Sunday, October 30, 2011

Revolution 8, Libya

Moammar Gadhafi, 69, was buried last Tuesday morning, along with his son Muatassim, in an unmarked grave in a secret location in the Libyan desert that was home to his Bedouin ancestors. This at least, although probably unintentional, was significantly more respectful than being tossed out of a helicopter into the ocean as was Osama bin Laden. But like Osama, Gadhafi had been summarily executed without benefit of trial or judicial review. He will not have to answer for the many crimes he committed or confront those he had harmed, or the families of those he had killed during his 42 year reign. He's way beyond that now. His executioners thirst for blood has taken that away from us.
A reluctant Muslim cleric recited the required prayers, and that was the end of him.
And now in Libya, like in Tunisia and Egypt, the real and hard work begins.
It all began last December 17th, when a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in protest of the confiscation of his wares, and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official. Consequently the government of that country crumbled. The air of protest spread throughout the region, and the Egyptian government fell as well. Civil uprisings in Bahrain have occurred, in Syria, and Yemen; major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, and Oman; and minor protests in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara. A good argument could be made that this so-called "Arab Spring," inspired anti-austerity protests in Europe, which in turn inspired the current protests in New York against corporate greed, income inequality, home foreclosures, massive student debt, and a host of other issues, protests that have spread across America and throughout the world.
It began in Libya last February with peaceful protests against Gaddafi's rule. These were met with military force by the government. The protests evolved into a popular uprising, similar to the spread of the Occupy Wall Street movement after the NYPD took a hard stand against them with mass arrests and the indiscriminate use of pepper spray on unarmed, female protesters, video taped and distributed on social networks such as Facebook and You Tube. In Libya though, the uprising consisted with a revolutionary bent with the goal of ousting Gaddafi, and that could only be achieved through the use of violence. The revolution spread across the country and led to an all out civil war.
Moammar was not loved. He didn't have a whole lot of friends in neighboring countries or elsewhere. There's no doubt he was a bad man.
He gained power in September of 1969 when a small group of junior military officers he led staged a bloodless coup d'état against King Idris of Libya while the king was in Turkey for medical treatment (although consistently referred to as "Colonel Gaddafi", he never actually held that rank, and was in fact only a Lieutenant when he seized power in 1969. He accepted the honorary rank of Major General in 1976, conferred upon him by his own Arab Socialist Union's National Congress, but stated that he would continue to be known as "Colonel." I don't know why). Idris's nephew, Crown Prince Sayyid Hasan ar-Rida al-Mahdi as-Sanussi, was deposed by the revolutionary army officers and put under house arrest, after which they abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the country a Libyan Arab Republic, with the motto "freedom, socialism, and unity".
After gaining power he immediately kicked out Americans and British who had military bases in the country, and extorted Western oil companies for a larger percentage of their proceeds.
He also initiated a process of directing funds toward providing free education, health care and housing for all. Public education in the country was free and primary education compulsory for both boys and girls. Medical care was also available to the public at no cost. The country's literacy rate rose from 10% to 90%, life expectancy rose from 57 to 77 years. He eventually began to build the largest underground network of pipes (2820 km) and aqueducts in the world in 1984, the Great Manmade River project, which supplies 6,500,000 cubic meters of fresh water per day to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, Sirte and elsewhere. Equal rights were established for women and black people. Financial assistance was provided for housing, university scholarships and employment programs. Libya was developed without taking any foreign loans due to its income from oil production. As a result, Libya was debt-free under Gaddafi's regime.
He was also a brutal dictator. Back in 1969 Gaddafi created Revolutionary committees to keep tight control over internal dissent. Ten to twenty percent of Libyans worked as informants for these committees. Domestic surveillance ran rampant within the government, in factories, and universities. Political opponents who formed opposition parties were executed, and talking about politics with foreigners was punishable by up to 3 years in jail. Executions and mutilations of said political opponents were made in public and broadcast on state television. in 1973 Law 75 made freedom of expression illegal, and Libya's media was consistently blunted, rated 160th out of 178 nations in the Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.
Gaddafi personally presided over executions of the Islamist fundamentalist Hizb-ut Tahrir faction. Not content to terrorize those within Libya he employed his network of diplomats and recruits to assassinate at least 25 critics living abroad between 1980 and 1987, stating in 1982 "It is the Libyan people's responsibility to liquidate such scums who are distorting Libya's image abroad." Libyan agents assassinated dissidents in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.
