People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 45

November 06, 2011

Libya: Hypocrisy and Barbarism


Yohannan Chemarapally


ON October 24, 1911 the Italian colonial authorities brutally subdued Libyan freedom fighters led by Mustapha ben Ahmad in Tripoli. Ahmad along with fifty of those captured were summararily shot. A similar scene was replicated in the Libyan city of Sirte in the third week of October. Along with the Libyan leader, Col Muammar Gaddafi at least 53 of his fighters were executed. And like Mustapha ben Ahmad a hundred years ago, Gaddafi died fighting occupation forces. Gaddafi’s convoy was bombed by NATO war planes near Sirte.


An injured Gaddafi, his son Muatassim and those with him were then left at the mercy of the rebel forces. Video footage has shown that Gaddafi and his son, had gunshot wounds shot at point blank range, on their heads. Both of them were captured before they were shot. 53 bodies of those fighting along with Gaddafi with tell tale signs of summary execution have been found in the city itself. Joanne Mariner, an American academic and human rights activist observed that according to the evidence at hand Gaddafi “was brutally killed in a display of revenge, hatred, domination, and fury and his body displayed for days as a trophy”. 


Fidel Castro while expressing his indignation at the way in which Gaddafi was killed said that NATO had become the “most perfidious instrument of repression the history of humanity has ever known”. Fidel who on previous occasions had faulted Gaddafi for many of his ideological positions and compromises with the West had expressed his admiration for the Libyan leader’s determined resistance against overwhelming military odds. When the NATO war against Libya started, Fidel had urged Gaddafi to resist and if necessary die with his boots on.  The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez described the killing of Gaddafi as “an assassination”. Chavez said that Gaddafi would be remembered “as a fighter and a martyr”. The Venezuelan leader added that “the most lamentable thing is the US determination, along with their European allies, to dominate the world”. Both Cuba and Venezuela have said that they would not recognise the new Libyan government established with the help of foreign intervention.


Two days before Gaddafi’s death, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was in Tripoli. “We hope he will be captured or killed soon”, said Clinton. From the very beginning of the eight month long NATO military campaign in Libya, repeated efforts were made to physically eliminate Gaddafi. NATO did succeed in killing one of his sons, Saif al Arab and three grandchildren in an attack on their private residence. Since the NATO led war began in earnest in March this year, some reports suggest that more than 30,000 Libyans have been killed. NATO jets have carried out more than 26,000 bombing missions in Libya till the last week of October. US drones saw more action in Libya than in Pakistan. Western armaments companies are now advertising the lethal nature of their wares in countries like India, citing their performance in Libya as an illustration. The French are highlighting the performance of the Rafale while the British are showcasing the prowess of the Eurofighter. Both these planes have been short listed by the Indian Air Force to replenish their strike force.


By the middle of October the entire world knew that Sirte’s valiant resistance was about to end. The hypocrisy of humanitarian intervention was fully exposed when Sirte, a showcase city, was bombed into rubble in more than three weeks of relentless attacks led by NATO. The West had intervened in Libya on the specious plea that civilian lives were in danger in Benghazi, though there was no clinching evidence that the Libyan forces were even contemplating an attack on the city. The UN Security Council Resolution on Libya had after all authorised “all necessary measures – to protect civilians and civilian protected areas under threat of attack”. But NATO had different standards for the people supporting the NTC and the people supporting Gaddafi. Benghazi remains intact while Sirte and Bani Walid, pro-Gaddafi strongholds have become ghost towns, its citizens either killed or forced to flee.




It was clear since the beginning of the massive NATO air and sea assault that the West and leaders of Libya’s new government preferred to see Gaddafi dead than alive. Gaddafi alive would have had a lot to reveal about his close relationship with the so called liberators and benefactors of Libya.  Many of the leaders of the National Transitional Council (NTC) now in power, were originally hatchet men for Gaddafi, complicit in his wheeling and dealing, as well as in the rampant cases related to human rights abuses. Other influential figures in the NTC are former CIA assets involved in previous coup plots against Gaddafi and Islamists, who since the early nineties were the main targets of Libyan security agencies.


Gaddafi’s relationship with the West had become very intimate in the last couple of years. The Obama administration had been supplying arms till the Benghazi uprising took place earlier in the year. The Bush administration had sub-contracted torture jobs to the Libyan government. Gaddafi was on excellent terms with the French president Nicolas Sarkozy and the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Four years ago, the French government was trying to sell Areva nuclear reactors and Raphael jet fighters to Tripoli. Most of the recent Libyan oil contracts were heading the way of western oil companies. “As soon as it appeared opportune to them, they accepted and armed Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein as allies. As soon as it no longer appeared opportune, they began pointing out the—indisputably—disastrous human rights records of both the leaders”, observed the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung. An analytical report from a Reuters London correspondent said that a trial for Gaddafi would have “embarrassed the western governments”.


