In his address to the UN General Assembly yesterday, President Barack Obama praised the government of Bahrain for taking unspecified “steps toward reform and accountability.” He was apparently referring to the cooperation that Bahrain has shown with an investigation into anti-government protests it has systematically crushed, and with the plans for holding by-elections Saturday (expected to be boycotted by the main Shiite opposition bloc).
The elections are for seats left vacant in the 40-member parliament following the resignation of 18 MPs from Al-Wefaq, the Gulf state’s largest opposition group, who quit in protest over a brutal crackdown by security forces on peaceful demonstrators.
“We’re pleased with that,” said Obama,
but more is required. America is a close friend of Bahrain, and we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc — the Wifaq — to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people. We believe the patriotism that binds Bahrainis together must be more powerful than the sectarian forces that would tear them apart. It will be hard, but it is possible.
While Obama was expressing these cheerful and opitimistic thoughts, human rights groups were reiterating longstanding calls for the United States to halt military aid to the island monarchy.
In particular, Human Rights Watch yesterday called on the U.S. to “delay a proposed arms sale to Bahrain until it ends abuses against peaceful critics of the ruling family and takes meaningful steps toward accountability for serious human rights violations.”
The Defense Department, HRW reported, notified Congress on September 14, 2011, of a proposed sale of armored Humvees and missiles to Bahrain worth $53 million. The proposed arms sale, apparently the first since the beginning of Bahrain’s crackdown on protests earlier this year, would include 44 “Armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs),” wire-guided and other missiles and launchers, as well as related equipment and training.
“This is exactly the wrong move after Bahrain brutally suppressed protests and is carrying out a relentless campaign of retribution against its critics,” said Maria McFarland, deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “It will be hard for people to take U.S. statements about democracy and human rights in the Middle East seriously when, rather than hold its ally Bahrain to account, it appears to reward repression with new weapons.”
In Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, the Shiite majority has been protesting its lack of civil rights and second class status in the government. The Sunni minority government has brutally repressed the demonstrations, even targeting doctors who provide medical attention to injured protesters. The government has prevented human rights organizations from visiting the country since mid-April and tightly restricts access for journalists.
In a country of about 525,000 citizens, since the beginning of protests in mid-February, human rights groups say 34 people have been killed, more than 1,400 people arrested, as many as 3,600 people fired from their jobs and four people died in custody after torture. Human Rights Watch has called it “a systematic and comprehensive crackdown to punish and intimidate government critics and to end dissent root and branch.”
The New York Times last week reported of activists being forced to eat feces in prison and high-ranking Shiite bureaucrats compelled to crawl in their offices like infants. Human rights groups say 43 Shiite mosques and religious structures have been systematically destroyed or damaged in the government’s campaign of retribution.
Doctors and other medics who treated injured protestors during the unrest have been put on trial in military courts, “further undermining Bahrain’s claim to respect human rights,” as Human Rights First has stated.
“Trying civilians in military courts that offer inadequate legal protections is a sham process,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “It exposes the Bahraini Government’s real intentions to crack down on peaceful activists. The United States Government should publicly condemn these trials and make clear that Bahrain’s decision to prosecute people for peacefully expressing their views will have consequences for the relationship between the United States and Bahrain.”
Yet despite this crackdown, there have been no calls from the Obama administration to impose sanctions or even halt U.S. military aid. Bahrain received $19 million in military aid for the fiscal year 2010, and this fiscal year, the island monarchy is on track to receive $19.5 million.
Further, the U.S. approved $200 million in military sales from American companies to Bahrain in 2010, months before the monarchy began its harsh crackdown. Much involved aircraft and military electronics, but the U.S. also licensed $760,000 in exports of rifles, shotguns and assault weapons.
In March of this year, following Bahrain’s initial crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, acting Asst. Sec. Miguel Rodriguez wrote in a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that “the administration is reevaluating its procedures for reviewing U.S. security assistance and defense sales during periods of domestic unrest and violence and has specifically included Bahrain in this reassessment.”
Leahy, who heads a Senate subcommittee overseeing foreign aid, had asked the State Dept. to determine whether Bahrain’s forces had committed any human rights violations that could necessitate a cut-off in assistance, as mandated by the Conventional Arms Transfer policy.
The Conventional Arms Transfer policy requires the U.S. to consider “the human rights, terrorism and proliferation record of the recipient and the potential for misuse of the export in question.”
Yet, it appears that with the Defense Department’s notification of a proposed sale of Humvees and missiles, these requirements are being cast aside. The same could also be said of the United States’ obligations under international law.
According to the International Law Commission (ILC), the official UN body that codifies customary international law,
A State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so if: (a) that State does so with knowledge of the circumstances of the internationally wrongful act; and (b) the act would be internationally wrongful if committed by that State” (Article 16 of the International Law Commission, “Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts,” (2001) which were commended by the General Assembly, A/RES/56/83).
Further, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act stipulates that “no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” and the Arms Export Control Act authorizes the supply of U.S. military equipment and training only for lawful purposes of internal security, “legitimate self-defense,” or participation in UN peacekeeping operations or other operations consistent with the UN Charter.
As the world’s leading conventional arms exporter, the United States plays a significant role in deaths of thousands of civilians around the world. A positive step towards ending this ongoing calamity would be to respect the laws on the books, both at the international level and U.S. domestic law, starting with the proposed sale of Humvees and missiles to Bahrain.
The United States is coming under intense international criticism for Wednesday night’s execution of Troy Davis, who had been on death row for two decades in the U.S. state of Georgia.
The execution sparked outrage, in particular, in European capitals. “We strongly deplore that the numerous appeals for clemency were not heeded,” the French foreign ministry said.
“There are still serious doubts about his guilt,” said Germany’s junior minister for human rights Markus Loening. “An execution is irreversible — a judicial error can never be repaired.”
