Eyeless in Libya

Reliable confirmation of any of the situation in Libya is unavailable because reporting by all members of the media has been irresponsible, lazy, not based on actual investigation and racist, argues Mary Lynn Cramer

The Left is waiting (for Goddess only knows what), leaderless and immobilized, bombarded 24/7 by corporate and so-called alternative media demonizing the Libyan crazy man while anxiously supporting the brave, “untrained” rebels who fearlessly confront Qaddafi’s superior forces.

NPR, Democracy Now and the BBC are embedded with those courageous “revolutionaries.” Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (National Public Radio), Pascale Harter (BBC) and Anjali Kamat (Democracy Now) report with palpable sisterly compassion every moment of exhilaration or frustration the lads experience.

The BBC drops a few seconds of incomprehensible words from the Mad Man’s Master Plan (“The Green Book”) while ignoring Qaddafi’s insistence that over two weeks ago, he invited the UN to send in an investigation team, as well as news reporters, to see what was actually going on.

What is actually going on? Peter Bouckaert, the Emergencies Director at Human Rights Watch in Benghazi tells Democracy Now correspondent, Anjali Kamat, that reporters from all the major corporate and alternative media—people you would expect to know better–are doing a very sloppy and unprofessional job of coverage in general.

Most of what passes for journalism, he says, is “irresponsible reporting and just lazy reporting. You know, rather than going out and investigating these incidents and whether they’re true, these rumors, Western journalists from very reputable publications just published the rumors as true. And they talked about African men running wild, raping women and all of these things, which is just about as racist a myth as you can get.”

The Democracy Now correspondent appears unmoved by Bouckaert’s accusations. But she is curious about the rumors that Qaddafi has recruited African men thought to be committing crimes. Her immediate response to the Human Rights Watch complaint is “Can you say a little bit about who the mercenaries actually are?”

Bouckaert patiently explains that Qaddafi “does have the capacity—not to go recruit African mercenaries, but to use the groups that he’s already training and financing. And it’s possible that some of those fighters have been mobilized around Tripoli or even in the east. But before we jump to that conclusion, we should investigate. And for the moment, all of the cases we have investigated in the east, these allegations have turned out not to be true.”

There have been reports of American, French and British “mercenaries” arriving in Libya three weeks ago. Some of the young “rebels” interviewed speak American English without a trace of foreign or Arabic accent. On-line photos show a variety in skin color from white to black, as well as a wide range in physiognomy. All appear healthy, energetic and well-armed.

NPR’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro assures us they are not lacking in arms and munitions. The “rebels” are reportedly carrying everything from smart new anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, rocket propelled grenade launchers, surface-to-air missiles, and machine guns. News photos of “rebels” mounting armored tanks with canon, and missile launchers mounted on large trucks are impressive.

However, the NPR reporter complains the “trigger-happy” youth can be heard shooting off their fire arms all night long; but she understands they have little experience and need the practice.

Neither she nor the BBC, NPR, or Democracy Now reporters ask where the rebels come from, or the origin of their handsome camouflage uniforms, rugged all-weather apparel and heavy military weapons. Surely no outside influence or mercenaries among this good-spirited, heroic bunch.

Professor Sam Hamod notes that accounts and photos of Africans being lynched in Libya have not provided identification of the victims: “We don’t know who they are, but we do know there are African Union members sending troops to help Qaddafi against the American backed ‘rebels.’

But remember this, Libyans are black, blue black, dark brown, brown, dark tan, tan and white — the Africans who are helping Qaddafi are black and the ones fighting Qaddafi are mostly white — so if there is any lynching going on, it is more likely the white Libyan ‘rebels’ doing the alleged lynching.” (“African Union, Destroy It: The Secret Agenda of America and the EU,” 3/7/11)

Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report also commented that a “racist pogrom is raging against the 1.5 million sub-Saharan Black African migrant workers who do the hard jobs in Libya, work that is rejected by the relatively prosperous Libyans.

“Hundreds of Black migrant workers have already been killed by anti-Khadafi forces – yet the U.S. corporate media express absolutely no concern for their safety. One western report noted that large numbers of Black Africans were seized in Benghazi, and were assumed to have been hanged. That is a war crime, whether these men were soldiers or migrant workers, but the western correspondent seemed unconcerned.

“One suspects there are many atrocities occurring in the rebel-held areas of Libya, especially against people that are not members of the locally dominant tribe. Benghazi is not Tahrir Square, in Cairo.”