The death of Gaddafi marks the end of an important chapter in the contemporary history of Africa and the Arab world. Gaddafi was in power since 1969 when the decolonisation process in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa was gaining momentum.  Despite his imperious and often anarchic style of rule, what is indisputable is that soon after Gaddafi seized power with a group of fellow young officers, Libyans soon started enjoying the highest standard of living in the African continent. One of the first things the new government led by Gaddafi did was to wrest control of the oil industry from western multinationals and ask the British and the Americans to vacate from their military bases in the country. Most of the oil revenues were gainfully used for the welfare of the people. Child mortality rates are among the lowest in the world. The WHO in a report published before NATO launched its “Operation Odyssey Dawn” said that health care was available for all citizens “free of charge”. Libya boasts of the highest literacy rates in North Africa




As the bloody events of recent months have shown, Gaddafi’s real nemesis was the West which had never really forgotten or forgiven Gaddafi’s past actions. The Libyan government was an open supporter of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Basque separatists, when the two groups were waging a violent guerrilla war against the British and Spanish governments in the seventies and the eighties. The Saudi King Abdullah openly accused Gaddafi of hatching a plot to murder him. The military action by the US, France and England had the strong backing of the Gulf monarchies. Qatar recently admitted that it had military boots on the ground. 


The mysterious disappearance of a senior Shia cleric from, Imam Moussa Ghadr, during a visit to Libya, has been blamed on Gaddafi and made him a disliked figure in Iran and Lebanon. Sadr was a founder of the Lebanese Amal Party, which is part of the government in Beirut. In the seventies and the eighties, Gaddafi poked his nose in the affairs of many African countries. He along with Ghana’s Jerry Rawlings and Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara, were the radical leaders who railed openly against neo-colonialism and the structural policies of the IMF/World Bank. Sankara was killed in the early eighties; Rawlings embraced multiparty democracy and faded away while Gaddafi continued ploughing a lonely furrow. In between he fought a brief war with neighbouring Chad over the disputed Aouzou Strip adjacent to Libya’s southern border. Gaddafi’s penchant for interference in the domestic affairs of other countries extended all the way to the Philippines. He was a key supporter of the Moro Liberation Army fighting for the independence of Mindanao.



Libya’s alleged involvement in the 1988 Lockerbie plane crash led to the West imposing draconian sanctions on Libya. However it was the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 that seems to have unnerved Gaddafi. Washington had indicated that Libya too would meet the same fate. He thought he could avoid the fate of Saddam Hussein by making unilateral concessions to the West. Among the major concessions were the handing over of two suspects in Lockerbie case for trial, the dismantling of Libya’s WMD program and allowing many of the western oil companies to reinvest in Libya’s lucrative hydro-carbon sector.


The moves of the new government in Libya, presently consisting of different factions ranging from Islamists to secular parties, will be closely watched. Factionalism seems to have already become a serious problem with the various armed militias refusing to disarm even in the capital Tripoli. The various tribal groups that joined in the NATO led campaign all want a big slice of the oil revenue. There are predictions that Libya will go the way of Lebanon with more civil strife around the corner. Even as the UN Security Council voted unanimously to end the “no fly zone” with immediate effect on October 29, the TRC issued an appeal to NATO to extend its stay in the country. Libya’s interim leader, Mohammed Jibril urged his NATO benefactors to stay on at least until the end of 2011 to prevent Gaddafi loyalists from leaving the country. He may also need protection from the Islamists. A prominent Islamist leader from Benghazi, Ali Salabi, recently said that the TRC is filled with “radical secularists” trying to sideline the religious groups. He accused Jibril of planning to usher in “a new era of tyranny and dictatorship”.  


The comparatively light skinned Berbers and other tribes from the north and east of the country have viewed their darker skinned compatriots as enemies. Many of them were killed on the mere suspicion that they were “mercenaries” from neighbouring sub-Saharan countries. Tens of thousand of workers from these countries who were mainly employed in low paying jobs have been forced to flee. Asian workers hurriedly left soon after the civil war erupted.  The UN and groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch did not find any merit in stories put out by the international media about mass rapes and other atrocities allegedly committed by troops loyal to Gaddafi. Instead these groups have accused the NTC of very serious human rights violations, especially during the inhumane siege of Sirte.


The AU has accused the NATO supported TNC of indiscriminate killing of Black Africans. The new government is expected to turn its back on Africa and enmesh itself with the West and its other proxies in the region. The government in Tripoli has been the first Arab government to recognise the Syrian opposition.  UK, France and the US expect more contracts in the oil and defence sectors. Countries like China, Russia and India are waiting to see if the new government honours old oil contracts signed with the previous government. The civil war had virtually brought production to a halt. The rebel leaders who have parachuted to the seat of power have said on several occasions that the countries which made their victory possible, notably France and Britain, would be adequately rewarded.


Meanwhile, sophisticated armaments from Libyan arsenals have proliferated all over the region. Neighbouring governments have said that a significant amount of the weaponry has gone to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Some of the Libyan weapons have reached up to the Gaza Strip. Libya itself has no army left now. The various militias, whose way to Tripoli was paved with NATO bombs, are now refusing to give up their new found power and influence. The Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, said in a recent speech that the fighting in the North African nation is not yet finished “because Libyans are a people of dignity, and the Yankee Empire will not be able to dominate”.