The European Union expressed “deep regret” over the execution and repeated its call for a universal moratorium on capital punishment.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc had learned “with deep regret that Mr Troy Davis was executed,” her spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told Agence-France Presse.
“The EU opposes the use of capital punishment in all circumstances and calls for a universal moratorium,” she said. “The abolition of that penalty is essential to protect human dignity.”
Amnesty International condemned the execution in a statement.
“The U.S. justice system was shaken to its core as Georgia executed a person who may well be innocent,” Amnesty said. “Killing a man under this enormous cloud of doubt is horrific and amounts to a catastrophic failure of the justice system.”
Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), expressed his concern and dismay.
“We are concerned about reports suggesting that due process was not fully respected in the case of Troy Davis, and that his guilt could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt,” Lenarcic said.
According to these reports, most of the witnesses who testified against Davis at his trial have recanted their testimony, and no physical evidence was found proving his guilt, ODIHR pointed out.
While OSCE commitments do not require the abolition of the death penalty, OSCE participating States have committed themselves to carry out the death penalty only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and in a manner not contrary to their international commitments.
In the OSCE area, only the United States and Belarus continue carrying out executions.
Despite assurances of the United States, much of the world is convinced that the U.S. may have just executed an innocent man, and that the lack of meaningful recourse in the courts has demonstrated that the U.S. has a long way to go in living up to basic principles of due process and human rights.
Troy Davis, who maintained his innocence up to the very end, wished mercy upon his killers upon his execution.
“The incident that night was not my fault, I did not have a gun,” Davis said in the Georgia death chamber.
“For those about to take my life,” he said, “may God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls.”
Should the state of Georgia proceed with the execution of Troy Davis, scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight, the United States will find itself thoroughly isolated from allies who have long since abolished the use of capital punishment, and may be violating international humanitarian law — specifically related to mock executions.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has joined the European Parliament, Amnesty International, former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu in calling for his execution to be halted.
Renate Wohlwend, rapporteur of PACE on abolition of the death penalty, has made a last-ditch appeal to the Georgian authorities to refrain from executing Troy Davis:
Following the decision of the Georgia parole board to deny Troy Davis clemency, I appeal to the Georgian authorities, even at this late hour, not to carry out his execution. To carry out this irrevocable act now would be a terrible mistake which could lead to a tragic injustice.
As Amnesty International and many others have shown, there is serious doubt about Mr Davis’s conviction. Since his trial, seven out of nine key witnesses have recanted or changed their testimony, some alleging police coercion, and many believe that another man has been identified as the perpetrator of the crime.
The Council of Europe is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances – but in this case, there exists the real possibility that an innocent man will go to his death. It is precisely because of this risk that three US states have recently legislated to abolish the death penalty.
Mr Davis’s execution has already been delayed three times. Not only as a humanitarian gesture, but above all for the sake of justice, I appeal for his life.
Troy Davis’s scheduled execution tonight is the fourth time he has come within a short time of being administered with lethal drugs in as many years.
In September 2008, Davis came within 90 minutes of execution, taken off the gurney after a last-minute intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court. On July 16, 2007 he was granted a stay just one day before he was due to die, and on October 24, 2008, at the third attempt to kill him, he was spared temporarily three days before his execution date.
As the Guardian reports, “experts in death row and its psychological impact on prisoners say that such multiple exposure to imminent judicial death is tantamount to a form of torture.” Human rights campaigners say it should be banned, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the prisoner.
Brian Evans, a death row specialist with Amnesty International USA, pointed out that under international law, mock executions were considered to be a form of torture. “Troy Davis’s treatment was not a mock execution, but it has had the same effect. Especially when he has come within hours of death, and said his final goodbyes – that is certainly similar to torture.”
The United States has consistently come under fire from European allies for its application of the death penalty, which sets it apart from all other Western democracies. Last year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – the OSCE PA, which counts the U.S. as one of its 55 members – reiterated its call for all member states to abolish the death penalty.
The United States is one of only two OSCE countries – along with Belarus – that continues the practice of putting its citizens to death.
In 2010, the OSCE PA, in its Oslo Declaration, expressed its deep concern that people are still being sentenced to death and executions are carried out in Belarus and in the USA.
Recalling previous resolutions on the death penalty passed by the OSCE PA, the Oslo Declaration urges a moratorium on capital punishment and to respect safeguards protecting the rights of those facing the death penalty, as laid down in the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council Safeguards.
In response to European criticism at the OSCE’s October 2010 Review Conference Session on the human dimension commitments, the U.S. delegation maintained that capital punishment is used in the United States only as a measure of last resort and is reserved for particularly heinous crimes, and administered only after due process has been followed.
Further, the United States Mission pointed out that capital punishment is not prohibited under any international law, nor does it violate any OSCE commitments. “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes its legitimacy,” said the U.S. ambassador, “and our Constitution has vested individual states with the authority to take decisions on this matter.”
Indeed, Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does offer legitimacy to the use of the death penalty, specifically stating:
In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime and not contrary to the provisions of the present Covenant and to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This penalty can only be carried out pursuant to a final judgement rendered by a competent court.
However, Article 6 also states that “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” Further, it clarifies that “Nothing in this article shall be invoked to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment by any State Party to the present Covenant.”
The Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant notes “that article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights refers to abolition of the death penalty in terms that strongly suggest that abolition is desirable,” and goes on to provide a legal framework for the eventual universal abolition of capital punishment. As of September 2011, the Optional Protocol has 73 states parties.
The U.S. finds itself among 42 countries around the world that maintain the death penalty in both law and practice, while 95 countries — including all Western allies — have abolished it.
When it comes to the case of Troy Davis, Amnesty International highlights the particular egregiousness of executing this man in light of the considerable doubt surrounding the case.
