NATO Overthrows Gadaffi But Raises Human-Rights Questions

“It’s great to be in Libya, free Libya” said Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen as he declared the end of NATO’s air campaign in Europe, ‘the most successful operation’ in its history. Gaddafi is gone. Libya is free, or at least free to be free. Or so we are told. NATO intervention has been a success.  If NATO is claiming credit for the success of regime change should it not also accept some responsibility for the less creditable events that have resulted from its intervention?

The West intervened in Libya on 19 March with overwhelming coercive air power. (Formally NATO did not take over the coordination of the operation until 31 March and in the early days France and UK carried out most attacks under overall US command). Within hours of the intervention there were no Libyan aircraft to oppose the attacks and no anti-air capability worth the name. Yet despite 26,000 sorties including 9,600 strike sorties, the Gaddafi forces survived for seven months although losing thousands of personnel and suffering huge material damage in the NATO aerial bombardment. NATO, led by UK and France, exploited the protection of civilians not just to promote regime change but also to target Gaddafi himself and members of his family right up until the leader’s death on 19 October.

UN Security Council resolution 1973 was passed with some urgency (even haste) on the 19 March as Gaddafi forces approached Benghazi. Ten members of the SC supported the resolution including the US, France and UK of the permanent members and also Bosnia, Colombia, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal and South Africa. Significantly the other five states abstained. Russia and China were no great surprises. However when combined with the other three, Brazil, India and Germany, five of the world’s major powers were not prepared to give their support to the air intervention. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had warned NATO not to use the protection of civilians as an excuse for regime change which is precisely what happened. This will make it much harder to agree future resolutions at the UN allowing intervention by Member States in situations of internal disorder inside another Member State. There are obvious implications here for taking agreed international action on Syria which now looks remote even as the situation there continues to deteriorate with army deserters conducting increasingly effective military operations against the forces of the state.

Even within NATO there has been disagreement. Just 14 out of 28 NATO states participated in the operation with Germany and Turkey particularly vocal in opposition at various times. Three Arab countries, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Jordan participated in various ways as did neutral Sweden.

There will also be distaste throughout the Arab world at the spectacle of NATO killing thousands of Arabs without suffering a single casualty in a seven month ‘war’. Despite playing God, NATO seems to have been able to avoid any responsibility for the chaos and human rights abuses that have flowed from the intervention.

The National Transitional Council has been supported almost unequivocally by the international media as the good guys and their raggle-taggle armies have been presented in a simplistic heroic light. Yet from the beginning the undisciplined nature of their forces was evident from the media footage. Even in the very early days one often wondered who the civilians of Libya most needed protection from. It seemed that the revolutionaries fled whenever they met strong resistance and generally relied on NATO air strikes to break the opposition.

There was great emotion after the death of Gaddafi with many citizens saying they had waited 42 years for this wonderful day. However NTC Chairman Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil spent much of those 42 years working within the Gaddafi system, eventually serving as Minister for Justice from 2007 to February 2011. He was sent to Benghazi by the Gaddafi Government in February to negotiate the release of hostages taken by the rebels. Only on 21 February did he resign and join the rebels although it should be acknowledged that he had a reasonably good reputation for protecting human rights while a minister. Other participants in the revolution had been servants of the Gaddafi regime for many years. Did they all suddenly discover a conscience together in February? Perhaps, but it is also possible that they were assisted in making this decision by other less public influences.

Libya on the map is a big square-shaped country but in reality its population is concentrated in a thin coastal strip 1100 miles long. There are about 140 tribes and clans divided into approx 14 major groups. Tensions are already apparent between these tribal groups within the NTC umbrella with the central Misrata tribes and tribes from the western mountains often estranged from the easterners in Benghazi. There is also a strong militant Islamic element working within the NTC. Huge quantities of modern weapons and munitions have fallen into the hands of civilians and the NTC has been slow to secure ammunition atorage areas. These weapons not only threaten stability in Libya but also in neighbouring countries such as Chad and Sudan.

