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Bernard-Henri Lévy Headshot

Justice for the Liberators of Sirte!

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GADDAFI COMPOUND
AP

Yes of course, the fate of the civilians trapped in Sirte is eminently disturbing.

No, the international community -- the one that, on March 17th, made the historic resolution to prevent, by force, the bloodbath that was inevitable in Benghazi -- cannot turn a deaf ear to the rumors of violent acts against civilians of which NTC combat units, driven crazy by the savagery of the Gaddaffists or the cowardice of their snipers who wait in ambush in apartment buildings, killing 18-year old liberators with a bullet in the head, have been accused.

In the last few days, I myself have addressed a number of messages to my friends of the NTC, to President Abdeljalil as well as the commanders on the western front with whom I was privileged to rub shoulders last May in Misrata, saying, in essence:

"History also judges the victor of a war and, even more, of a war of liberation, by the way he treats his vanquished adversary. Whatever the circumstance, the harshness of combat, even the evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity committed by the other side, the Geneva conventions are irrevocable and demand to be upheld in the absolute. Didn't Caesar, who vanquished the Gauls, lose the moral edge of his triumph when he dragged Vercingetorix back to Rome, humiliated him, and had him put to death? And, inversely, didn't the posthumous glory of Saladin owe a great deal to the magnanimity he demonstrated once he had won out over the Crusaders, holding them then at his mercy? In short, the moral rectitude you have shown all during the past seven months between the first insurrections and the liberation of Tripoli, the care you have taken to wage war in a quasi-irreproachable manner, the prevention of settling of accounts and summary executions, your determination, as I observed at Zintan, to treat your prisoners in strict conformity with international conventions, all that must be present, more than ever, at Sirte."

Nevertheless, the fact is that, this Monday morning, as I write these lines, there is no indication that the NTC has failed to observe this golden rule.

If, here and there, there have been some inevitable blunders, the obsession of those in command appears, up until now, to be to call for restraint among their troops and exhort them to refrain from all acts of reprisal.

And I find, conversely, rather lightweight the commentators who, desperate for sensationalism and, as usual, fond of nothing as much as the little game of reversing the roles between victims and executioners, with yesterday's resistants transformed into tomorrow's oppressors, are beginning to depict an army of chebabs transforming Sirte into a new Misrata.


This comparison is an infamous piece of slander that leaves out one detail. At Misrata, Gaddaffi had surrounded the city and taken the civilians hostage. The NTC declared Sirte an open city, inviting its inhabitants to leave; it held off for several weeks before giving the order to attack -- enough time for those who wanted to and could to be evacuated.

Compare the damage inflicted upon the hospital of Sirte with the destruction of all the public buildings of all the cities taken by the dictator's army rabble during the war, a base deed that leaves out another detail. The former power's dogs of war entered into cities with a pre-established plan to smash and destroy. They knew where the mosques, schools, and hospitals were located, and when they did not use them as shelter for their artillery and tanks, they intentionally targeted them, practicing methodic, systematic, and premeditated urbicide. The chebabs who are entering Sirte at this very moment are, on the contrary, inexperienced civilians, drawn into this war by force. They have no pre-existing knowledge of the city they are entering in fear and stupor. When one of their shells hits the roof of a hospital, it's horrifying, a monstrosity, a tragedy -- but it's also an error, an unpremeditated act, and that changes everything.

Telling us, then, that NATO is "in a hurry" to get out of the "Libyan trap" and, with the NTC, it's "armed branch," is stepping things up to liquidate the last diehard bastions "as rapidly as possible" and no matter what the cost, demonstrates a strange disingenuousness when one is aware of the time devoted, on the contrary, by the NTC to an attempt to obtain an honourable surrender and, after that, the precautions taken to advance slowly and carefully, in order to minimize the losses of fighters as much as those among a population the adversary had transformed into a human shield. And this without even mentioning the fact that, for the past ten days, NATO has all but suspended its strikes on Sirte.

That the henchmen of the old regime should attempt, in one last dismal pirouette, to pass for victims is normal.

That the most rotten elements of the French political class -- with Marine and Jean-Marie Le Pen at the head -- should say "hats off" to the "resistance" of men who are actually fighting simply because they are aware that, once captured, they will be obliged to answer for abominable acts of violence, is par for the course.

But for pity's sake, let us not fall into the trap of false symmetries and judge intentions that are, at the very least alleged, if not imagined.

For my own part and until further notice, I continue to salute the dignity of these fighters of happenstance who, as they have from the first day, wage war but do not like it.