Illegal War 57

The attack on Libya is now illegal, a criminal war of aggression. While I always opposed the action as a matter of policy, I explained it was not illegal within the confines clearly established in UNSCR 1973.

It is now plain that NATO forces have wilfully breached those confines and are now guilty of a criminal war of aggression. They are bombing what are now the defenders as a deliberate act of aerial support to pave the way for the rebel forces’ ground assault. I suspended my judgement on calling this an illegal war because it is a huge accusation, and I take these matters very seriously. Two days ago I posted this:

Whether taking a side in the civil war can be justified in terms of UNSCR 1973 as “protecting civilians” seems to me a very dubous prospect indeed. It is certainly unwise, but the legality of current actions is arguable as it may not yet be definitely established that taking sides is what we are doing.

There is no longer any doubt. In bombing defensive emplacements ahead of the rebel assault on Gadaffi’s hometown of Sirte, a line has been definitively crossed. Attacking Sirte cannot possibly be justified as “Protection of civilians”. There was no threat to the civilians of Gadaffi’s hometown from Gadaffi’s forces. Indeed it is arguable that the citizenry of Sirte may be more in danger from the tribal antagonists we are assisting to conquer them.

The government has refused to release the full advice of the Attorney General on the legailty of the attack on Libya. What they have released is:

The Attorney General has been consulted and Her Majesty’s Government is satisfied that this Chapter VII authorisation to use all necessary measures provides a clear and unequivocal legal basis for deployment of UK forces and military assets to achieve the resolution’s objectives

My italics. Now I strongly suspect that the Attorney General’s unpublished advice discusses the objectives and the consequential scope of military action. The British Government is now plainly involved in military action that goes well beyond “the resolution’s objectives”. We need to discover what the Attorney General thinks of that.

A lesson not learned from the Iraq debacle is that we need to move beyond the position where legal advice on the legality of war is given by a politician and controlled, and withheld, by the executive, with no access for the opposition or the general public.

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57 thoughts on “Illegal War

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  • CheebaCow

    Who'd have thunk it, our great and glorious leaders involved in another illegal war killing poor Muslims. Not really their MO is it?

    Craig, have you spoken recently to Juan Cole? I seem to recall you saying you are friendly with him in previous posts. I frequently read his blog and value it's content, but he seems to have really been suckered by this 'humanitarian' war. Recently every second post of his has been having a go at those against the bombing of Libya and cheering for the west. I'm surprised he can still be so naive, he actually thinks Democrats and Republicans are substantially different when it comes to foreign policy….

      • RichardRobinson

        That could be a really worthwhile discussion. You're both knowledgeable people with sensible things to say, and you probably share a fair amount of readership – you could give this one a very enlightening thrashing-out. I'd be fascinated to read it, if it was to happen.

        Not sure I have anything coherent to add, but some random thoughts :-

        Your March 14th "Invasion of Bahrain" quid pro quo post continues to tell a story that seems very much at odds with the one everyone else is telling. Is this a demonstration that Obama is at least intelligent in the way he goes about his aims, whatever we may think of them ?

        If the story we're getting from the headlines has its promised happy ending ("and maybe, just maybe, it could be that bombing people perhaps won't go all pear-shaped this time, for once"), who do "we" get out of it ? Could these be another bunch of Ahmed Chalabis ?

        Given that this is picking favourites, taking the military aspects away from the people on the ground would tend to favour "the revolution" taking over without having developed any military skills or resources of its own ? This would have all sorts of after-effects.

        Who's going to clean up the depleted uranium ?

    • Germanicus

      You're right about Juan Cole. I normally respect his work, but he is being very naive about Libya. Same with Brian Whittaker of the Guardian, who wrote a comment piece saying how 'Libya is different'. Then again, Whittaker's been off the boil for some years now.

  • Leo

    Another example that even an apparently legitimate war is still a bad idea. Those in power only care about legitimacy as a tool to get public support to start wars for their own, unrelated reasons.

  • pinhut

    This reminds me in some ways of the 1954 Guatemalan counter-revolution. There are cosmetic differences, but the basic twist is that, instead of concealing from the international community the role of the US (via CIA), this time the intervention takes place in the open, is trumpeted as legitimate and NATO is in charge.

    The reports of the rebels' progress are the same, and hardly any more credible. