By Michael Collins
“The UN said in its resolution that they wanted to protect civilians. I am a civilian. I’m asking the United Nations and the National Transition Council for help for the citizens of Sirte.” ~ Ali Salah Arzaga, Sirte, Libya. (His home and business were destroyed in the final assault on his city.)
There are very public smoking guns that inculpate the rulers of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and others in war crimes in Libya.
The rationale for NATO’s entry into the Libyan conflict was based on humanitarian principles, correctly noted by Mr. Arzaga. (left, text and image: VOA video). The United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1973 on March 17 and NATO followed up with actions that the alliance and its partner Qatar claimed conformed to the resolution. The sole purpose of NATO’s involvement was to “protect the Libyan population,” we were told.
The outcome has been anything but humanitarian. Tens of thousands of Libyans are injured or dead. The nation’s infrastructure is in tatters. One city, Sirte, was destroyed during the final push while another city, the non-Arab Black Libyan town of Tawergha, is absent its entire population, 25,000 residents. They were there just a few weeks ago.
To understand what was done by participating NATO nations and Qatar, which joined the effort, and answer questions about war crimes, consider the following: the United Nations authorization for NATO assistance, the NATO declarations of intent and actions, plus reports of behavior, and the Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention, 1977. With this foundation, it will be possible to evaluate the behavior of NATO and Qatar.
The following evidence will demonstrate that the UN, NATO, and Qatar donned the mask of humanitarian aid while engaging in a systematic act of war against Libya to achieve regime change. Furthermore, it will be abundantly clear that the participants by their own admission actively collaborated in acts of war that were not authorized by the UN and that resulted in violence against civilians and the infrastructure of the nation.
Please note that criticisms and negative judgment concerning the behavior of the NATO do not imply support for the actions over time or for the human rights record of the late Muammar Gaddafi and his government. Regardless of Gaddafi’s record, clear analysis is required when the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France make war the way they did in Libya. This was done in the name of the citizens of those nations, without consultation or formal consent.
UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011) on Libya
The overriding purpose of the Security Council resolution was to protect civilians. The resolution affirmed that member states of the UN will, “take all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory…” UN, March 17
The first military action authorized by the mandate was a no-fly zone. Participating nations were mandated to “establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians” and “to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights.” UN, March 17
The second military action was an arms embargo: “ensure strict implementation of the arms embargo” outlined in UN Security Council resolution 1970 (2011). That resolution is clear: “all Member States shall immediately take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, from or through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types.” UN, February 25, 2011
Additionally resolution 1973 required that any flights originating in Libya be cleared by NATO, froze all Libyan government funds overseas, and authorized the creation of a panel of experts to inform the UN of any deviation from the NATO action’s main mission of protecting the people of Libya.
At no point did any UN Security Council resolution authorize NATO and Qatar to take sides in the conflict, to commit acts of war that benefited one side, or to assure that one side or the other emerged victorious.
NATO’s main web page on its Libyan effort states that its mission conforms precisely to the authorizing resolutions from the UN:
“Since March 24, an unprecedented coalition of NATO Allies and non-NATO contributors have been protecting civilians under threat of attack in Libya, enforcing an arms embargo and maintaining a no-fly zone. As NATO Secretary General Rasmussen explained, under Operation Unified Protector, NATO is doing ‘nothing more, nothing less’ than meeting its mandates under United Nations Security Council resolutions.” NATO, October 2011
A NATO fact sheet describes the use of military assets and personnel employed in the Libyan effort:
“NATO conducts reconnaissance, surveillance and information-gathering operations to identify those forces which present a threat to civilians. NATO air assets can then engage targets on the ground, at sea or in the air. Ships and submarines policing the arms embargo contribute to the mission on a case-by-case basis.” NATO, October 2011 (author’s emphasis)
NATO’s task was to bring to life the UN resolution designed to “protect civilians.” There was no mention of assisting the military operations of the Libyan rebels fighting the Gaddafi regime. There was no authorization to attack and destroy civilian targets. Most importantly, there was no authorization whatsoever, no matter how tortured the logic, that enabled the coordination of land and air forces to win a military victory. The stated purpose of the UN resolution was to protect civilians.
