And it’s not good. Not good at all. The entire report can be read here, while here are just some of the highlights, er, lowlights:
Thousands of people, including women and children, are being illegally detained by rebel militias in Libya, according to a report by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Many of the prisoners are suffering torture and systematic mistreatment while being held in private jails outside the control of the country’s new government.
The document…states that while political prisoners being held by the Gaddafi regime have been released, their places have been taken by up to 7,000 new “enemies of the state”, “disappeared” in a dysfunctional system, with no recourse to the law.
But the continuing human rights abuses, says the Secretary-General’s report, are the most pressing concern. The report says that “while political prisoners held by the Gaddafi regime have been released, an estimated 7,000 detainees are currently held in prisons and makeshift detention centres, most of which are under the control of revolutionary brigades, with no access to due process in the absence of a functioning police and judiciary.”
Of particular worry was the fate of women being held for alleged links with the regime, often due to family connections, sometimes with their children locked up alongside them.
“There have also been reports of women held in detention in the absence of female guards and under male supervision, and of children detained alongside adults,” says the report.
A number of black Africans were lynched following the revolution following claims, often false, that they were hired guns for the Gaddafi regime. The city of Tawerga, mainly comprised of residents originally from sub-Saharan countries, was largely destroyed by rebel fighters from neighbouring Misrata. The port city had withstood a prolonged and brutal siege in the hands of the regime forces during which, it is claimed, fighters from Tawerga were particularly aggressive and brutal.
The report says that ”sub-Saharan Africans, in some cases accused or suspected of being mercenaries, constitute a large number of the detainees. Some detainees have reportedly been subjected to torture and ill treatment. Cases have been reported of individuals being targeted because of the colour of their skin.”
The document continues: “Tawergas are reported to have been targeted in revenge killings, or taken by armed men from their homes, checkpoints and hospitals, and some allegedly later abused or executed in detention. Members of the community have fled to various cities across Libya.”
Image via The Christian Science Monitor
When I wrote this post back in early September criticizing the decision to go to war in Libya, the rebels just took control of Tripoli, and the Qaddafi regime essentially fell. Recently, the rebels killed Qaddafi in a firefight in his hometown of Sirte. His death is now being held up in the U.S. as a sign that the Libyan war is ‘won’, thus vindicating Obama’s decision as well as this approach of military intervention. However, to couch the recent events in Libya as either validation of Obama’s decision, liberal humanitarian intervention, or some sort of military victory is highly shortsighted. As Stephen Walt put it:
We can all hope that the Libyan revolution fulfills its idealistic hopes and avoids the various pitfalls that lie ahead, but it is way too early to start bragging about it, or declaring it the model for future interventions. And if Libya does go south, enthusiasm for the “Obama Doctrine” will fade faster than watercolors in the Libyan sun.
In fact, shortly after Qaddafi’s death, some recent developments largely mirror the warnings sounded by war critics. As I wrote in my critique of the decision to intervene, “the main criticism of the Libya war, was, and remains the unanswerable questions and uncertainty of what ensues in the aftermath of Qaddafi.” Whether the war produced a government with a far greater Islamic influence than Qaddafi’s, or one equally or more authoritarian, will be played out over time. However, some recent reports are proving those concerned with the unintended consequences justified in their apprehension.
Libya under Qaddafi was largely secular. Now, The Washington Post is reporting the leader of the Libyan Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, pledged to replace the old dictatorship with “a more strictly Islamic system…” stating, “[w]e are an Islamic state….” The Post also reports of increased strain amongst Islamists and secularists on the TNC. This represents exactly the kind of worries put forth by those against the war. The potential now exists for Libya to become unduly influenced by Islamic elements of Libyan society, potentially leading to a repressive Islamic state and/or a new home base of operations for terrorists.
Moreover, and far more disturbing, is this story via John Glaser:
Fifty-three people, apparent Gaddafi supporters, seem to have been executed at a hotel in Sirte last week, Human Rights Watch said today. The hotel is in an area of the city that was under the control of anti-Gaddafi fighters from Misrata before the killings took place.