Finally there is the lynching of Gaddafi on 19 October. As his convoy tried to break out of Sirte it was attacked and dispersed by a French air strike. After the convoy dispersed in different directions the segment with Gaddafi was attacked again by French aircraft. Why? Could this have been a coincidence? Was real-time information being relayed from the ground? How were these air strikes protecting civilians? The second strike is said to have killed about 50 of the70 persons in this convoy segment. The remaining 20 including Gaddafi and his son Mutassim were surrounded by NTC ‘fighters’.

The story of the end of Gaddafi is somewhat confused. It seems likely he was savagely beaten, probably sodomised with a knife or a stick, beaten with shoes and then shot by a fighter with an automatic weapon in the chest and head. There is apparent footage of his son Mutassim alive and well in captivity drinking bottled water. Yet he too ends up dead. The bodies are hijacked by the Misrata faction and treated in an appalling fashion contrary to Islamic practice before being buried in secret, thus preventing any forensic investigation.

However the muted reaction to these outrages is ultimately more worrying than the actions of the undisciplined mob itself. No western government has dared to criticise, let alone condemn, the NTC for these actions. The West has collectively turned the other way because he was a ’bad guy’ and however unfortunate, the actions of the mob seem to be deemed understandable in the circumstances.  Is a new threshold being established for extra judicial vengeance? The US chose to execute the unarmed Osama Bin Laden and to flout Islamic ritual before dumping his body at sea. Why then should not the Libyans avoid the difficulties of a trial and unpleasant revelations in dealing with their ‘bad guy’? And where does summary vengeance end? It has been clear since the capture of Tripoli in late August that NTC forces have been engaged in summary executions and torture and have carried out actions approaching genocide against dark-skinned immigrants. There is much evidence of killings of prisoners during the long battle for Sirte including one site visited by Human Rights Watch which may just be the tip of the massacre iceberg.

Of course NATO has not been directly involved in any of these outrages. Nevertheless NATO cannot claim credit for the positive outcomes without accepting some responsibility for the negatives. Even with overwhelming military superiority NATO was unable to dictate the pace of the conflict and was unable to restrain its local allies. Once again it was demonstrated that coercive military power has its limits and that even massive military superiority does not guarantee a desired end state. The US and its allies have launched three very different wars over the past 10 years in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Success was declared in all three cases. In the first two of these, victory was followed by brutal warfare accompanied by considerable human rights abuses. There is a good chance that the Libyan intervention will result in a similar moral muddle.





Favourites Politics World

“The Most Bloodiest Man” — Lebanon Waits in Fear as Syria Convulses

Mahmoud comes from the mountains up North, but he has lived in the city for forty years, most of them working as a barman pulling pints of foamy Almaza bière à la pression.  He has served many nationalities but never bothered much about learning other languages – even English.  He has some handy phrases such as ‘another round?’ ‘one for the road’  ‘closing time’.  He is good at mathematics and rarely gets a tally wrong when the time for l’addition comes.  He has cautiously watched all the comings and goings since 1975 and has survived many hegemonies in West Beirut; Palestinians, Mourabitoun, Syrians, Israelis, Americans, French, Amal, Hezbollah and even the Phalange for a few crazy days in 1982. Mahmoud rarely expresses views on politics.  But this year is different.

Hafez al-Assad

The volume on the Arabic news channel Al Arabiya is turned off and not being able to read the script I have to ask Mahmoud about the shockingly gruesome footage clearly coming from Syria.  Mahmoud begins to rattle off in an Arabic English mélange the lists of demonstrations and casualties and atrocities.  Mahmoud is clearly unhappy.  We explore the subject gently.  This is dangerous ground. Syria dominates Lebanon in many ways still, even though the troops are gone since 2005.  The al-Mukhabarrat intelligence services are rumoured to be still present and rumours surface occasionally of people disappearing to jails in Syria.  The present Lebanese Government is dominated by the pro-Syrian March 8 coalition led by Shiite parties Hezbollah and Amal.  The Syrian Government has been dominated by the Shiite Alawite minority for over forty years.  There are many refugees finding their way across border despite efforts to stop them by the Lebanese authorities.  Guns are being smuggled across the border to the opposition.  Everybody is worried.  Mahmoud is Sunni and he is worried.