“In 2007,” Amnesty notes, “the [Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles] vowed that no execution would go forward unless there was ‘no doubt’ about guilt, a vow that has now been rendered meaningless. Amnesty International urges the Board to reconsider its decision immediately, and for District Attorney Larry Chisolm to seek to vacate the death warrant. Should Georgia execute Davis, the state “may well have executed an innocent man and in so doing discredited the justice system.”
“The case against Davis unraveled long ago,” Amnesty continues. “Seven out of nine original state witnesses recanted or changed their original testimonies, some alleging police coercion.” Further, ten people have pointed to one of the remaining witnesses as the actual killer. No murder weapon links Davis to the crime and any notion of physical evidence that demonstrates Davis’ guilt has been debunked.
Yet, barring a last-minute intervention, the execution will proceed as scheduled, marking both a grave miscarriage of justice domestically and further international isolation for the United States when it comes to human rights.
Amnesty International is encouraging supporters to call the Savannah District Attorney’s office, 912-652-7308, asking them to rescind the death warrant.
Ten years ago today – three days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington – Congress overwhelmingly passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force, providing President George W. Bush the authority “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”
The only Member of Congress to vote against the resolution was Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who spoke on the House floor about the dangers of granting the President blanket authorization to wage war around the world.
“However difficult this vote may be,” she said,
some of us must urge the use of restraint. There must be some of us who say, let’s step back for a moment and think through the implications of our actions today – let us more fully understand its consequences.
We are not dealing with a conventional war. We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control. This crisis involves issues of national security, foreign policy, public safety, intelligence gathering, economics, and murder. Our response must be equally multi-faceted. …
[W]e must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes.
Ten years later, it is now clear how prescient those words were, as it is even dawning on some members of the establishment that the term “endless war” really does mean a war without end. A recent article in the Washington Post captured the new reality well, noting that “This is the American era of endless war.”
“In previous decades,” the article continues,
the military and the American public viewed war as an aberration and peace as the norm.
Today, radical religious ideologies, new technologies and cheap, powerful weapons have catapulted the world into “a period of persistent conflict,” according to the Pentagon’s last major assessment of global security. “No one should harbor the illusion that the developed world can win this conflict in the near future,” the document concludes.
By this logic, America’s wars are unending and any talk of peace is quixotic or naive. The new view of war and peace has brought about far-reaching changes in agencies such as the CIA, which is increasingly shifting its focus from gathering intelligence to targeting and killing terrorists. Within the military the shift has reshaped Army bases, spurred the creation of new commands and changed what it means to be a warrior.
The era of endless war also has marked the end of an era in which international law provided a basis for American foreign policy. Following the alleged assassination of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces in May, the highly regarded British barrister Geoffrey Robertson described Obama’s claim that “justice was done” as an “absurdity.” He noted that Americans once stood uncompromisingly for an international system based on the rule of law:
When the time came to consider the fate of men much more steeped in wickedness than Osama bin Laden – the Nazi leadership – the British government wanted them hanged within six hours of capture. President Truman demurred, citing the conclusion of Justice Robert Jackson that summary execution ‘would not sit easily on the American conscience or be remembered by our children with pride… the only course is to determine the innocence or guilt of the accused after a hearing as dispassionate as the times will permit and upon a record that will leave our reasons and motives clear.’
The American mentality championing due process even for world’s most contemptible criminals has given way to an approach of administering “justice” at the barrel of a gun. Due process, the rule of law and even intelligence-gathering have been abandoned in favor of targeted killings, extraordinary rendition and torture.
The CIA, for example, has essentially been transformed into a paramilitary force given free reign to carry out assassinations around the world, utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to perform targeted killings by the thousands, violating important principles of international law.
While international law does provide exceptions to the general ban on political assassinations, for example when two states at war with each other, even during war a “targeted killing” is only legal if it meets certain standards under the law of war. Article 23 of the Hague Convention IV of 1907 provides that “it is especially forbidden … to kill or wound treacherously, individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army.” Treacherous assassinations, for example by unmanned aerial drones, are illegal under the law of war.
Yet, as noted by the Washington Post,
- The drone program has killed more than 2,000 militants and civilians since 2001, a staggering figure for an agency that has a long history of supporting proxy forces in bloody conflicts but rarely pulled the trigger on its own.
- The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, which had 300 employees on the day of the attacks, now exceeds al-Qaeda’s core membership around the globe. With about 2,000 on its staff, the CTC accounts for 10 percent of the agency’s workforce, has designated officers in almost every significant overseas post and controls the CIA’s expanding fleet of drones.
- Even the agency’s analytic branch, which traditionally existed to provide insights to policymakers, has been enlisted in the hunt. About 20 percent of CIA analysts are now “targeters” scanning data for individuals to recruit, arrest or place in the crosshairs of a drone.
The assassinations are carried out not only in countries living under U.S. occupation, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in countries with which the United States is not at war, including Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Nigeria and Syria. The Sept. 14, 2001, authorization for military force against “nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks” of 9/11 has clearly been exploited to the fullest.
A recent analysis by Al Jazeera found that the assassination policies have their roots in decisions made immediately following the 9/11 attacks:
Days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration started making decisions that led to the official authorisation of torture tactics, indefinite incommunicado detention and the denial of habeas corpus for people who would be detained at Guantanamo, Bagram, or “black sites” (secret prisons) run by the CIA, kidnappings, forced disappearances and extraordinary rendition to foreign countries to exploit their torturing services. …
The detention policy debacle has played a powerful but under-analysed role in the ascendance of kill operations in the ongoing and ever more global war on terror. People suspected of being terrorist operatives who once might have been targeted for arrest by the military or the CIA in order to interrogate them for intelligence are now likely to be targeted by predator drones.
Today, the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) pursue suspected terrorists with deadly force in Afghanistan as well as in a number of countries not at war with the US, notably Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Despite the clear and shameful record that has been established over the past ten years of the global war on terror, U.S. officials continue to insist that the fight against terrorists has been exemplary. In a speech called “Smart Power Approach to Counterterrorism” to the John Jay School of Criminal Justice last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that “When we capture al-Qaida members, we detain them humanely and consistent with international standards. And when we do strike, we seek to protect innocent civilians from harm. Terrorists, of course, do exactly the opposite.”
