By rahnuma ahmed
Truth has been the first casualty of `war’ in Libya, I wrote last week.
As anti-war groups gather evidence including pictures and videos of war crimes committed by NATO and NATO-backed rebels in Libya, as French lawyers prepare lawsuits against president Nicolas Sarkozy for committing crimes against humanity–`using missiles with depleted uranium which cause cancer,’ targeting `electricity, water and food supply’ – independent journalists demand that CNN, France24, the BBC and al-Jazeera be tried for violating international law. For committing crimes against peace.
Thierry Meyssan of voltairenet.org, a web of non-aligned press groups based in Beirut, insists that crimes committed by satellite TV stations are `more serious’ than those by NATO and Western intelligence in Libya. Why? Because media intoxication `precedes’ the commitment of crimes by military alliances and western governments (Journalists who engage in war propaganda must be held accountable, August 16, 2011). It enables these crimes.
According to international laws and conventions, `war propaganda’ is illegal. The UN General Assembly Resolution 110 condemns `[P]ropaganda which is either designed or likely to provoke or encourage any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression’ (3 November 1947). Further strengthened by two more resolutions passed later: 381 (17 November 1950), and 819 (11 December 1954).
Designed or likely to provoke aggression? Well, at first, there was the `genocide’, and Gaddafi is `bombing’ his people propaganda. The Libyan opposition made alarmist warnings about genocide on February 21, claims that were carried by al-Jazeera and the BBC.
In a news report titled `Libya protests spread and intensify,’ witnesses tell al-Jazeera that security forces attacked a huge anti-government march in Tripoli `using fighter jets and live ammunition’ (21 February 2011).
On the same day, BBC too, `reported’: `Witnesses say warplanes have fired on protestors in the city’ (Libya protests: Tripoli hit by renewed clashes). But neither the US secretary of defense Robert Gates, nor Admiral Mike Mullen could substantiate these claims at Pentagon’s March 1 press conference, when asked: `Do you see any evidence that he [Gaddafi] actually has fired on his own people from the air? There were reports of it, but do you have independent confirmation? If so, to what extent?’ (Maxmilian C. Forte, The Top Ten Myths in the War against Libya, CounterPunch, August 31, 2011).
The Russian military, as I mentioned in last week’s column, had monitored the unrest via satellite from the very beginning and, had said `as far as we are concerned the attacks some media were reporting have never occurred’ (RT, March 01, 2011).
But this, however, did not prevent The Guardian from continuing to publish, nearly a fortnight later, heady news reports and op-eds: Libyan rebels warn, if Gaddafi’s army reaches Benghazi, half a million will be killed. The West can’t let Gaddafi destroy his people. Instead of fearing another Iraq, the West must do right by Libya. Will the West sit on its hands as Gaddafi extends his tyranny into a fifth decade, as he massacres those who have risen up for freedom? Freedom is not only for the rich and the white (March 12-13, 2011).
Equally worse, if not more, was the `African mercenaries’ myth, created February onwards, by the mainstream media, led by al-Jazeera. Gaddafi was importing black African mercenaries from Africa to quell the popular uprising, thus went the myth.
But is not Libya in Africa? asks blogger Konwomyn in an open letter to al-Jazeera (About Those ‘African Mercenaries’, February 22, 2011). One to which al-Jazeera, as far as I can tell, has failed to respond.
While it is quite likely that some Libyans do refer to black Libyans as `African mercenaries,’ while it is also true, as a race historian has recently written, that contrary to the popular image of Libyans as being light-skinned Arabs, a significant number of Libyans are black, particularly those in southern Libya (Carina Ray, Gaddafi and the mercenary myth, September 27, 2011), more to the point, and horrifyingly so, is that rebel forces used the African mercenaries myth to single out `blacks’ – both black Libyans, and undocumented migrant workers from Mali, Chad and western Africa – for lynching, for execution. Events largely glossed over by the mainstream western media, and the International Criminal Court (ICC), more concerned with Viagra (more on that later). As the chair of the African Union pointed out, the National Transitional Council `seems to confuse black people with mercenaries…If you do that, it means (that) one-third of the population of Libya, which is black, is also mercenaries. They are killing people, normal workers, mistreating them.’ Tawergha, a Libyan town populated largely by its black citizens was an early casualty of this myth; the whereabouts of nearly 10,000 inhabitants is still unknown. These abuses were documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Los Angeles Times while Al Arabiya, The Telegraph, Time, the New York Times, The Guardian, al- Jazeera (with the exception of a single report), stuck to the African mercenary myth. By not bothering to unpack the intermeshing of colonial and local categories of `African’ and `Arab’, the indiscriminate killing of blacks, for being blacks, was undertaken by NATO’s allies, i.e., rebel forces.