Human Rights Watch called on Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) to conduct an immediate and transparent investigation into the apparent mass execution and to bring those responsible to justice.
“We found 53 decomposing bodies, apparently Gaddafi supporters, at an abandoned hotel in Sirte, and some had their hands bound behind their backs when they were shot,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, who investigated the killings.
This report should make anyone who supported the war recoil in horror and disgust. While even supporters of the war will admit the regime that follows Qaddafi may in fact turn out just as repressive, it’s extremely foreboding that this kind of massacre occurred just days after Qaddafi’s death.
Nonetheless, these two reports illustrate how the situation in Libya remains extremely dangerous, tenuous, and no closer to a final resolution. Rather, just like in Iraq, the upcoming months and years will decide the fate of Libya, leaving the past seven months – from the breakout of the war to Qaddafi’s death – as a preview for the real conflict. As Daniel Larison correctly points out:
While Gadhafi’s death will mark the end of Western military involvement in Libya, we should not assume that it means that Libya will not be wracked by violence for months or years to come. We should not forget that the worst of the post-invasion violence in Iraq came well after Saddam Hussein’s capture and execution. Just as it was Iraqi civilians who bore the brunt of the war over the last eight years, it has been and continues to be Libyan civilians who are suffering the most from prolonged conflict.
When dictatorships are violently overthrown, their successor regimes tend to devolve into some form of authoritarian government. Political culture, weak institutions, and post-conflict disorder all make it unlikely that Libya will be that much freer in the years to come than it was under Gadhafi. As in Iraq, it is questionable whether the possible gains will be worth the real losses that have already been and will continue to be suffered. As in Kosovo, which is often wrongly held up as a model of “successful” intervention, the post-war regime is liable to be criminal and corrupt. Twenty years ago, the liberation of Eritrea and Ethiopia from the brutal dictatorship of Mengistu was an inspiring story that very soon degenerated into authoritarianism and war. There is no reason to think that Libya’s story will be all that different.
Image via flickr user RMondolfi
An ABC News report recently revealed that thousands of highly dangerous surface-to-air missiles Libya posessed before the war “continue to be stolen from unguarded military warehouses.” The Libyan stockpile of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles was estimated to be around 20,000 before the uprising of the Libyan people. The US is seeking to expand a program dedicated to securing and destroying the stockpile lest the weapons fall into the wrong hands. However, US officials have admitted that “the government does not have a clear picture of how many missiles they’re trying to track down.” Over at The National Interest, Malou Innocent takes stock of the ABC report and notes:
The weapons free-for-all in Libya may or may not risk destabilizing the region, but it is reasonably safe to assume that had the U.S. and NATO not intervened, the Libyan conflict—along with its weapons—might have been self-contained.
Now, as confirmed by Carney and the White House in its mysterious “secret meeting” today, these missing weapons allow for an expanded U.S. presence. It should be evident to anyone that it won’t be easy to track these missiles down and retrieve them. But in keeping with the spirit of the mission, it seems officials will worry about the consequences of an expanded U.S. presence after extra forces have been deployed.
Image via flickr user Marion Doss
Now that the rebels virtually control Tripoli and Qaddafi’s regime has allegedly fallen, Libya war supporters are taking a celebratory victory lap and asking for apologies from those who opposed intervention. However, I find this reaction to be quite misguided. I opposed military intervention in Libya, and stand by that now, even as Qaddafi fell. The anti-intervention argument wasn’t that getting rid of Qaddafi was going to be a problem or that intervening couldn’t help facilitate the rebels overthrowing the regime. Nor was it that Qaddafi wasn’t a dreadful person who did awful things to his people. Rather, it focused on the legality of the war and the far-reaching consequences of military action. These pertinent questions and concerns posed by opponents of the Libyan war still stand today.
The war in Libya was illegal, regardless of the supposed outcome. It’s elapsed for months now without congressional approval in violation of the War Powers Act – in fact, congress voted against a resolution in favor of the war. Moreover, the claim that military intervention in Libya didn’t qualify as ‘hostilities’ under the War Powers Act is a widely recognized fiction. On Antiwar radio, constitutional scholar Bruce Fein rightly pointed out that if ‘hostilities’ only apply when US troops are being actively shot at, then launching a nuclear bomb wouldn’t constitute ‘hostilities’. And while not a legal issue, the disingenuous justification for the war, ‘humanitarian intervention’ to prevent slaughter of civilians, was quickly revealed as a ruse for regime change.