A cursory glance at the numbers proves this statement incongruous with basic facts.
As the Center for Constitutional Rights documents, the government has illegally detained thousands of people, the most notorious example being the men at Guantánamo. With the Guantánamo prisoners entering their tenth year of arbitrary detention, the U.S. government now concedes that 92 percent of the men held in Guantánamo were not “Al-Qaeda fighters” after all. While 600 have been released without ever being charged with a crime, another 89 have been cleared for release from Guantánamo but remain in detention and 47 are slated for indefinite detention without charge or trial. The government claims they can neither be released nor prosecuted. Eight men have died in the prison.
Clinton’s claim that the U.S. goes out of its way to protect civilians – which distinguishes the United States military from terrorists – also doesn’t square with the facts. While only a handful of Americans are killed worldwide by terrorists each year (according to the U.S. State Department, 15 died last year, fewer than the number of Americans killed by dog bites or lightning strikes), thousands upon thousands of civilians have been killed by the U.S. military in recent years.
In the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, 24,865 civilians were reported killed, with women and children accounting for almost 20% of all civilian casualties. Over half (53%) of all civilian deaths involved explosive devices, with airstrikes accounting for 64% of the explosives deaths. Children were disproportionately affected by airstrikes and unexploded ordnance, including cluster bombs dropped by U.S. war planes.
In her “smart power” speech, Hillary Clinton also extolled the U.S. record in using law enforcement mechanisms to prosecute terrorists through the criminal justice system. “This also means putting terrorists on trial in civilian courts, which have time and again shown their effectiveness at convicting terrorists,” she said, despite the fact that President Obama famously reversed an earlier pledge to renounce the fundamentally flawed military commissions just five months ago.
In response to that reversal on April 4, Amnesty International lamented, “The President came into office pledging to restore the United States’ global reputation by closing the detention facility at Guantanamo and doing away with the widely discredited kangaroo court system cobbled together by the Bush administration. That pledge died today.”
Clinton also highlighted in her “smart power” speech a recent Associated Press investigation into the sharp spike in global arrests and prosecutions of suspected terrorists in recent years. “The AP just did a recent study that there have been 120,000 arrests around the world in the last 10 years of terrorists, and 35,000 convictions,” she said. “Thanks to our military intelligence and law enforcement efforts over the last decade, al-Qaida’s leadership ranks have been devastated.”
Although Clinton heralded these arrests as evidence of an aggressive international approach to counter-terrorism that respects the rule of law, the point of the AP article was actually the exact opposite: While 35,000 people worldwide have been convicted as terrorists in the decade since 9/11, many of these individuals were guilty of nothing more than “waving a political sign or blogging about a protest.”
“The sheer volume of convictions,” reports the AP, “along with almost 120,000 arrests, shows how a keen global awareness of terrorism has seeped into societies, and how the war against it is shifting to the courts. But it also suggests that dozens of countries are using the fight against terrorism to curb political dissent.”
Ten years after the launching of the global war on terror, despite the disingenuous claims of U.S. officials like Hillary Clinton, the ugly realities of this endless war are coming more clearly into focus. If there is a chance of reclaiming the values once championed by Americans, such as the rule of law and respect for human rights, a good place to start would be with repealing the blanket authorization for military force enacted ten years ago.
Barbara Lee, the sole Congressperson to have voted against that authorization on Sept. 14, 2001, has introduced legislation to do just that.
Her ‘Repeal of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Act of 2011’ would reverse the 2001 joint resolution providing broad authorization to the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against terrorists anywhere in the world. In a letter to her colleagues, Barbara Lee wrote:
This broad authorization of force has had far-reaching implications which shake the very foundations of our great nation and democracy. It has been used to justify warrantless surveillance and wiretapping activities, indefinite detention practices that fly in the face of our constitutional values, extrajudicial targeted-killing operations, and an ever-growing and indefinite pursuit of an ill-defined enemy abroad.
We must repeal this authorization for use of military force, end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and re-focus our energy and efforts into those actions which truly improve our national security, including developing emerging economies and diplomatic efforts. Please join me as an original cosponsor of this legislation to remove this overly-broad blank check for war anytime, anywhere.
Her proposal follows a public push by the ACLU, Human Rights First and others to strip out of the 2012 Defense Authorization Act language that would radically expand, rather than repeal, the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force.
Section 1034 of the bill reaffirms the original 2001 authorization and grants the president substantial new authority to use military force without specific congressional approval. It declares that the United States is in an “armed conflict” not just with al Qaeda, the Taliban, or “associated forces,” but also an ill-defined category of nations, organizations, and persons that “substantially support” or act “in aid of” al Qaeda, the Taliban, or “associated forces.”
Having passed the House, the legislation is now waiting to be considered by the Senate. When considering whether to repeal or reaffirm the 2001 launching of the war on terror, lawmakers would do well to heed the recent words of former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Mary Robinson, who, along with Barbara Lee, was one of the lonely voices of reason ten years ago:
Last week, the United States and three other Western powers formally accused Tehran of breaching a UN Security Council resolution related to Iran’s nuclear program.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice expressed concern about reports that Iran is preparing for the spinning of centrifuges at the Qom facility, which she called “a flagrant and blatant violation of existing sanctions.”
Security Council members Germany, France and Britain joined the U.S. in charging that Iran was failing to abide by United Nations prohibitions on the weaponization of its nuclear program, specifically stating that the Persian Gulf state appears to be pursuing ballistic missile technology which could serve as a delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons.
