the country – based on blatant lies and unverifiable, biased media reports. Even today, not a single justification has been offered for the war. In fact the Western powers, in particular France, the UK and the USA, led the war against Libya for their own interests.

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The most gruesome accusations against the Gaddafi government at the time included genocide, potential massacre in Benghazi, bombardment of civilians and mass rape. In fact, none of these ever took place.

The world first heard of genocide being committed in Libya on 21 February 2011 – just three days into the uprising – when Ibrahim Dabbashi, a Libyan UN diplomat who defected to the rebels, announced that “we are expecting genocide” in the Libyan capital Tripoli. Genocide implies hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians being killed for ethnic and religious reasons, but the trouble in Libya was neither religious nor ethnic. In fact, it was not even tribal war at that point. World media drove the point home and genocide was believed to be ongoing in Libya. Yet it never actually happened.

This claim of genocide was also made in New York. This time both Al-Jazeera TV and the BBC World Service reported, for the first time, that the Libyan government’s air force bombed peaceful civilian demonstrations. Al-Jazeera Arabic specifically identified Fashloum, a small, densely-populated neighbourhood close to Tripoli, as one target. I happened to be near the area that day and I immediately went there and toured the neighbourhood. There wasn’t even a demonstration on 21 February, let alone any trace of bombardment by military jets. No one could corroborate the story and by midday it became clear that it was a hoax. Yet the damage it caused by misleading the public was already made.

The accusation of mass rape was even more difficult to corroborate and was never proven. Major news outlets claimed that government soldiers were given Viagra tablets, encouraging them to commit mass rape of women. The story gained huge media exposure when Iman Al-Obeidi, a young woman from Benghazi – where the uprising started – walked into the international media centre in Tripoli, where all international media covering the war were housed. She told the TV cameras that she was repeatedly raped by government soldiers at a checkpoint just outside Tripoli.

While government officials were trying to take her away, major TV networks like CNN and the BBC were already broadcasting the story live to the world. The young lady later fled the country and was helped by then-US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to gain refugee status in the USA. She was later imprisoned for misbehaviour while drunk. Ms. Al-Obeidi is still serving a six-year sentence in Boulder, Colorado and her story was forgotten – but only after it tarnished the reputation of the Libyan government.

READ: Mass grave discovered in Libya’s Sirte

Another shameful accusation was that the regime used mercenaries to fight the rebels and that sub-Saharan Africans made up the bulk of the government’s fighting force. The rebels, aided by major TV networks, were saying that the regime had flown in thousands of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa. Many impoverished Africans were imprisoned and paraded in the streets by the rebels as foreign fighters paid by Gaddafi, except in fact they were workers not fighters. International rights group Amnesty International later refuted the claim, confirming that they were African workers from Mali and Chad who never took part in combat.

The only soldier of black origin the rebels captured was in the city of Byeda, in eastern Libya. The young man was a Libyan soldier from a group guarding military barracks. He was crucified and skinned alive, all of which was recorded on mobile phone cameras. His name was later revealed to be Salah Shushan and members of his family living in western Libya appeared on local TV to further confirm his identity. Many Libyans today still remember him, with great sadness, as he begged his captors to believe he was Libyan, like them, and not a mercenary.

Other lies that drove the war in Libya included a potential massacre in Benghazi, when government forces were moving against armed rebels just southwest of the city. It was widely claimed that government forces would kill thousands once they took control of Benghazi. However, the advancing troops were only targeting armed rebels and had no reason to kill civilians.

In fact, before reaching Benghazi’s outskirts, the army had already passed through at least ten towns and villages – which a day earlier had been under rebel control – and not a single civilian was harmed. On the contrary civilians who had fled their homes when the rebels arrived returned with the arrival of government soldiers, who provided them with protection.

And of course, the mother of all lies remains the “responsibility to protect,” under which the destruction of Libya was carried out. There was no danger to civilians anywhere in the country but armed groups, including Al-Qaeda, fighting the legitimate government were the real danger. The “responsibility to protect” never actually applied to Libya in 2011, but this noble idea was twisted to suit the interests of other countries, not the Libyan people.

By 20 October 2011, the war was winding down. Gaddafi was murdered, but all the lies that made the basis for the destruction of Libya still remain to bear witness to how the world was fooled.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.