Any illusions that the US and its NATO allies are backing “democracy” in Libya against the reign of Moammar Gadhafi evaporated last week as the rebel chief of staff, Abdel Fatah Younes, was murdered – not by Gadhafi’s troops, but by his own “Free Libya” forces.
A former Interior Minister and once quite close to the Libyan dictator, Younes defected to the rebel ranks early in the insurgency, when Benghazi was under assault from loyalist forces. With much military experience, and prominent in his own right, Younes’ was immediately appointed commander of the rebel army by the “National Transitional Council,” the rebels’ political arm, and hailed by the West and their Libyan proxies as a great patriot and military leader.
He was opposed, however, by Khalifa Haftar (sometimes spelled Hifter), a former Libyan military commander who defected to the Chadian forces in Libya’s war with Chad. Haftar set up his own guerrilla group, funded by the CIA and Saddam Hussein. After being kicked out of Chad, Haftar’s last known address, before returning to Libya to join the rebel forces, was less than five miles away from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Back in April, the “Free Libya” armed forces announced that Haftar had replaced Younes as top commander – but, as the Guardian reported, the NTC reversed this attempted coup – and “denied there had ever been a change.”
The factional warfare was tamped down, for the moment, by a compromise effected at the top: in the end, neither Younes nor Haftar was given the title of Commander El Supremo. Instead, an intermediary process was set up, with the “army” – such as it is – put under the Defense Minister, Omar Hariri, and then Hariri’s successor, Jalal al-Dogheily, with Younes demoted to chief of staff and Haftar given the number three position.
Yet beneath the surface, the factional and tribal tensions reached the boiling point. Younes was summoned to Benghazi by the NTC to discuss certain “military matters,” according to the Official Story, but in reality he was under arrest and being detained to answer charges he was in secret communication with Gadhafi. He was murdered on the way, supposedly by members of the “September 17 Martyrs Brigade,” a group said to have ties with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – essentially al-Qaeda-in-Libya. The Fighting Group is an officially designated terrorist organization whose assets are subject to seizure by the US State Department – however, in this case, since that very same State Department is the primary sponsor of US intervention in Libya, one supposes that executive order 13224 is inoperative. Indeed, since US aid is flowing to the rebels, we can say with certainty that the assassination of Younes was funded by the American taxpayers.
Aside from the general barbarity of this act, which gives us a glimpse of what the rebel regime will look like if and when they take power in all of Libya, look at the curious factional line up in the rebels’ internal power struggles. Although the Official Story, as promulgated by the NTC, keeps changing – initially, a “pro-Gadhafi” faction in Benghazi, an “armed gang,” was blamed for the killing, but there are too many Western reporters in town to keep a lid on the truth (or some approximation of it) for long. Now we are told that those responsible for the killing – rebel soldiers – have been arrested. However, whomever gets the Official Blame in the end isn’t what’s interesting: the real scoop is that our boy, Haftar – think Ahmed Chlabi, Libyan version – is aligned with the Islamists against the more secular elements, defectors like Younes and the Benghazi lawyers who make up the civilian leadership of the rebellion.
As in the Balkans, where US-trained and-funded “Kosovo Liberation Army” guerrillas fought alongside al-Qaeda’s legions and NATO forces, so the same alliance is fighting to “liberate” Libya. It is as if a time machine has thrust us back in the Clinton years – and indeed these are the Clinton years, redux, at least in the foreign policy realm, as this is the policy area that has been ceded to the Clintons by a disengaged and generally hapless President Obama. All of which puts in a new perspective recent boasts by top administration officials and various “experts” that we are on the verge of finally defeating al-Qaeda. Why, then, are they allying with Osama bin Laden’s Libyan legatees?
It makes no sense, but then again this entire Libyan adventure has never made any sense. We were told that the prevention of a “humanitarian disaster” was the reason for US/NATO intervention in the first place, with a top US official putting the death figure at more than 100,000 if NATO failed to lift the siege of Benghazi. Yet it was the defection of Gen. Younes, who commanded the besiegers, that really turned the tide of the war. This gave him tremendous authority – and aroused the ire of his tribal and ideological enemies. Whichever scapegoat gets blamed for the act, it is clear that both the Islamists and Washington’s-sock-puppet Haftar worked to undermine Younes, spreading rumors about his alleged secret contacts with Tripoli, getting him summoned to Benghazi for interrogation – and ultimately engineering his assassination.