Iran had allegedly breached the rule in June by deploying its Rasad 1 satellite, “which is dependent on ballistic missile technology,” British Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant said. On Aug. 23, Iran unveiled a new domestically manufactured cruise missile, adding to the nation’s growing arsenal and fueling concerns of the international community.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s top official on Sept. 12 joined the Western leaders in expressing alarm over Iran’s potential to prepare a nuclear-capable missile. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said he wanted to “set out in greater detail the basis for the agency’s concerns so that all member states are fully informed.”
“Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities,” the IAEA chief said.
Tehran has denied allegations that its atomic activities are geared toward weapons development. Iran’s development of ballistic missile technology is intended as deterrence against enemies who may be considering an invasion, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said.
Iranian state television reported that a new missile dubbed “Ghader,” showcased at a ceremony in Tehran on Aug. 23, is designed for sea-based targets, with a range of 124 miles and is capable of destroying a warship.
“The best deterrence is that the enemy does not dare to invade,” Ahmadinejad said during the ceremony. “The enemy should be crippled on its own ground and not over the skies of Tehran.”
Despite Iran’s claims that its weapons programs are intended for self-defense, the U.S. and its allies are insisting that the ballistic missile technology places Iran in breach of Security Council Resolution 1929.
“We were among those that reported to the committee our view that the ballistic missile launches that we have seen of late is a violation of paragraph nine” of the resolution, Amb. Rice said. The paragraph prohibits Iran from “undertak[ing] any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.”
But even as the U.S. Ambassador accuses Iran of violating Resolution 1929, the U.S. seems to be violating it as well. Specifically, the second paragraph of the resolution’s preamble states,
Reaffirming its commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the need for all States Party to that Treaty to comply fully with all their obligations, and recalling the right of States Party, in conformity with Articles I and II of that Treaty, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) recognizes the right of five countries — China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States — to possess nuclear weapons, conditional upon eventual disarmament, and the right of other signatories to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, conditional upon their non-acquisition of nuclear weapons. Entering into force in 1970, the NPT explicitly requires that
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
Forty years later, there has been only incremental progress in this regard, although moves in recent years have provided some hope for realizing the promise of eventual disarmament. Coming on the heels of the adoption of the U.S.-Russia New START Treaty as well as Barack Obama’s 2009 speech embracing a nuclear weapons-free world, last year’s NPT Review Conference was hailed as a success by observers such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:
In the disarmament section, for the first time, a world free of nuclear weapons is articulated as the goal of nuclear disarmament. Acknowledged nuclear weapon states also committed themselves to continuing to work together to accelerate concrete progress on disarmament. Efforts to include a timeline for a negotiated nuclear weapons convention failed, but the disarmament action plan does includes a timeline whereby the nuclear weapon states should report on their disarmament activities at the 2014 NPT Preparatory Committee meeting. They are also encouraged to develop a standard reporting form as a confidence building measure.
But while celebrating the progress made in recent years, it is clear that the nuclear weapons states continue to balk at disarmament. In 2000, the five nuclear powers committed themselves to an “unequivocal undertaking … to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” But for now, the five continue to retain the bulk of their nuclear forces.
The U.S., the first country to attain nuclear weapons and the only one to have ever used them, continues to lead the world in stockpiling them.
While China has about 240 total warheads, France fewer than 300 operational warheads and the United Kingdom with a total stockpile of up to 225, the United States has 5,113 active and inactive nuclear warheads and approximately 3,500 warheads retired and awaiting dismantlement. Russia has approximately 2,400 operational strategic warheads, approximately 2,000 operational tactical warheads, and approximately 7,000 stockpiled strategic and tactical warheads.
In its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the U.S. essentially admitted that it has no intention of ever ridding itself of nuclear weapons, but instead is attempting to demonstrate that it is making symbolic progress toward its NPT obligations:
“As long as nuclear weapons exist,” the Review states,
the United States will sustain safe, secure, and effective nuclear forces. …But fundamental changes in the international security environment in recent years – including the growth of unrivaled U.S. conventional military capabilities, major improvements in missile defenses, and the easing of Cold War rivalries – enable us to fulfill those objectives at significantly lower nuclear force levels and with reduced reliance on nuclear weapons. Therefore, without jeopardizing our traditional deterrence and reassurance goals, we are now able to shape our nuclear weapons policies and force structure in ways that will better enable us to meet our most pressing security challenges.
By reducing the role and numbers of U.S. nuclear weapons – meeting our NPT Article VI obligation to make progress toward nuclear disarmament – we can put ourselves in a much stronger position to persuade our NPT partners to join with us in adopting the measures needed to reinvigorate the non-proliferation regime and secure nuclear materials worldwide.
It is clear then that moves by the United States to eliminate some nuclear weapons are not good faith efforts at disarmament – as mandated by the Non-Proliferation Treaty – but rather minimalistic efforts intended to portray an image of compliance with the Treaty, in order to advance geostrategic goals. Indeed, as the Arms Control Association points out, under the New START Treaty with Russia,
The United States will retain up to 420 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 60 nuclear-capable bombers, and 240 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) … This new force structure was provided to the Senate as part of the materials transmitted with New START for ratification. In addition, as part of the administration’s effort to show progress on disarmament at the May review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the Department of State announced April 27 that the United States had 1,968 “operationally deployed” warheads at the end of 2009, and the Pentagon announced May 3 that as of last Sept. 30, the U.S. nuclear stockpile stood at 5,113 warheads.
While the Obama administration may deserve credit for pushing new arms control initiatives with Russia, from the perspective of non-nuclear states that have been waiting 40 years for the nuclear powers to fulfill their promise of disarmament, the efforts surely appear more symbolic than real, with the U.S. and Russia still capable of ending all life on earth many times over.
This is especially the case for a country like Iran, which is completely surrounded by U.S. military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and the Navy’s Fifth Fleet stationed off the coast of Bahrain. While the U.S. has expressed alarm over Iran seeking nuclear weapons, the Obama administration has failed to repudiate the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war which arguably has forced Tehran to adopt a strategy of deterrence.