What Really Happened in Libya – the Smoking Guns
Three smoking guns destroy the claim that the UN and NATO intervened in Libya to protect civilians. They are the brutal bombardment and sacking of Sirte, the recently revealed supply of arms to the rebels by coalition partner Qatar, and the coordination and link between Libyan rebel land forces and NATO air efforts. These events took place. They are acknowledged by the parties in public media. The actions represent violations of Protocol 1 of the 1977 Geneva accord on protecting civilians and violations of the UN mandate and stated principles of NATO. Taking sides with the National Transition Council (NTC), the umbrella group for the Libyan rebels, is clearly outside the bounds of preemptive wars, even as allowed in very narrow cases in the UN Charter.
Destroying the City of Sirte
In early September, the commander of the NTC demanded that the town of Sirte surrender. While town leaders tried to negotiate a peaceful resolution, the presence of Gaddafi loyalists prevented this from happening. The population of Sirte was 80,000, the vast majority of them civilians. On October 8, NATO began a furious aerial bombing of Sirte. The entire city was affected.
The Associated Press reported on October 27 that, “Resistance in Sirte was fierce, and three weeks into the battle, anti-Gadhafi forces had advanced only a few hundred yards (meters) into the city.” NATO’s air bombardment broke the stalemate on the ground:
“It all changed after a NATO bombing assault on October 8, when the ground did not stop shaking all night. Next morning the rebels pushed forwards, expecting the usual fierce resistance. There was none.” The Australian, October 24
Even without resistance, upon entering Sirte, “the rebels flattened the area with everything they had, bringing their tanks and heavy guns into the city and blazing away at every building standing between their own positions and the sea.” The Australian, October 24
The city of Sirte was not an aggressor in the civil war in Libya. The city did not organize attacks or officially endorse attacks. It was filled with civilians. There were also remnants of Gaddafi forces that resisted the NTC rebels’ entrance into the city. These were defensive actions, at this point in the conflict. No aggressive campaign by these forces could have been envisioned. The city just happened to be Gaddafi’s hometown and unable to join the new government. This was understandable since it had been bombed by the NATO-NTC alliance.
Indiscriminate Attacks on Civilians by NATO
Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions, 1977, outlines the protections for civilians in war zones agreed to by the signatories. All of the NATO participants as well as Qatar had signed Protocol 1 concerning “any land, air or sea warfare which may affect the civilian population, individual civilians or civilian objects on land” (Article 49).
The fact that there were Gaddafi loyalists among the 80,000 civilians in Sirte did not provide NATO and the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters with an excuse to attack the city indiscriminately. Article 50 states that “The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.”
The attacks by NATO and the NTC were indiscriminate according to Article 51: “Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are: a) those which are not directed at a specific military objective; [or] b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective.” When an entire city is devastated and systematically demolished by military forces, as reported, the attack is on the entire city, not just a specific military target.
The bombing was so comprehensive that it eliminated both resistance and most of the people of the city, who either fled or were killed or injured. It was indiscriminate. In Sirte, “the ground did not stop shaking all night” before the NTC troops entered and began their destruction.
NATO knew or should have known that fierce bombing would impact civilians. The fact that many were killed and many more fled is further evidence of the indiscriminate nature of the attacks. NATO acted in coordination with the NTC rebels and those rebels likely used Qatar-supplied arms, as admitted by the commander of Qatar’s forces (see below).
NATO alliance partner Qatar provided arms to the NTC rebels and put troops on the ground to train the NTC. Those troops coordinated between NTC rebel and NATO military forces. This violates the UN mandates for NATO and contradicts NATO’s own claims about its behavior in Libya.
UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011) stated that the goal of the Libyan intervention was to protect civilians. It authorized the creation of a no-fly zone, an arms embargo, a freezing of Libyan assets, a ban on all flights from Libya of any type without NATO permission, and a panel of experts to assure that the resolution was followed by NATO.
NATO claimed to follow the UN resolution to the letter. On its web page, NATO asserted: “No NATO ground troops have participated in the operation – NATO’s success to date has been achieved solely with air and sea assets.” NATO, October 2011
But Qatari ground troops were on the ground training and coordinating NTC ground efforts with NATO air power. “NATO’s success to date” had an additional essential and highly relevant component — the coordination of its air efforts with ground strategies, tactics, and information that that was offered by Qatar as described by Qatar’s Major General Hamad bin Ali al-Atiya on October 26 (see below).
The resolution did not authorize NATO to take sides in the conflict since that would have been an act of war, a preemptive war to be specific.
But isn’t aligning with the NTC rebels taking sides? Qatar was part of the NATO effort in Libya.
“We were among them and the numbers of Qataris on ground were hundreds in every region,” said Qatari chief of staff Major General Hamad bin Ali al-Atiya.
Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting in Doha of military allies of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), Atiya said the Qataris had been ‘running the training and communication operations.’
‘Qatar had supervised the rebels’ plans because they are civilians and did not have enough military experience. We acted as the link between the rebels and NATO forces,’ he said.
Libya’s interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil told the meeting that Qatar had been “a major partner in all the battles we fought.” Al Arabiya News, October 26 (author’s emphasis)
The scenario outlined by General Hamad was confirmed by an extensive report in the Wall Street Journal by Sam Dagher and Charles Levinson in Tripoli and Margaret Coker in Doha, Qatar.
“Qatar provided anti-Gadhafi rebels with what Libyan officials now estimate are tens of millions of dollars in aid, military training and more than 20,000 tons of weapons. Qatar’s involvement in the battle to oust Col. Gadhafi was supported by US and Western allies, as well as many Libyans themselves.” Wall Street Journal, October 17
The article goes on to explain why Qatar was chosen as the agent for the war effort masquerading as a humanitarian mission.
“As violence escalated in Libya, Western diplomats said it soon became clear that without an armed ground effort by the rebels, the NATO strikes would only enforce a stalemate. But U.S. and European governments thought it too risky to directly arm a rebellion against a sitting leader.” Wall Street Journal, October 17
NATO knew of and supported the actions of its alliance partners, the Qataris. The UN knew or should have known that NATO was supporting actions that violated the arms embargo and that provided ground troops and coordination between air and ground military efforts.
The acts of the UN and NATO show that the UN Security Council resolution and NATO claims of honoring that resolution were fraudulent.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Cretz provides the proof of NATO knowledge of the major violations of the UN resolution. From the article:
Qatar has played ‘a very influential role in helping this [Libyan] rebellion succeed,’ U.S Ambassador to Libya Gene A. Cretz said in an interview. Wall Street Journal, October 17
The NATO alliance was obliged to keep foreign weapons, troops, and assistance out of Libya as required by the UN resolution. The ambassador makes it clear that the actions of the Qataris were helpful and clearly implied that regime change was the goal, not the protection of civilians.
The UN knew or should have known that its resolution was being violated. Section 24 of Security Council resolution 1973 calls for the creation of a “panel of experts” to monitor the Libyan conflict, assure compliance with the UN mandate, and “Make recommendations on actions the Council, or the Committee or State, may consider to improve implementation of the relevant measures.” UN, February 26, 2011
If the panel of experts spoke to Ambassador Cretz or one of his peers, for example, they would have known that the actions in the name of the UN were diametrically opposed to the stated goals of the UN. If the “panel of experts” didn’t know that the mission was a fraud on the UN and the people of the world, they should have. In either case, the UN is responsible for the acts of NATO done in the name of the UN.
The NATO mission was an attack on the Libyan government at that time without an imminent threat to any of the nations involved. It was a violation of international law.
International law places very strict limits on preemptive wars. This is the general outline for “anticipatory self-defense.”
“The right of anticipatory self-defense assumes that an aggressor is poised to strike, and that one acts defensively in anticipation of the attack rather than waiting for the attack to occur. Traditionally, it was deemed theoretically possible that even a first-strike could be deemed defensive in nature, and lawful, if it was to forestall an attack that was imminent.” Center for Defense Information, 2003
The UN has some provisions in its charter for anticipatory self-defense arising out of Security Council actions. However, there was no self-defense asserted, no imminent danger, no war outlined. The mission was mandated solely to protect Libyan civilians through the no-fly zone, arms embargo, asset freeze, etc.
NATO misrepresented its role as “nothing more, nothing less” than those actions mandated by the Security Council resolution, 1973. By allowing in ground troops as well as thousands of tons of weapons, and coordinating air strikes for the benefit of opponents of the Libyan government, NATO engaged in war that meets even the narrowest definitions of preemptive war. That is a violation of international law.
Justice Will Not Be Forthcoming
NATO went well beyond the bounds of the UN mandate. It allowed the mission’s one nation that was not a part of NATO, Qatar, to violate the arms embargo, to provide troops, and to use those troops to coordinate NATO air strikes with NTC rebels on the ground. As a result, NATO and the NTC rebels were acting as one, fighting an aggressive war against the Libyan government. It was a series of lies that provided the foundation for the Libyan effort, lies that repeated principals that those directly involved were never expected to follow.
By waging war instead of protecting civilians, all parties to the effort engaged in an elaborate ongoing war crime against the very civilians that they were supposed to protect.
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