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article imageOp-Ed: The first casualty in Libya – and everywhere else

By Alexander Baron     Aug 29, 2011 in Politics
Colonel Gaddafi’s four decade reign of repression may be nearly over, but dissenting voices have been warning for some time that what replaces him may be something even worse.
It has often been said the first casualty of war is truth; this is one reason the media – the “alternative” media as well as the mass media – is so full of lies. There are countless individuals, groups and organisations out there pushing their own agendas, often at the expense of truth. Both black propaganda and white propaganda play their parts in portraying our enemies as the bad guys and us as the good guys. Colonel Gaddafi was a bad guy for literally decades, then in a surprise about face it was announced in 2004 that he had become an ally in the war on terror. This was something that had obviously been in the pipeline for a long time. In April 1999, Libya handed over two of its nationals to the United Nations for trial.
These unique legal proceedings saw a Scottish court presided over by three senior Scottish judges sitting at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands to decide the guilt or innocence of the two men accused of perpetrating the worst act of terrorism ever in these islands outside of war, the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that resulted in 270 deaths including 11 people in the town of Lockerbie. Proceedings opened on May 3, 2000 and ended on January 31, 2001 with the acquittal of Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah and the conviction of Mohamed Abdel Baset Ali al-Megrahi. Both men were said to have been Libyan intelligence officers.
On February 7, al-Megrahi launched an appeal, and was granted leave on August 23; in March 2002, the special court upheld his conviction, and that might have been the end of things if so many dissenting voices – not just the usual nutters – had not been heard. Among them were and are Jim Swire, a doctor whose daughter perished on the flight.
If Libyan intelligence officers were indeed responsible for the Lockerbie outrage, it is not inconceivable that Gaddafi knew about it, that he authorised it, or even that it was his idea. Unlike in the United States where Watergate excepted the President would hardly soil his hands with anything “dodgy” much less an indefensible act of mass murder against innocent civilians in a friendly country, Libya was ruled by a fist of iron, albeit one that was concealed for much of the time inside a velvet glove. Gaddafi may not have been a tyrant in the conventional sense, but his word was law.
All that was quietly forgotten though, and in August 2008, Libya paid compensation for Lockerbie with no admission of liability. The claim was not all one way, it also included compensation paid by the Americans for victims of air strikes against Libya, one of which was said to have killed Gaddafi’s adopted daughter, whom we are now told may not have been killed or maybe even did not exist.
Then there was a new, and for many including the American Government, unacceptable development. Al-Megrahi had been living a rather comfortable life in his Scottish prison for a convicted mass murderer, but after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, an application was made for him to be released on “compassionate grounds”. Although there was absolutely no question about the diagnosis, his expectation of life – three months – turned out to be extremely pessimistic, for him if for no one else.
The Scottish Justice Minister claimed to have made his decision to release al-Megrahi without fear or favour, and after abandoning a further appeal he was sent home to Libya to a hero’s welcome where he is currently still alive, though clearly extremely ill and close to death. Then came the Arab Spring. This revolution has been qualitatively different in every country where it has erupted. In Egypt, there was an almost carnival atmosphere for much of the time, especially when the army sided openly with the people. In Syria, there has been bloody repression, but in Libya there has been civil war.
The reason for this is that in spite of attempts to portray him otherwise, Gaddafi has been a popular leader. The truth about his repressive régime and the way he treated his perceived enemies must have been known to all his people, but a significant minority, and in some places the majority, either didn’t care or didn’t care enough. This will come as no surprise to any student of modern history, to take just one example, the man it is safe for everyone to hate. Adolf Hitler’s persecution of the Jews and his military belligerence may have diminished his standing in some people’s eyes, but there were still those who were prepared to fight to the death for him, even when the war was obviously lost.
The people of Libya, or most of them, had a high standard of living, thanks mainly to its oil. This is evident from news reports; certainly there was no shortage of cars on the roads, a reliable indicator of wealth, but ultimately people’s livelihood means nothing if there is no freedom, and that freedom must include not only free speech but freedom from arbitrary arrest and everything that comes with it. Clearly, that was not the case in Libya, but just because many people were prepared to go along with the system does not make it right.
Which brings us up to date, while Gaddafi has deceived his people, has spied on them and controlled every aspect of their lives – as is now clear – deception works both ways. For one thing, we have been dragged into yet another foreign conflict; first there was Afghanistan – the Al-Qaeda threat; then there was Iraq – phony weapons of mass destruction; now it is the Arab Spring. This time it is different, we were told; first it was to be humanitarian aid – fair enough, then it was a no-fly zone, and then all out involvement. This is not our war; if the Arabs wanted to get rid of Gaddafi, we should have stayed out of it.
There have also been atrocities in the recent but diminishing conflict, and these have been on both sides, and not all the reporting by Western mainstream media has been accurate – to put it mildly. Indeed, not all Arab coverage has been entirely truthful. There have been false reports of Gaddafi and other members of his family leaving the country, and even of a mock up of Tripoli’s Green Square, but the worst may be yet to come, because there have been reliable reports of Al-Qaeda supporters amongst the so-called rebels. If Gaddafi is the Devil, he is at least the Devil we know, but if the Arab Spring in Libya is hijacked by elements hostile to the West, we could literally be out of the frying pan and into the fire.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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