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Clinton Emails on Libya Expose The Lie of 'Humanitarian Intervention'

01/22/2016 04:16 pm ET | Updated Jan 22, 2016
  • Dan Kovalik Human & Labor Rights Lawyer, Adjunct Professor of International Human Rights Law
STRINGER via Getty Images

By now, everyone but the most delusional must concede that the Libya intervention was a debacle of gigantic proportions. Libya remains a failed state with Jihadists controlling huge swaths of the country, including the once-prosperous town of Sirte.
The security of Tunisia, Mali and the Lake Chad Region (Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon) has been profoundly undermined by the spill-over from the Libya conflict. And, though the NATO intervention in Libya was allegedly undertaken on humanitarian grounds, the human rights situation in Libya is a disaster, as "thousands of detainees [including children] languish in prisons without proper judicial review," and "kidnappings and targeted killings are rampant."

Incredibly, the deeper questions about the Libya intervention and its aftermath remain a largely verboden topic, even as the invasion's prime intellectual author, Hillary Clinton, campaigns for the highest office in the land. However, thanks to the release of many of her emails from her time as Secretary of State, one can get a rare glimpse into the making of what has been claimed to be a "humanitarian intervention." And, the emails show that the NATO operation was nothing of the sort.

Thus, while Clinton was able to obtain passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 - a resolution which authorized a no-fly zone to protect civilians - on March 17, 2011, those civilians that Clinton claimed needed most urgent protection (the civilians in the town of Benghazi) were relatively safe by this time. Thus, Hillary's assistant, Huma Abedin, in an email (Doc No. C05778494) dated February 21, 2011 - that is, just a mere 4 days after the initial anti-government protests broke out in Libya -- explains:

Based on numerous eyewitness reports, it is the Embassy's assessment that the government no longer controls Benghazi. This is likely the case for Ajdabiyah as well. Numerous sources in Benghazi report that Libyan Interior Minister Abdul Fattah Younes has "changed sides" and is "now with the protesters in Benghazi." The mood in Benghazi and Ajdabiyah is allegedly "celebratory" and all posters of Qadhafi have been knocked down. . . .

Then, on March 2, a couple of weeks before Resolution 1973 was passed, Harriet Spanos of USAID sent an email (Doc No. C05778340) describing the relative calm in Benghazi. Thus, she explains that "Security Reports . . . confirm that Benghazi has been calm over the past couple of days." She explains that "economic activity is going on in Benghazi," that shops and banks are open and that "[m]obile and landline phones are working and Internet has returned."

Probably the most revealing email is dated March 30, 2011, just 11 days into the NATO bombing campaign which would go on until October, 20, when Qaddafi was finally murdered (after being sodomized). In this email (C05782459), entitled "Win this War," Clinton's closest adviser, Sidney Blumenthal, makes it clear that, in terms of the continuing reasons for the war, any "humanitarian motive offered is limited, conditional and refers to a specific past situation." In other words, while NATO would go on bombing for another 7 months, Blumenthal is already admitting that there is really no humanitarian basis for continuing the conflict.

Still, Blumenthal insists on the importance for pressing on until final victory (i.e., the overthrow of Qaddafi, who he calls "Q"). And, he explains that the reasons for doing so include, first and foremost, boosting Obama's then-anemic approval ratings. The other reasons he outlines are "establishing security in North Africa, securing democracy in Egypt and Tunisia, economic development, effect throughout Arab world and Africa, extending U.S. influence, counter-balancing Iran, etc." Again, humanitarianism is notably absent from this list.

Moreover, in terms of the alleged goal of promoting regional security, a number of emails reflect the awareness that the bombing campaign, and the toppling of the aggressively anti-Al Qaida Qadhafi, might very well open a space for Al Qaida and allied forces to take over many parts of Libya, as they actually have. For example, one email (Doc No. C05780521), again from Blumenthal to Clinton, explains that "[t]raditionally, the eastern part of Libya has been a stronghold for radical Islamist groups, including the al Qaida-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. While Qaddafi's regime has been successful in suppressing the jihadist threat in Libya, the current situation opens the door for jihadist resurgence." Given this knowledge, how Blumenthal could then argue that "winning the war" against Qaddafi was somehow necessary for regional security is bizarre in the extreme. Of course, such muddled thinking is not unique to Blumenthal or Clinton, but seems to pervade the leadership of both our political parties.

Meanwhile, the emails actually demonstrate a complete lack of concern for humanitarian violations by the pro-NATO rebels. Thus, in but another email to Hillary, dated March 27, 2011 (C057824501), Blumenthal explains, "[s]peaking in strict confidence, one rebel commander stated that his troops continue to summarily execute all foreign mercenaries in the fighting." Now, summarily executing even armed combatants is a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, but neither Blumenthal nor Hillary demonstrate much concern about such trifles.

Even more concerning, it became known during the course of the NATO invasion that the claims of foreign mercenaries fighting for Qaddafi were false; that, in fact, the alleged foreign mercenaries were really African guest workers. What was really happening was that the rebels were summarily arresting and murdering people who happened to be black, and doing so in very large numbers. In other words, it was the U.S.'s rebel friends who were actually carrying out genocide in Libya, and NATO, which had a UN mandate to protect civilians in Libya, was aiding and abetting them in doing it.

All of this should be of great concern for those truly interested in human rights, and for those interested in stopping the next war which will surely be premised on some alleged humanitarian concerns. This should be a lesson that such concerns should be looked at quite skeptically, and that, as international law requires, peaceful means should be the first resort to try to protect the lives of innocents. And, in terms of peaceful means, the Clinton emails reveal one other important fact - that before and during the NATO conflict, Clinton and her team knew very well, and actually feared, that the conflict in Libya might very well have been resolved through negotiations; that indeed, Muammar Qaddafi's son Saif was actually trying to find ways to do just that. However, Clinton shunned such efforts, instead preferring a war, despite its quite predictably horrible consequences, which would give the U.S. and its allies the hand they wanted in the future of Libyan and African affairs. In the end, the welfare of the Libyan people, and of the people of Northern Africa, were sacrificed, not protected, by such a choice.

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