We talk gingerly about the Assads —  Hafez, Bachar, Rifaat and Maher, father and son and uncle and brother.  Assad the father, says Mahmoud, ‘is the most bloodiest man in the whole world’, ‘more bloodiest than this Hitler or this Khadaffi’, neither of whom of course were Shiites.  Mahmoud is still outraged about the Hama massacre of 1982 when Government forces allegedly killed 20,000 in crushing a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ahmad is more circumspect.  He is a businessman in his late fifties, speaks good English, and like anyone of that age in Ras an Beirut should be treated with respect as a survivor of many years of appalling events.  Ahmad even remembers the notorious Phalange leader Bashir Gemayel inWest Beirut in 1982 with a glint in his eye because of course Bashir was blown to bits a few days later by a bomb planted by a fellow Christian.  Ahmad has been to Europe and America and even owns companies in the US.  However he hasn’t been to East Beirut since the 70s and has never been in the South.  ‘Once to Byblos, once to Jbeil, once to Saida and Tyr, why go more than once to these places, we have all we need here inWest Beirut’.  Even though he too is Sunni, Ahmad is worried about what will happen if Assad is overthrown.  Ahmad’s information is that Assad has 2 billion dollars and that this will help him hold on to power for two years.  You get the feeling that Ahmad would prefer Assad to hang on because the unknown is so frightening.

Bashar al-Assad

A friend who works for a European government in Damascus thinks the collapse might come sooner.  Conscripts have had their service extended.  They are deprived of mobile phones, satellite TV and internet.  They have been promised one weekend’s leave over the next two months and there is no telling how they will react when they find out what has been going on.  There are already reports of groups of army deserters operating as guerrillas in border areas.  This friend thinks that Bashar meant to reform when he took over but he was too weak to take on the entrenched Alawite officials in Government who are terrified of the vengeance that change might bring.  Now nobody seems to know how to prevent a catastrophic civil war.

Ali drives me in Beirut when I am stuck.  He is an engineering student and a Shiite from the southern suburbs.  His district was wrecked by Israeli bombing in 2006 and is undergoing major redevelopment led by Hezbollah. He is guarded on Syria but talks about Muslim extremists misleading people into joining protests against the regime.  Even Lebanese Christians are worried what will happen to all minorities, Christians, Kurds as well as Alawite if the Assad regime collapses.

Peace in Lebanon is fragile.  Between 150,000 and 200,000 are believed to have died between 1976 and 1990 and up to one million wounded.  The population in 2010 was 4.3 million.  That is a lot of hurt in one small country.  Peace in 1990 was enforced and maintained by Syrian forces, a Pax Syriana.  If Syria collapses Lebanon will shake.  Nabil is an Egyptian who has lived in Beirut for 28 years.  He will stay.  He says that there is nowhere else for him to go.  Ultimately that might be the best hope.  That the Lebanese too will realise that there is nowhere else to go other than their present fragile peace.   Whatever happens I am fairly confident that Mahmoud will still be pulling pints and his clientele will continue their intense analysis of politics and life.  Inshallah.

Favourites Politics

Gusty Spence RIP

Gusty Spence is dead?  Who cares?  Who was he?

Many will have never heard the name and most who know of him will harbour a vague awareness of somebody who was known for something once, probably in the North.  Those over 50 may have a greater awareness of his notoriety but might find it hard to remember why he was notorious.  And indeed that is probably an accurate reflection of the impact that Spence has made on Irish 20th century history.  Nevertheless his life story has considerable value in getting to grips with the phenomenon of ‘Loyalism’ and the complexities underlying the label.

Augustus Andrew ‘Gusty’ Spence played a number of cameos in the drama collectively known as ‘the troubles’.  He stars in a sordid prequel as a sectarian murderer in 1966, spectacularly walks back on set in 1972 as a rather unconvincing abductee, reappears in a dramatic act of contrition while declaring a Loyalist ceasefire in 1994 and finally announces a ‘putting out of reach’ of UVF weapons in 2007.  However his greatest contribution was probably away from the public eye in Crumlin Road Jail and the cages of Long Kesh in the early to mid 70s when he moved away from simple sectarianism to a more nuanced view of the Northern conflict and influenced a younger generation of Loyalist to engage in peaceful political activity.