Alternatively, the main criticism of the Libya war, was, and remains the unanswerable questions and uncertainty of what ensues in the aftermath of Qaddafi. Sure, he was a terrible leader who committed atrocities against his own people, but what guarantee is there that what succeeds him won’t be just as bad, if not worse? It’s not as if we really know who the Transitional National Council is. There’s also no way to predict what kind of government will be set up and who will comprise it. A notion of the entire rebellion as either representative of Libyan society or all liberty loving freedom fighters is downright comical. The rebellion is highly diverse and dissimilar, comprised of people from all different walks of Libyan society – the potential for violence will be great as competing interests vie for power in the new government.
Moreover, after facilitating the downfall of Qaddafi, the US and NATO can’t just turn their backs on the fallout and rebuilding process. Immediately leaving would open the US to blame for the end result or potential problems left in Qaddafi’s wake. The appearance and consequences of extracting ourselves permanently from Libya will unfortunately result in us having no choice but to be significantly involved in the affairs of the Libyans as they form a new government. Anti-interventionists argue that due to the unknown future, military intervention and regime change could yield bloody unintended consequences that nobody expects nor fully understands.
However, the most salient critique of the war is the precedent established by the president’s decision to intervene in Libya. Any pre-existing check on the executive’s unilateral power to wage war is now effectively eliminated. By intervening militarily in a country with no US national security interests and without congressional authorization, Obama provided cover for every future president who launches new wars and conflicts likely to produce far worse and long-term consequences to American interests than Libya. Whether it’s a neocon approved Republican or a liberal ‘humanitarian interventionist,’ the justification for the next illegal war will be based on the Libya precedent set by Obama.
Image via Flickr user RMondolfi
Here is a letter to the Miami Herald:
In Congress, the president and Libya,the Editorial Board’s analysis of Mr. Obama’s Libya policy is misguided at best. Suggesting he is “on the right track” with respect to military intervention and deference to NATO is absurd. The United States is the largest contributor (about 23%) to NATO’s military budget – almost as much as France (12.4%) and the UK (12%) combined. Military adventures in Libya are completely unwarranted absent any threat to the national security of the United States. Moreover, there exists a moral absolutist attitude from the Herald regarding “the correct decision to get involved rather than have the United States sit idly by” – ignoring nuance, and unintended consequences.
The exercise in Libya is a great example of the complexity and dangerous nature of this approach. The humanitarian crisis rhetoric is in no short supply here, nor is the notion that an exceptional America lives up to its responsibilities as the world’s protector. Were the president truly on the right path, he would uphold the constitution by consulting with congress rather than allowing their power to levy war be usurped by NATO, avoiding unnecessary military intervention altogether. On the right track indeed.
Craig D. Schlesinger
Leave it to the good people at South Park to deliver such a poignant analogy to U.S. foreign policy. American Militarism is essentially an exercise in the arbitrary imposition of the government’s “will” in situations it wants to take advantage of. The ruse is typically carried out in the name of a responsibility to instill democratic order and/or resolve a humanitarian crisis. It’s a clever guise, especially when these military adventures are void of any mission pertaining to the defense of the United States from any threat -foreign or domestic. Moreover, there seemingly exists a moral absolutist attitude – ignoring nuance and unintended consequence, while ratcheting up American exceptionalist sentiment in the process.
The latest undertaking in Libya is a great example of the complexity and dangerous nature of this approach. The “humanitarian crisis” rhetoric is in no short supply here. Neither is the rhetoric that an exceptional America live up to its responsibilities as the world’s police. Were this actually true, the United States would be in countless wars in every third world region on the globe. The government would then be obliged to intervene in the face of every injustice (and already has plenty of military bases around the world). Instead, the American military industrial complex arbitrarily decides which moments we should bomb and which moments we shouldn’t – without the necessary declaration from Congress.