Libya became increasingly Islamic during Gaddafi's rule. He put in place "purification laws" in 1994, punishing theft by the amputation of limbs, and fornication and adultery by flogging. Under the Libyan constitution, homosexual relationships were punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
He was a terrorist, with the backing of a wealthy state behind him. In 1972 Gaddafi attempted to get the People's Republic of China to sell him a nuclear bomb. That didn't work out and a few years later tried to get one from Pakistan, and later India. Fortunately he was never able to procure a nuclear weapon.
He had plenty of chemical ones though. Inspectors from the Chemical Weapons Convention verified in 2004 that Libya owned a stockpile of 23 metric tons of mustard gas and more than 1,300 metric tons of precursor chemicals. He voluntarily offered to dismantle them in 2004, after the invasion of Iraq by the United States. Being a nation with real WMDs, Gaddafi did not wish to share the same fate as that of Iraq.
Gaddafi supported militant organizations that held anti-Western sympathies around the world. He fueled a number of Islamist and communist militant groups in the Philippines. The country still struggles with their murders and kidnappings. In Australia he attempted to radicalize Australian Aborigines and left-wing unions against the "imperialist" government. In New Zealand he financed the Workers Revolutionary Party and attempted to radicalize the native Maoris. Gaddafi was a natural born trouble maker. I'm surprised he didn't try to get American Indians to go to war against the U.S. again.
Or maybe he did.
Ironically and fatefully, Gaddafi said he supported the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and hoped that "...he (the Shah) ends up in the hands of the Iranian people, where he deserves."
The Shah Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi of Iran would not suffer under the hands of his own people. Moammar Gaddafi would.
And then there was Lockerbie.
Which is a town in the Dumfries and Galloway region of south-western Scotland, with a population of several thousand. On Wednesday, the 21st of December, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 lifted off from the runway at London's Heathrow Airport at 18:25 (6:25PM, UTC (Coordinated Universal Time)). 31 minutes later Captain James B. McQuarrie flew northwest into the Daventry departure over the Midlands and leveled off at 31,000 ft about 25 miles north of Manchester.
It was a a big Boeing 747 like the one pictured above, with 243 passengers aboard and a crew of 16, all headed for New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. It never got there.
At 19:02 traffic controllers lost contact with flight 103. Subsequent attempts to contact the plane were without result. British Airways pilot Captain Robin Chamberlain, flying the Glasgow–London shuttle near Carlisle, called Scottish authorities to report that he could see a huge fire on the ground.
What Capt Chamberlain was seeing was the wreckage of flight 103 after a bomb had exploded inside of it, punching a 20-inch wide hole on the left side of the fuselage, almost directly under the "P" in the "Pan Am" logo painted on the side of the aircraft. Shock waves from the explosion broke up the fuselage in the main passenger compartment, the nose of the craft including the cockpit where the pilot and co-pilot sat, broke off. A section of the 747's roof, several feet above the point of detonation, peeled away. When the cockpit broke off, the fuselage was then an open cylinder. Tornado-force winds tore up the aisles, slamming into the chests of passengers, making it even more difficult to breathe, and stripping their clothes off. Some were thrown to the rear. Other people and objects not fixed down were blown out of the aircraft into the night at temperatures of −51 °F, their 31,000-foot fall through the nighttime troposphere lasting about two minutes. Forensic Scientists at Wichita State University, who examined the autopsy evidence, told Scottish police they believed the flight crew, some of the flight attendants, and 147 other passengers survived the bomb blast and depressurisation of the aircraft, and may have been alive on impact. None of them survived. None of the crew. None of the passengers.
As pieces of the plane descended, it broke into smaller pieces, with the section attached to the wings landing first (46.5 seconds after the explosion) in Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie, where the 200,000 pounds of kerosene fuel contained inside ignited. The resultant fireball destroyed a number of houses. 11 residents on the ground were killed in the inferno.
Of the total of 270 fatalities, 189 were American citizens and 43 British citizens. No more than 4 of the remaining 37 victims of the bombing came from any one of the other 19 countries.
The lovely actress Kim Cattrell, of "Sex and the City" fame, owes her life to her shopping addiction as she had been booked on the flight, but changed her reservation shortly beforehand in order to complete some last minute gift purchases in London. The R&B singing group The Four Tops, and Sex Pistolero, Johnny Rotten missed the flight they had been booked on as well.
Fragments of clothing found in a suitcase believed to have held the bomb were traced back to a Maltese merchant, who said he sold the clothes to a man of Libyan appearance. He was interviewed 23 times, giving contradictory evidence about who had bought the clothes, that person's age, appearance and the date of purchase but later identified Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan citizen, alleged former intelligence officer, former head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, and former director of the Centre for Strategic Studies in Tripoli, the capital of Libya. Other evidence found at the crash site, including pieces of the bomb itself, pointed to having originated in Libya.