That this happened shortly after the primary agitator of the NATO campaign, the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron, granted official diplomatic recognition to the NTC as the “legitimate” government of Libya, unceremoniously kicking out Gadhafi’s ambassador and staff, just underscores what critics of the Western intervention have said all along: that the policymakers behind this intervention never knew what they were getting into.
We were told, remember, that the clock was ticking, and the death of tens of thousands, at the very least, was imminent. Gadhafi, if he were allowed to take Benghazi, would have depopulated the city – which is precisely what the rebels are doing in the mountainous region of western Libya, as Der Spiegel reports:
“Several towns along the route [of the rebels’ advance] are now completely depopulated. One is Awaniya, a town of 15,000 people until the rebels captured it. The shops lining the highway in Awaniya were looted and are now littered with garbage. In some stores, even the shelves are missing. In the town itself, houses stand empty and ransacked, and some have been burned down. Other towns look similar. New houses are still burning days after the rebels took over, and trucks are removing anything that was overlooked during the initial looting: sacks of wheat as well as food and sheep.
A piece of graffiti on the wall of an empty supermarket in Awaniya berates the ‘Mashashiya traitors.’ The Mashashiya are the tribe that lived in Awaniya and two other nearby towns. Most of its members supported Gadhafi, as did the inhabitants of most of the remaining depopulated towns along the road from Zintan to the front, including Qawalish.”
The assassination of Younes and the scorched earth tactics of the Libyan “liberation” army should give us a clue as to what kind of future they envision for their nation. As to why we haven’t heard much about this aspect of the rebel army, Der Spiegel reports:
“The rebels respond aggressively to anyone who tries to investigate. A SPIEGEL team was taken into custody in Awaniya, escorted to the Zintan command post and interrogated.”
If this is how they treat foreign media, which they’ve been cultivating with some success so far, it’s not hard to imagine how they’ll deal with their own media organizations. The rebels no more represent the forces of “democracy” than do Gadhafi’s forces: this is a civil war in which both sides aim to establish a de facto dictatorship, and employ the same brutal methods. What is the American interest in the outcome?
In a rational world, the assassination of a major rebel commander by his own side would preclude US recognition of the rebel government, if not forever than for the foreseeable future. It would also provoke a major rethinking of a policy that played such a volatile wild card as the Libyan rebels. In the Bizarro World alternate universe from which US policymakers issue their pronouncements, however, this is just a minor glitch, to be brushed aside as the armies of Libyan “liberation” sweep onward to victory. As Obama administration shill Juan Cole put it:
“Younis was too close to Qaddafi, despite his defection, to remain truly popular with the rebels, and it is a little unlikely that his death will affect the terms of the uprising, despite what some observers are saying. He was not allowed to be a field officer because of the mistrust, so his absence would not affect the battlefield.
“In fact, the hardy Free Libya forces of the Western Mountain regions took a strategic town near the Tunisian border as news of his assassination was announced. And, Brega, though being cleared of mines, has fallen to Free Libya forces in the east, a major advance for the rebels. Western observers keep looking for a stalemate, but the rebels have in fact steadily advanced.”
Never mind those “isolationist” naysayers and “Mashashiya traitors” – what do they know? Onward, soldiers of “democracy” and harbingers of the “Arab Spring,” Washington-style! Onward to victory!
During the Bush era, Prof. Cole was the go-to academic for trenchant analysis of why the neoconservative strategy for defeating terrorism – invading the Arab world – was disastrously misguided. Today he stands with the Obama administration and the neocons in their enthusiasm for the US/NATO-supported Libyan rebels, who are in no way different from Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress or any of the other CIA-backed exile groups, including Haftar’s outfit. Incredibly, Cole had nothing to say about the assassination of Younes other than that it wouldn’t mean beans in the long-run, as the rebels are headed for victory. If this brazen murder raised any questions in his mind as to the nature of the forces he’s aligned himself with, Cole has so far kept silent.
As for our State Department, they, too, are mum – and I, for one, can hardly blame them. What are they supposed to say – that we’re aiding and abetting a gang of savages in Libya?
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I won’t comment on this, except to say that it reads like an admission of guilt. After all, if one has nothing to hide, then why engage in a cover-up?