Obama’s widely heralded 2010 Nuclear Posture Review may have renounced the development of new nuclear weapons such as the “bunker-busters” proposed by the Bush administration and ruled out a nuclear attack against non-nuclear-weapon states who are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but this rule pointedly excluded Iran.
Indeed, the Review even singled out Iran as a particularly hard case, calling its behavior “provocative.”
From the perspective of Tehran though, the actions of the United States may be considered provocative. In the last decade, the U.S. has invaded two of its neighbors, and continues to intervene militarily in countries such as Libya without even invoking the casus belli of self-defense or “preemption.”
If the U.S. is serious about non-proliferation in the region and around the world, a fundamentally new approach is needed – one that includes U.S. compliance with its disarmament obligations, as well as the renunciation of nuclear first strikes and preemptive war in general. Symbolic half-measures are obviously not doing the job.
As the media is saturated with tributes to the victims of 9/11, other important issues are not receiving the attention they deserve. While paying due respect to the memory of those who died ten years ago in the terror attack of 9/11, it is also important to reflect on all that has been lost in the decade since. This includes nearly 8,000 American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, countless Iraqi and Afghan civilians killed and at least three trillion dollars spent on fighting the global war on terror, which has no end in sight.
Also lost have been precious constitutional rights, civil liberties, basic principles of international law, and even basic definitions of certain words. Euphemisms for torture (“enhanced interrogation”), kidnapping (“extraordinary rendition”), extrajudicial assassination (“targeted killings”) and wars of aggression (“preemptive war”) have become accepted language in the political lexicon, both redefining these concepts and providing a justification for violating the spirit and the letter of the law of various international treaties.
One issue, though, that will likely receive no serious attention at all is the question of government complicity in the attacks, whether elements in the U.S. government either had prior knowledge or an active hand in ensuring the attacks were successful, or a combination of both.
While this idea may be ridiculed in the mainstream media, it is actually central to understanding whether the erosion of international norms over the past ten years has been done by design, or whether it is an understandable – albeit undesirable – result of flawed American policies. And despite the implication that this idea is some fringe conspiracy theory, it is actually a rather widely held view in the United States.
A Zogby poll in 2006 found that 42 percent of Americans believe that there has indeed been a government cover-up regarding 9/11 and 45 percent saying that “Congress or an International Tribunal should re-investigate the attacks, including whether any US government officials consciously allowed or helped facilitate their success.” That is nearly half of the American public.
A New York Times/CBS News poll that same year asked Americans whether they think that members of the Bush administration were telling the truth, were mostly telling the truth but hiding something, or were mostly lying about what happened leading up to 9/11. Only 16 percent believed that the administration was telling the truth, while 53 percent said that they were hiding something and 28 percent saying that they were “mostly lying.”
More than a third of the American public suspects that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them, according to a 2006 Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll. Thirty-six percent of respondents overall said it is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that government officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or allowed them to happen “because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East.”
With these kinds of large pluralities expressing skepticism over the “official story,” and voicing support for a new independent investigation, one might think that some courageous soul in the media or government establishment would take up this cause or at least ask the relevant questions, but alas, it appears that courage is in short supply these days.
Ten years after the attacks, polling agencies no longer even seek to ascertain what the public believes about a possible government hand in the attacks, instead limiting questions to whether “U.S. wrongdoing prior to 9/11 may have motivated the attacks.” (43% say yes, while 45% disagree.)
Just as President Obama said that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards” when it comes to prosecuting crimes committed by the Bush administration including torture of terror suspects and warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens, it seems the same principle is being applied to the issue of government foreknowledge and/or complicity in the 9/11 terror event.
Obviously, though, there is an indispensable need to know what happened leading up to that attack, who may have facilitated it, and why – not only to restore the eroded faith in government as revealed in public opinion polls, or even simply for the sake of basic justice for the victims and their families. Just as important is to take stock of how far the U.S. has fallen from values it once championed, namely the rule of law, universal human rights and international principles of justice.
From the beginning of the so-called war on terror, high-ranking U.S. officials made it clear that this was going to be a new kind of war, under new kinds of rules, or perhaps under no rules whatsoever. As Dick Cheney declared on national television on Sept. 16, 2001:
We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.
When it comes to the question of torture, Cofer Black, who served as the Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center from 1999 until May 2002 virtually admitted to the practice, testifying to Congress:
This is a highly classified area. All I want to say is that there was “before” 9/11 and “after” 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.
These anecdotes beg the question: Has the betrayal of American and international principles been an unfortunate byproduct of the government’s campaign against violent extremism, as is commonly assumed, or has this betrayal been intentional? Was the government forced to compromise on these principles in order to keep us safe, or was the intention all along to do away with intrusive constraints on state power?
Depending on whether one accepts the official story of 9/11 or rejects it significantly colors the answers that one may reach to these questions.
While many who question the government’s account of the 9/11 will point to the fact that the Patriot Act – which stripped away many basic American freedoms – was written prior to the attacks, and note that the Project for the New American Century had advocated an aggressive war footing in the Middle East, what is often overlooked is the systematic attack on treaties and international norms that commenced before the smoke had even cleared at Ground Zero.
The assault on international law has been particularly instructive. Despite the fact that the international community rallied to the cause of fighting terrorism – with NATO, for example, invoking Article 5 of the Washington Treaty for the first time ever, declaring the attack on New York and Washington an attack on the whole of the transatlantic alliance – the U.S. made clear that it would use the attacks to roll back principles of international law, rather than strengthen them. The U.S. government threw down the gauntlet when President George W. Bush, in an address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001 said, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
In its declaration that there were no shades of grey in this struggle, and no room for equivocation, the U.S. essentially told nations of the world that they must go along with whatever the United States does, or that they would be designated as friends of the enemy. Bush, however, did offer an invitation for countries around the world to join in the U.S.-led struggle against the nebulous, ill-defined concept of terrorism:
We ask every nation to join us. We will ask, and we will need, the help of police forces, intelligence services, and banking systems around the world. The United States is grateful that many nations and many international organizations have already responded — with sympathy and with support. Nations from Latin America, to Asia, to Africa, to Europe, to the Islamic world. Perhaps the NATO Charter reflects best the attitude of the world: An attack on one is an attack on all.
