The International Criminal Court (ICC) decided to issue arrest warrants for Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam, and Abdullah Sanussi, the country’s intelligence chief, on Monday. The three men are wanted on charges of crimes against humanity for their roles in attacks on civilians – including peaceful demonstrators – in Tripoli, Benghazi, Misrata, and other Libyan towns.
While Western governments and the international media have seized the ICC indictment as a much-needed show of moral support for NATO’s controversial / fledgling military campaign, two of the world’s leading human rights organization – Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have just announced that their independent, on-the-ground investigations found no credible evidence for the claim that Col. Qaddafi’s forces have used mass rape as a weapon of war. The NGO investigation did reveal that the rebels in Benghazi have repeatedly and knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence – essentially to bolster their PR case against Col. Qaddafi.
According to Donatella Rovera, the Arabic-speaking senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, “we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape, or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped”. She stresses this does not prove that mass rape did not occur, but there is no evidence to show that it did. Liesel Gerntholtz, head of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, which also investigated the charge of mass rape, said: “We have not been able to find evidence.”
According to Amnesty International, the same lack of evidence applies to the widespread allegation that Col. Qaddafi distributed large quantities of Viagra to his troops to send them on a mass rape rampage. A few weeks ago, the French government-sponsored TV5 news channel featured a report about this topic as part of their prime-time evening news coverage. TV5’s unnamed sources said a ship full of Viagra bound for Tripoli had in fact just been interdicted off the coast of Libya. The story was never substantiated.
Furthermore, Amnesty’s Rovera rejected repeated claims made by the Libyan rebels that Col. Qaddafi was using mercenary troops from Central and West Africa. “Those [men] shown to journalists as foreign mercenaries were later quietly released,” said Rovera. “Most were sub-Saharan migrants working in Libya without documents.”
Finally, the Amnesty investigation failed to find any evidence that aircraft or heavy anti-aircraft machine guns were used against protesters and crowds. While the Qaddafi regime certainly had a history of brutally repressing its opponents, there was no question of “genocide” happening in Libya.
While shocking at first glance, these latest revelations by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch should not come as a surprise to anyone. As the Ancient Greek playwright and soldier Aeschylus already noted back in the 5th century B.C.:
“In war, truth is the first casualty”.
Democratically elected Western governments have repeatedly relied on “political misinformation campaigns” – modern shorthand for old-style propaganda – to further their cause, notably to make the case for direct military interventions to fight against alleged mass murderers and human rights violators. During the 1999 Kosovo conflict, Serb forces loyal to President Slobodan Milosevic were accused by Western leaders, among them U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, of having potentially murdered up to 100,000 military-age men. However, after the war was over, no credible evidence was found to back up this staggering number.
In the wake of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein’s forces were accused of removing premature Kuwaiti babies from incubators, taking the incubators, and leaving the babies “on the cold floor” to die. These shocking charges, first made during now-infamous “Nayirah testimony” given before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in October 1990, were not only widely circulated in the international media but also repeatedly cited by U.S. political leaders (including President George H.W. Bush) as a justification to launch “Operation Desert Storm.” After the 1991 Gulf War was over, it turned out that the false testimony by “Nayirah” (who happened to be the teenage daughter of Saud bin Nasir Al-Sabah, the then-Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington) was part of an elaborate propaganda campaign devised by public relations firm Hill & Knowlton and financed by the Kuwaiti government through a front group called “Citizens for a Free Kuwait”.
It is unfortunate that Western media have a tendency to willingly jump on the propaganda bandwagon, often taking sensationalist allegations at face value – without any efforts aimed at substantiation or verification.
As the much-respected International Crisis Group (ICG) wrote in its June 6th report titled “Making Sense of Libya”:
At the same time, much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no real security challenge. This version would appear to ignore evidence that the protest movement exhibited a violent aspect from very early on.
While there is no doubt that many and quite probably a large majority of the people mobilized in the early demonstrations were indeed intent on demonstrating peacefully, there is also evidence that, as the regime claimed, the demonstrations were infiltrated by violent elements. Likewise, there are grounds for questioning the more sensational reports that the regime was using its air force to slaughter demonstrators, let alone engaging in anything remotely warranting use of the term “genocide”.