Reliable confirmation of any of these accusations is officially unavailable because, as Human Rights Watch observed, reporting by all members of the media has been “irresponsible,” “lazy,” and not based on actual investigation. They should have added “racist.”

Democracy Now’s Anjali Kamat says these crimes against Black Africans are the result of “populist rage,” and assures us that the rebellious members of the “popular uprising” have promised to stem the tide of racism.

It is estimated that there were between 1.5 million to 2 million foreign workers in Libya, employed in all types of positions from technical experts and laborers in oil related activities, to service and domestic workers. Apparently none of them had felt any need to flee Libya before the revolt began on February 17.

Who and what caused hundreds of thousands to run for the borders attempting to escape Libya with what ever possessions they could carry? Reflecting on this question, Diana Johnstone doubts that the refugees fled persecution from Qaddafi, the man who encouraged them to come to Libya to fill essential jobs and develop Libya’s infrastructure.

“Rather,” she states, “it is fairly clear that some of the ‘democratic’ rebels have attacked the foreign workers out of pure xenophobia. Qaddafi’s openness to Africans in particular is resented by a certain number of Arabs.” Nevertheless, that these workers are fleeing Qaddafi seems to be the unquestioned assumption of the Western press.

Repeated statements that Qaddafi is murdering his own people, are backed up by telephone calls from one Libyan family member to another who then passes the information onto American and British reporters, who in turn broadcast the phone call to listeners literally all day long. 

I keep waiting for a report or investigation and body count, or description of the injured by an official on-site witness. Nothing, just the repetitive taped phone call: “I talked to my cousin who lives in that town, and he says….”

Are these casualties from the well-armed opposition forces engaged in battle with the government military? Are they civilians? A house was bombed. News of the bombing of that house was repeated every half-hour on NPR.

There was a brief report some days ago that the heavily armed rebels had burned down government buildings. As others have pointed out, we are not talking about government soldiers firing on “peaceful protesters.”

Even though he is certain Qaddafi is “a guy who has already shown a willingness to kill civilian protesters that are his own countrymen,” CNBC senior editor, John Carney, is not in favor of bombing Libya and setting up the no-fly zone. No photos and no investigative reporters’ first-hand account of those dead Libyan civilians were provided to back up Carney’s certainty.

Opposition reports that on February 22, Qaddafi had bombed civilians in Benghazi, were again not investigated or verified. However, other sources, including Russia Today (RT), reported that the US and NATO were aware of Russian satellite images showing no air strikes in Libya that day.

The BBC insists it is impossible to know what is going on in areas where there are large populations of Qaddafi supporters. Foreign reporters, they say, can’t get into Tripoli for example.

(After weeks of audibly snickering at Libyan government officials interviewed, and reporting that Qaddafi and his troops were committing crimes against humanity ‒ and that anyone cooperating with him would be subject to the same international legal procedures reserved for war criminals ‒ three British reporters apparently were taken to Tripoli against their will, but not treated to the usual Libyan hospitality. Gadhafi Troops Detain, Beat BBC News Team,UPI.com, 3/10/11) Gadhafi troops detain, beat BBC news team,UPI.com, 3/10/11)

However, non-Western reporters have been reporting from Tripoli, and several current video interviews with families and groups of people of all ages, good-naturedly talking with reporters can be seen on RT. Boys and girls, men and women cheerfully express their support for Qaddafi and invite “foreign reporters” (including Al Jazeera; or, especially Al Jazeera) to come to Tripoli to see what is actually going on. “Does this look like a war-torn area to you?” a young man asks as he gestures toward a crowed avenue of casual pedestrians, shoppers, children at play, and families on park benches.

In their news reports from Libya, RT includes recent interviews with Americans seldom heard from in US corporate media, like Danny Schechter, American film maker (known as “The News Dissector” of Cambridge in the 6o’s), and Sara Flounders, Co-director of International Action Center. (RT News Videos: Tripoli Under Fire In Media Information War; Money As a Weapon In West’s War on Libya; 3/8/11).

It is not only the Western news media that seem to have lost any sense of objectivity as they romanticize the opposition’s attempts to topple Qaddafi and claim Libya as their own. In my neck of the woods, there is a loud silence on Left side of this issue. The usually quite outspoken and easily mobilized human rights and anti-war activists are strangely mute.