Gusty bursts on the scene in 1966 as the leader of a tiny gang in the Shankill Road area calling themselves the Ulster Volunteer Force after Carson’s volunteer force of 1912.  In 1966 there was some tension in the North arising from Nationalist celebrations of the 50th anniversary of 1916, but there was little or no violence and there were no significant paramilitary bodies.  The IRA was four years into a ceasefire and we now know had virtually ceased to exist as a military entity.  However, many Ulster Protestants believed it was an ever present threat and there was no shortage of fiery marginal orators such as Ian Paisley prepared to raise a scare.  Spence’s small group had already killed two people before the Malvern Street attack on four Catholic barmen led to their arrest by the RUC.  The first casualty on 7 May 1966 was a 77 year old Protestant widow who was unfortunate enough to live beside a Catholic-owned bar in the Shankill (those were the days) and who died of severe burns seven weeks after the lads tossed a bomb through the wrong window.  Undeterred on 27 May, they decided to kill the only republican they seemed to know by name, Leo Martin, whom one of the gang had met in jail.  (Not a bad choice as it turned out.  Leo Martin, who went on to be a founding member of the Provos in 1969, drove a black taxi for years and only died in February 2011).  Luckily for him he was not at home that night.  However not so lucky was James Scullion who was rambling his merry way home from the pub singing a republican song.  The lads decided he me must be an IRA man and shot him.  It took him three weeks to die.

On 25 June the group went cruising again up to the Clonard looking for the same Leo Martin and failing to find him they returned to the Malvern Arms in the Shankill.  There was a lot of drink involved in these nocturnal operations.  In the Malvern Arms they discovered their next and final victims.  The four Catholic barmen from the International Hotel arrived for a late drink for which the house was well known.  This was not unusual in pre-Troubles Belfast.  Some or all of the barmen had southern accents and this sealed their fate.  Spence told his mates he had overheard their conversation and they were IRA men and ‘they had to go’.  The gang waited outside the bar and opened fire, killing Peter Ward aged 18 and seriously wounding two others.  The fourth was lightly wounded as he ran away.  However the Catholic barmen were not the only people in search of a late drink and a group of off-duty RUC men in the bar quickly identified the culprits.

The entire gang was rounded up and Spence received a life sentence.  One of those seriously wounded, Liam Doyle, identified Spence as the man who repeatedly shot him.  Spence always denied the murder of Ward and he may not have fired the shots that killed Ward.  However he was clearly the leader of the murder gang and undoubtedly merited conviction on those grounds.  These sordid acts in a time of communal peace were condemned by all sides of Unionism — even by Paisley who many suspected was linked in some way with these sporadic acts of anti-Catholic violence.  Spence’s mini murderous campaign showed very little evidence of political thought, and yet he was not the typical Loyalist paramilitary murderer who would go on the rampage from 1972 onwards.  Unlike most paramilitaries, Spence had actually been a soldier in the Royal Irish Rifles for four years and had served as a Military Police NCO in Cyprus before retiring due to ill-health in 1961.  He worked for Harland and Wolff as a ‘stager’ — an aristocratic trade in the ship building world.

With the outbreak of the Troubles in 1969, Spence became something of a hero for extremist Protestants and his UVF organisation revived and grew into a sectarian murder machine, while avoiding most of the racketeering that afflicted other Loyalist groups such as the much larger Ulster Defence Association (UDA).  Fake £5 notes were printed with Gusty’s head replacing the Queen and his image appeared on many Loyalist memorabilia.  To the amazement of many, Spence was given 6 hours parole in July 1972 at the very height of the Troubles to attend his daughter’s wedding.  What was not so amazing was that he did not return to jail after 6 hours.  The UVF claimed to have kidnapped him and for four months Gusty wandered around West and North Belfast at the height of the sectarian warfare of the summer of 1972 recruiting and re-organising the UVF.   Gusty back on the Shankill provided an enormous boost to the UVF and he even managed to give an interview to ITV’s World in Action programme.  When he was eventually picked up by a British Army patrol he claimed he had just escaped from the UVF and was trying to give himself up.  Good man Gusty.  What was not so funny though was the sectarian carnage of that summer and autumn.   What did Gusty do that summer?  There is no evidence that he carried out any killings himself and there are many conspiracy theories on why the authorities may have colluded in his escape, such as an effort to stem the tide of indiscriminate sectarian murders by Loyalists or to make the UVF a more effective organisation in fighting the Provos.