The civilized world is rallying to America’s side.
Yet, soon after those kind words were spoken to the international community, the Bush administration began snubbing international agreements, citing terrorism even when terrorism had little or nothing to do with the international agreements that the U.S. was abrogating.
The first major move that the U.S. made towards undermining the fundamentals of the international system was the unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia in December 2001, in order to develop a longstanding U.S. dream of establishing a missile defense system in space, commonly known as “Star Wars.”
In announcing the unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, Bush said:
Today I am giving formal notice to Russia that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year-old treaty. I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.
No matter that the official 9/11 story is that 19 Muslim extremists thwarted the world’s greatest National Security State – with its trillion-dollar intelligence apparatus – and dealt a near-death blow to its financial and military headquarters with no more than a few box-cutters. A few months later the conventional wisdom was that in order to fight terrorism, the U.S. must nullify its longstanding international treaties, potentially opening up a whole new can of worms on arms control with Russia.
U.S. doctrine at the time also insisted that the Geneva Conventions no longer apply in international conflicts, particularly regarding the burgeoning “war on terror,” in which of course, you are either with us or against us.
Civilians were wantonly slaughtered in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan as cluster bombs and “Daisy Cutters” were callously dropped on the impoverished, war-stricken country. The U.S. government also seemed willing to tolerate human rights abuses by new U.S. allies, such as Uzbekistan, who saw the war on terrorism as carte blanche to rid themselves of troublesome dissidents, usually of the Muslim variety.
But the turning point of the U.S. regression may have been Bush’s decision to effectively waive the Geneva Conventions as they pertained to Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners who were captured in Afghanistan and flown to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay.
The international outcry over Guantanamo began almost instantly, when the living conditions of the prisoners were revealed, and particularly after photographs were released showing the detainees in open-air cages being subjected to sensory deprivation techniques.
European leaders and human rights groups objected to the treatment. Some of the loudest criticism came from the staunchest U.S. ally, the United Kingdom, where three cabinet ministers – Robin Cook, Patricia Hewitt and Jack Straw – expressed concern that the prisoners were not being treated well and that international agreements were being breached.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, also objected to the treatment and called on the Bush administration to respect the Geneva Conventions. Robinson argued that because the Afghanistan conflict was of an international nature, “the law of international armed conflict applies.” She took issue with the administration’s assertion that the prisoners were “unlawful combatants” and thus outside the protections of the Geneva Conventions.
Subsequent analyses by scholars of international law confirmed Robinson’s assessment. As Luica Vierrucci concluded in the Journal of International Criminal Justice:
[T]hose Guantanamo detainees who are members of the Taliban armed forces must be presumed to be lawful combatants and, upon capture, have the right to POW status. Therefore the US refusal to grant them POW status places the US in violation of Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 requiring, in case of doubt, that POW status be granted until a ‘competent tribunal’ has made a final determination. As for Al Qaeda detainees treated by the US as ‘unlawful combatants’, they may not be held indefinitely in custody without charge. As ‘unlawful combatants’ they are civilians protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and enjoy its judicial safeguards.
One of the United States’ main arguments as it pertained to the treatment of designated enemies was that as “unlawful combatants” they unworthy of protections under international law. According to this view, Taliban and al Qaeda forces did not conform to the rules of war, and therefore did not qualify for protections under the Geneva Conventions.
In defending the denial of POW status for suspects detained at Guantanamo, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted that because the prisoners did not belong to a recognized army, or wear distinguishable insignia, they were not protected from torture and other ill-treatment under international law.
This denial of POW status based on the idea that irregular terrorist forces do not wear distinguishable insignia has been a guiding principle of the “war on terror” for the past decade. It has become clear in recent years, however, that U.S. forces also brush off those niceties in the prosecution of the “war on terror.”
As part of its “Top Secret America” series, the Washington Post recently detailed the inner workings of the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, which does not identify itself in any traditional sense by displaying rank or insignia. In fact, this special forces team reserves the right to assassinate anyone it chooses, claiming, “We’re the dark matter. We’re the force that orders the universe but can’t be seen.”
As the Post reports:
Created in 1980 but reinvented in recent years, JSOC has grown from 1,800 troops prior to 9/11 to as many as 25,000, a number that fluctuates according to its mission. It has its own intelligence division, its own drones and reconnaissance planes, even its own dedicated satellites. It also has its own cyberwarriors, who, on Sept. 11, 2008, shut down every jihadist Web site they knew.
Obscurity has been one of the unit’s hallmarks. When JSOC officers are working in civilian government agencies or U.S. embassies abroad, which they do often, they dispense with uniforms, unlike their other military comrades. In combat, they wear no name or rank identifiers. They have hidden behind various nicknames: the Secret Army of Northern Virginia, Task Force Green, Task Force 11, Task Force 121. JSOC leaders almost never speak in public. They have no unclassified Web site.
As Jeremy Scahill reported recently at the Nation:
Both President Bush and President Obama have reserved the right for US forces to operate lethally and unilaterally in any country across the globe in pursuit of alleged high value terrorists. The Obama administration’s expansion of US Special Operations activities globally has been authorized under a classified order dating back to the Bush administration. Originally signed in early 2004 by then–Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, it is known as the “AQN ExOrd,” or Al Qaeda Network Execute Order. The AQN ExOrd was intended to cut through bureaucratic and legal processes, allowing US special forces to move into denied areas or countries beyond the official battle zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Gen. David Petraeus, who is poised to become director of the CIA, expanded and updated that order in late 2009. “JSOC has been more empowered more under this administration than any other in recent history,” a Special Ops source told The Nation. “No question.”