In November 1991, Megrahi and Ulrich Fhimah, a Mebo AG engineer, were indicted by the US Attorney General and the Scottish Lord Advocate for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. On March 23rd, 1995, over six years after the 1988 attack, Megrahi and Fhimah were designated as United States fugitives from justice and became the 441st and 442nd additions on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Protracted negotiations with Gaddafi, and the imposition of UN economic sanctions against Libya brought the two accused to trial in a neutral country. Over ten years after the bombing, Megrahi and Fhimah were placed under arrest at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands on the 5th of April, 1999. The trial began on May 3rd, 2000, 11 years, 4 months and 13 days after the destruction of Flight 103. The full charges included the names of the murdered 259 passengers and crew, and the eleven residents killed on the ground at Lockerbie in Scotland. During the trial, the defense showed that Megrahi's co-defendant, Fhimah, had an air-tight alibi, having been in Sweden at the time of the sabotage.
The judges announced their verdict on January 31st, 2001. Fhimah was found not guilty and freed. They said of Megrahi: "There is nothing in the evidence which leaves us with any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the first accused, and accordingly we find him guilty of the remaining charge in the indictment as amended." Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that he should serve at least 20 years before being eligible for parole.
In 2009 Megrahi was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and given approximately 3 months to live. On the 20th of August, 2009, he was released from prison and traveled by chartered jet to Libya that same day. He received a heros welcome upon arrival. He survived more than three months, returned to his home in Libya, and as far as we know is still alive today.
On February 22nd of this year, during the Libyan protests, the ex Minister of Justice Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil stated in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen that Muammar al-Gaddafi had personally ordered the bombing, the motive generally attributed to a series of military confrontations with the U.S. Navy that took place in the 1980s in the Gulf of Sidra, where two Libyan fighter aircraft were shot down, and two Libyan radio ships sunk.
Many of the families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing have said they could now find a small piece of closure after they learned of the death of Colonel Gaddafi.
He didn't have to die though. Like Saddam Hussein he most likely could have left the country before, or just after the start of hostilities. Gaddafi and his family chose to stay however and fight. His enormous ego, which had held sway over the country of Libya for 42 years, is what eventually killed him.
The uprising that began in February spread across the country, with the forces opposing Gaddafi establishing a government based in Benghazi named the National Transitional Council (NTC). He responded by vowing to kill the "rats and dogs," that opposed him, his own citizens of course, but that had never stopped him before. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), led by the United States, for some reason decided this was a fight they wanted to participate in, most likely because Gaddafi had been such a pain in the ass for so long this would be a perfect opportunity to get rid of the murderous bastard once and for all. Even though he had made a pretense of cooperating with western governments in recent years, he was still for all intents and purposes... insane, so the west concluded it was time for him to go.
"Demanding an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute “crimes against humanity”, the Security Council this evening imposed a ban on all flights in the country’s airspace — a no-fly zone — and tightened sanctions on the Qaddafi regime and its supporters.
Adopting resolution 1973 (2011) by a vote of 10 in favor to none against, with 5 abstentions (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russian Federation), the Council authorized Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory — requesting them to immediately inform the Secretary-General of such measures."
The adoption of resolution 1973, the military intervention by a NATO-led coalition to enforce it and establishing a no-fly zone, and Gaddafi's refusal to leave Libya, sealed his fate.
His assets and those of his family were frozen, and both Interpol and the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for him in June, and for his son Saif al-Islam, and his brother-in-law Abdullah al-Senussi, concerning crimes against humanity. Gaddafi and his forces lost the Battle of Tripoli in August, and on September 16th, 2011, the NTC took Libya's seat at the UN, replacing him. He retained control over parts of Libya, most notably the city of Sirte, his home town, to which he fled. Although Gaddafi's forces initially held out against the NTC's advances, Gaddafi was captured alive, hiding in a sewage drain.
"Don't shoot, don't shoot" he was reported to have said upon his capture, and in a last desperate attempt at denial, "What's wrong? What did I do to you?"
Videos taken by the crowd surrounding him just after he was captured show he was alive at the time, though probably gravely, maybe fatally wounded. He was loaded into the back of a truck by the crowd of rebels, and was probably executed by them while being transported. It is most likely that we in the west will never know the exact details of his death.
We do know that he was dead. Thousands of Libyans paraded single file through a walk-in refrigerated food locker in Misrata to see the barefoot, bloodied and shirtless corpse of Muammar Ghaddafi as they also sought closure to his dictatorship, and eight months of civil war.
And after they had their fill he was buried in the morning, next to his son, in an unmarked grave, in a secret location, in the Libyan desert.
Revolts, protests, and uprisings continue in the Middle East.
The general discontent in these countries has not been appeased. The call for drastic change is far from over.

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