One hears no public criticism of the exaggeratedly biased corporate and “alternative” media coverage. No recognition that here we go again on a “humanitarian” war of liberation to save a foreign nation from another Hitler-like, Saddam-incarnate, diabolic ruler.

When pushed for a private opinion some will assert, in sotto voce , that they would not like to see US military intervention in Libya, of course. But then, with heightened intensity and a sharper tone, they quickly confirm their hatred for that murderous devil Qaddafi, and pray that a younger generation will oust him from power. Others, with perhaps less emotional involvement in Middle East politics, ponder how one mounts a protest against US “humanitarian intervention” that won’t be misunderstood as support for Qaddafi.

You cannot have it both ways. Vilifying Qaddafi as a homicidal, suicidal criminal cannibalizing his own kin, while at the same time opposing US military intervention, may not make sense to those “masses” the American Left hopes to eventually enlist in a “mass movement.”

Along these lines, author and teacher Jean Bricmont points out: “It is difficult for ordinary citizens to know exactly what is going on in Libya because Western media have thoroughly discredited themselves in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine, and alternative sources are not always reliable either. That of course does not prevent the pro-war left from being absolutely convinced of the truth of the worst reports about Qaddafi, just as they were twelve years ago about Milosevic.”

Bricmont also criticizes the “radical” Left, which he says “often manages both to denounce Western governments in every possible way and to demand that those same governments intervene militarily around the globe to defend democracy. Their lack of political reflection makes them highly vulnerable to disinformation campaigns and to becoming passive cheerleaders of US-NATO wars.(“Libya and The Return of Humanitarian Imperialism,” Counterpunch.org, 3/8/11)

The ability of another leftist political author, Diana Johnstone, to take the pulse of European Left and also diagnose them “cheerleaders for war” leaves me breathless. As does the thought of a US-led bombing of Libya.

In this regard, we do not have to look to the Left for pro-war pep rallies. I nominate the BBC’s Pascale Harter, head cheerleader. On March 9, she told the listening audience that the importance of establishing a no-fly zone would basically be “symbolic” to “help boost the morale” of the self-appointed National Council of rebels who intend to govern Libya.

There is something new about the way deeply affectionate tones are used to embrace biased reporting in support of war these days. Whatever the reason, Harter seems blind to the real consequences of bombing raids she passionately promotes. Not so Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has laid it out in spades: “Let’s just call a spade a spade,” Mr. Gates told Congress. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.” (NYT 3/4/11)

Speaking to a House Committee, Defense Secretary Gates stressed that “creating a no-fly zone would have to begin with an attack on Libya.” (CNN 3/2/11). During an interview with the BBC (3/9/11), Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, set out the implications of a no-fly zone in more detail. He explained that due to the US bombing raids on Libyan cities in the 1980’s, Qaddafi has built extensive anti-aircraft installations everywhere, especially near crowded urban areas.

Consequently, Zunes’ analysis is that it would take a great deal of bombing to destroy these defensive installations, with a high probability there would be large numbers of civilian causalities. Zunes points out that the recent self-appointed Council of rebels does not represent the whole of the opposition, nor the whole of Libyan society, and certainly not the large number of Qaddafi supporters and government armed forces. “Right now it is a civil war.”

He says it would have to get a lot worse before he could accept justification for “humanitarian intervention” in the form of bombing Libya and imposing a no-fly zone. Although Zunes is explicit about his support for anti-Qaddafi forces, he reminds the idealistic BBC reporter that “supporting an armed faction usually doesn’t result in a democratic government” and that “martial law is not a good way to bring about representative government.”

And the Winner is……??!

“Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has told the Wall Street Journal that Israel may soon seek an additional $20 billion in military aid from the United States in light of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Barak told the paper, ‘It might be wise to invest another $20 billion to upgrade the security of Israel for the next generation or so. A strong, responsible Israel can become a stabilizer in such a turbulent region’.”

Israel already receives $3 billion in military aid a year from the United States. But the big door prize and the oil bucks, as we all know, go to the US and its closest Western allies; while the big losers will inevitably be the majority of Libya’s six million people, “those who just want the peace they had and don’t care who is in charge as long as there is stability…a mixed group of tribal and city folk…[who] did not flee when Qaddafi was in charge…people [who] do not flee the safety of their homes, farms, jobs or whatever unless they fear a new situation.”

In that case, their story is yet to be told. They are not among the handful of individuals interviewed by the Western media, and not among the glorious rebels embraced by that same media.

Mary Lynn Cramer