The right “reserved” by U.S. forces to kill enemies without any semblance of due process has no basis in international law. As the Harvard Law Review pointed out in 2006:
Black’s Law Dictionary defines assassination as ‘the act of deliberately killing someone especially a public figure, usually for hire or for political reasons.’ If termed ‘assassination,’ then attacks on leaders have been construed as prohibited by Article 23b of the Hague Convention of 1899, which outlaws ‘treacherous’ attacks on adversaries, and by the Protocol Addition to the Geneva Convention of 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflict (Protocol I), which prohibits attacks that rely on ‘perfidy.’
For the reasons laid out in international law, the U.S. has abandoned the use of the word “assassination,” and adopted the more politically correct “targeted killing.” But the change in terminology does not mean a change in the law, which explicitly prohibits extrajudicial executions, including state-sponsored assassinations, and requires that even the worst criminals be granted due process and fair trials.
While thoroughly denied the attention and respect that they deserve, these principles of due process, fair trials and basic justice are now more important than ever.
On this tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror event, it is either time to constrain this lawless state, or ignore its lawlessness. For the past decade, the U.S. has acted as a law unto itself, and until it is constrained, its recklessness will only grow more brazen. At some point, reigning this power in may be more than anyone can handle.
Increasing numbers of commentators are coming to the realization that the U.S./NATO intervention in the Libyan civil war exceeds the UN mandate that originally authorized the establishment of a no-fly zone in order to protect Libyan civilians, and is therefore illegal. As veteran war correspondent Chris Hedges — who initially supported the efforts to stop Gaddafi forces from entering Benghazi six months ago — writes today at Truthdig,
The NATO airstrikes on the city of Sirte expose the hypocrisy of our “humanitarian” intervention in Libya. Sirte is the last Gadhafi stronghold and the home to Gadhafi’s tribe. The armed Libyan factions within the rebel alliance are waiting like panting hound dogs outside the city limits. They are determined, once the airstrikes are over, not only to rid the world of Gadhafi but all those within his tribe who benefited from his 42-year rule. The besieging of Sirte by NATO warplanes, which are dropping huge iron fragmentation bombs that will kill scores if not hundreds of innocents, mocks the justification for intervention laid out in a United Nations Security Council resolution.
The U.N., when this began six months ago, authorized “all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.” We have, as always happens in war, become the monster we sought to defeat. We destroy in order to save. Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council estimates that the number of Libyans killed in the last six months, including civilians and combatants, has exceeded 50,000. Our intervention, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, has probably claimed more victims than those killed by the former regime. But this intervention, like the others, was never, despite all the high-blown rhetoric surrounding it, about protecting or saving Libyan lives. It was about the domination of oil fields by Western corporations.
Former British Ambassador Craig Murray recently noted at Consortiumnews that NATO’s attack on Sirte, a city where leader Muammar Gaddafi still has widespread support, calls into question the very basis for the Western intervention:
There is no cause to doubt that, for whatever reason, the support of the people of Sirte for Gaddafi is genuine. That this means they deserve to be pounded into submission is less obvious to me.
The disconnect between the UN mandate “to protect civilians” while facilitating negotiation, and NATO’s actual actions as the anti-Gaddafi forces’ air force and special forces, is startling. …
It is worth reminding everyone something never mentioned, that UNSCR 1973 which established the no-fly zone and mandate to protect civilians had “the aim of facilitating dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution.”
That is in Operative Para 2 of the Resolution.
Plainly the people of Sirte hold a different view than the “rebels” as to who should run the country. NATO has in effect declared being in Gaddafi’s political camp a capital offence.
There is no way the massive assault on Sirte is “facilitating dialogue.” It is rather killing those who do not hold the NATO approved opinion. That is the actual truth. It is extremely plain.
Belgian philosopher Jean Bricmont recently stated on RT America that as it pertains to the Libyan conflict, “international law is dead.”
As Bricmont and Diana Johnstone recently wrote at Counterpunch.org,
On March 17, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 which gave that particular “coalition of the willing” the green light to start their little war by securing control of Libyan air space, which was subsequently used to bomb whatever NATO chose to bomb. The coalition leaders clearly expected the grateful citizens to take advantage of this vigorous “protection” to overthrow Moammer Gaddafi who allegedly wanted to “kill his own people”. Based on the assumption that Libya was neatly divided between “the people” on one side and the “evil dictator” on the other, this overthrow was expected to occur within days. In Western eyes, Gaddafi was a worse dictator than Tunisia’s Ben Ali or Egypt’s Mubarak, who fell without NATO intervention, so Gaddafi should have fallen that much faster.
Five months later, all the assumptions on which the war was based have proved to be more or less false. Human rights organizations have failed to find evidence of the “crimes against humanity” allegedly ordered by Gaddafi against “his own people”. The recognition of the Transitional National Council (TNC) as the “sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people” by Western governments has gone from premature to grotesque. NATO has entered and exacerbated a civil war that looks like a stalemate.
With nearly a thousand people killed in Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte in recent days, it is becoming increasingly clear that an even greater bloodbath may loom. Ali Tarhouni, a senior official of the NATO-backed rebels, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying “Sometimes to avoid bloodshed you must shed blood – and the faster we do this the less blood will be shed.”
NATO’s rebels set a four-day deadline for Gaddafi’s remaining strongholds, including Sirte, to surrender or face a final crushing military strike.
The deadline for surrender came and went yesterday with no signs of a truce, and fighters began planning to enter the towns of Sirte and Bani Walid, the last pro-Gaddafi strongholds. Whatever lays in store for the future, it is safe to assume that with international law cast aside from day one, human rights and international norms will not be high on the list of priorities.