Gaddafi is supplying Viagra to his troops, he’s instructing them to rape women. First disseminated by al-Jazeera (Rape used `as a weapon’ in Libya, March 28, 2011), the story was later redistributed by most major Western news media (see picture 1). Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosceutor of the ICC claimed before the world media, he had `evidence’. Gaddafi had not only ordered the rape of hundreds of women, he `himself [had] decided to rape.’ Viagra is `a tool of massive rape.’ It was affirmed by Susan Rice, US ambassador to UN in a closed door meeting of diplomats at the UN, but without any supportive evidence. By the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton too, deeply concerned at `the use of violence against women and rape as tools of war.’
But Cherif Bassiouini, who has led a UN rights inquiry into Libya, maintains that the Viagra story was part of a `massive hysteria.’ His team uncovered only four alleged cases of rape and sexual abuse. Four more than Amnesty International’s senior crisis responder Donatella Rovera who, after three months in Libya, found none. `No first-hand evidence in Libya that rapes are systematic and being used as part of war strategy.’ `Not only have we not met any victims, but we have not even met any persons who have met victims.’ Rebel forces who insisted on showing her boxes of Viagra found, curiously enough, `intact near tanks that were completely burnt out’ must have been sorely disappointed.
Confronted by such strong evidence, the BBC, and CNN later, fell back on cultural imperialist explanations. Rape victims are nowhere to be found because they are fearful of `honour killings.’ So what if this cultural practice is unknown in Libya, writes Fortes, an anthropologist. It `helped to keep [Western media’s] mass rape claim on life support.’
On August 22 al-Jazeera aired a `live’ report from the Green Square in Tripoli which showed several hundred mostly young men joyously celebrating the fall of Tripoli to rebel forces, scenes which were immediately disseminated through the global media complex.
But media critics say, these pictures are an `elaborate and criminal hoax.’ That the footage had been prefabricated in a studio in Doha, Qatar. Libya’s Raysse state television warned Libyans about the impending hoax on August 18. Analysts say, the original Bab al-Hurriya (Freedom Gate) has 600 year-old ancient walls around it and motif around the small arch which is absent in al-Jazeera’s live footage, that he street behind the left gate looks unreal (see picture 2). That the hoax was intended to create the impression that Tripoli had fallen. To create panic and chaos. To break the Libyan resistance (Metrogael.blogspot.com). That it also provided cover for the ensuing massacre of civilians. Independent reporter Lizzie Phelan in Tripoli confirmed from what she described as `reliable sources’ that the al-Jazeera footage was `false.’
The `fake’ Green Square footage was aired on Sky TV too. The BBC, not to be outdone, showed their own live footage from Tripoli, but unfortunately the flag-wavers were not Libyans at all but Indians, more probably ardent supporters of Anna Hazare (see picture 3). In response to prisonplanet.com’s complaint, the BBC said, the programme’s editors took down the footage on realising their mistake. But since the BBC no longer enjoys credibility, many are skeptical.
The credibility of al-Jazeera and other major western news outlets was further taxed when Saif al-Islam , Gaddafi’s son and presumptive heir, reportedly arrested by rebel forces on August 22 – according to the NTC’s chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil interned `in a secure place under close guard’, an arrest confirmed by the ICC’s chief prosecutor – turned up at Rixos hotel in Tripoli on August 23. Accompanied by a select group of foreign journalists, he toured parts of the capital including the Bab al-Azizia military compound. Footage of a smiling Saif, shaking hands and laughing with dozens of men, created shock waves in Western capitals. It forced Nick Clegg, British deputy prime minister, to insist it was `not the sign of some great comeback for the Gaddafi regime.’
Independent news reports indicate, despite the `continued embargo, shortage of fuel and downgrading of Libyan utilities’ Libyans have not turned against Gaddafi as expected. http://tinyurl.com/3nf5hb3 People now resent the western invasion more than their dictator of forty years.