Obama’s illegal war in Libya

It took less than a month to figure out that the main casus belli for the military campaign in Libya — the protection of civilians — was probably a lie. As Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) pointed out in a House floor speech on April 4,

We’re told that the president has legal authority for this war under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, but this resolution specifically does not authorize any ground elements. Furthermore, the administration exceeded the mandate of the resolution by providing the rebels with air cover. Thus, the war against Libya violated our Constitution and has even violated the very authority which the administration claimed was sufficient to take our country to war.

It now appears that NATO allies are over-reaching even further by adopting a stated policy of regime change, which was clearly not authorized by Resolution 1973.

In a joint op-ed published on Friday, David Cameron, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy make it clear that while protection of civilians remains central to NATO’s operation in Libya, “we are determined to look to the future” — a future without Gaddafi.

The three leaders essentially acknowledge that regime change is the goal:

Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power.

The op-ed claims that the intervention has saved “tens of thousands of lives,” but that it cannot be considered a success until permanent regime change takes place:

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. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.

While citing UN Security Resolution 1973 as the legal basis for the attacks, the leaders fail to mention that their newly stated goal of regime change exceeds that authority. Specifically, the resolution:

Authorizes Member States that have notified the [UN] Secretary-General and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights imposed by paragraph 6 above, as necessary, and requests the States concerned in cooperation with the League of Arab States to coordinate closely with the Secretary General on the measures they are taking to implement this ban…

Yet, immediately after the bombing began, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said that the bombing could actually lead to more civilian deaths, which would negate the very legal basis for the attacks.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” Moussa said.

In the fog of war, it is not clear how many civilians may have been killed as a result of the ongoing NATO attacks. What is clear is that NATO is failing to live up to its role in protecting civilians, as pointed out recently by the Libyan opposition.

As Voice of America reported on April 6,

The head of the armed forces of Libya’s eastern-based opposition has sharply criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, saying it is failing to protect civilians from artillery attacks by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. General Abdul Fattah Younes made the charge as his forces were forced to withdraw once again from the oil-town of Brega 200 kilometers west of Benghazi.

Younes said NATO was causing hundreds of civilian deaths in Libya’s third largest city, Misrata, 200 kilometers east of Tripoli.

In their op-ed, Cameron, Obama and Sarkozy make the claim that NATO had prevented a  “bloodbath that [Gaddafi] had promised to inflict on the citizens of the besieged city of Benghazi.”

But this dubious claim appears to distort what Gaddafi actually threatened, which was directed to the armed rebels in Benghazi, not the city inhabitants as a whole.

“The matter has been decided … we are coming,” he said on March 16, promising that there would be amnesty for those “who throw their weapons away.” Only for those who resist would there “be no mercy or compassion.”

Gaddafi said his forces would “rescue” the people of Benghazi from “traitors” and warned them not to stand alongside the opposition. “The people will see tomorrow if the city if one of traitors or heroes … Don’t betray me, my beloved Benghazi.”

Two months into the Libyan civil war and one month in to the allied intervention, there is still no compelling evidence that the Libyan regime has intended to commit indiscriminate massacres of civilians, as claimed by the Obama administration.

Human Rights Watch — which has welcomed the NATO intervention — has documented the deaths of hundreds of civilians, but has provided little proof of any widespread targeting of the civilian population.

In a report released last week on the civilian death toll in Misrata, HRW notes that at Misrata Hospital, medical facilities have recorded 257 people killed and 949 wounded and hospitalized since February 19, 2011. The wounded include 22 women and eight children, a doctor told HRW.

While such casualties are indeed tragic, they do not seem to indicate a strategy of systematic targeting of civilians. If anything, the fact that just 22 women and eight children have been wounded in two months of fighting with armed rebels would seem to indicate the opposite: that the Libyan regime is taking steps to protect the innocent.

As violence against civilians continues in spite of the NATO intervention, there is now also an unfolding humanitarian crisis with food shortages reported throughout the country.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said on Wednesday that “Libya faces a humanitarian crisis following an unprecedented level of upheaval and violence.”

“The future of the public subsidised food distribution system in Libya is very worrying to WFP and food security partners.”

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that up to 3.6 million people in Libya may need humanitarian assistance as rebels press their fight against Gaddafi.

An Arab League conference in Cairo last week examined how to put a stop to the conflict in Libya, bring about a political dialogue and resolve the country’s humanitarian crisis.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa emphasized that Arab states are worried about the plight of Libyan civilians. He stressed that diplomatic efforts are now focusing on achieving a ceasefire in Libya, and that this was the top provision of the African Union peace proposal or “roadmap.”

A political solution in Libya begins with a ceasefire, he stressed.

NATO allies should bear in mind that the international authorization for the enforcement of a no-fly zone — which they are now using as legal cover for a policy of regime change — mandates cooperation with the Arab League.

It is difficult to imagine how the Arab League’s calls for a ceasefire are compatible with NATO’s uncompromising stance on a Libya without Gaddafi. It appears that as both NATO and Libya double-down, a political compromise becomes less and less likely, and that the civilians — who NATO is mandated to protect — will continue to suffer.

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About The Compliance Campaign

Campaigning for a United States in compliance with its international obligations. Follow on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/compliancecamp Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/compliancecamp Comments, article submissions or news leads are welcome at compliancecampaign [at] gmail.com.

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