Back in custody, now in Long Kesh, he established military command over the growing number of UVF prisoners.  He exploited the so-called Special Category status conceded by the British Government under pressure of a Provo hunger strike in June 1972.   Spence ran the UVF Cage in Long Kesh on strict military lines imposing a command structure of officers and holding daily parades, foot drill and other training.  In this he was relying not only on his own military training and service as a drill sergeant in the British Army but also on the example of the republican cages where both Provos and Stickies (Official IRA) operated on similar militaristic lines.  This was viewed with some amusement by their Loyalist colleagues in the larger Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and to some within his own organisation he was just ‘a cunt in a cravat’.   There was also a considerable age difference.  Spence was now 40 and Loyalist gunmen and assassins pouring into Long Kesh at time were often very young and significantly younger that their republican counterparts.  Some of these juvenile UVF members had no time for authority especially for a 40 year old ‘cunt’ like Spence and these would have included Lenny Murphy, Basher Bates and other future members of the Shankill Butcher gang.  Other young murderers however were impressed by Spence and his questioning of traditional Loyalist reactionary violence influenced the development of a political awareness within this Loyalist underclass.  Prominent among these were David Ervine and Billy Hutchinson who were later instrumental in helping Spence to establish the Progressive Unionist Party and in moving the UVF into a ceasefire in 1994 despite trenchant opposition from more sectarian members

To the surprise of many, Spence, who left school at 14 began reading politics and history including, it is said, such literary masterpieces as Dan Breen’s ‘My fight for Irish freedom’.  He also began to establish contact with the Official IRA whose Marxist ideology (at the time) seemed to be more compatible with Loyalist concerns than the (then) more apolitical Provos.  (For those who might be confused the Official IRA were the military wing of Official Sinn Féin which became Sinn Féin the Workers Party, which became the Workers Party which became Democratic Left and then took over the Labour Party and gave us the gift of present Ministers Eamon Gilmore and Pat Rabbitte who appear to suffer amnesia when asked questions about their political odyssey).

In 1977 Spence surprisingly called for an end to the UVF’s armed struggle from within Long Kesh.  He got out of jail in 1984, two years early due to ill health and does not appear to have been active in paramilitary activity during the remaining ten  years of the Troubles.  He seems to have been mainly involved with community work and working with the PUP.

In October 1994, Spence formally announced a general ceasefire of all Loyalist organisations and flanked by other Loyalist leaders uttered his best known words “in all sincerity we offer to the loved ones of all innocent victims over the past 20 years, abject and true remorse.” Indeed Spence is reputed to have written most of the ceasefire statement himself and was not just a senior figurehead.  (David Adams of the UDP made a small contribution).  The ‘cunt in a cravat’ had come a long way.

However, despite Spence’s efforts, Loyalism remained very divided and both the UVF and UDA contained many unreconstructed sectarian killers and petty criminals, who ran their own franchises, paying little attention to the central leadership.  Extreme and violent figures such as Billy ‘King Rat’ Wright of the mid-Ulster UVF and Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair of the Shankill UDA were among those who delayed Loyalist decommissioning, fuelled internecine feuds and damaged the credibility of the Loyalist political parties.  Spence himself was forced to leave the Shankill in 2000 during a feud and lived his final years in unhappy exile on the North Down coast.

His final public appearance was also somewhat disappointing.  In May 2007 he was unable to announce UVF decommissioning and instead had to say that the UVF would keep its weapons but ‘put them beyond the reach of rank and file members’.  In 2010, after another fatality in another UVF feud, Spence stated  that ‘the UVF should stand down now. There is no reason for them to exist’.  Unfortunately they do exist and the PSNI believe they were behind the sectarian rioting of 2010 and 2011.

Despite the failure to bring all Loyalists into constructive political engagement, an audit of Gusty Spence’s contribution to Irish history would have more positives than negatives.  His appalling and ham-fisted sectarian actions of 1966 are more than balanced by his future espousal of peaceful political actions and by his positive influence on the younger generation of Loyalists.  Spence served his time for the madness of 1966 and his greatest contribution was in helping to bring to an end the murderous chaos which he undoubtedly helped to ignite.




Slugger has an interesting take on Gusty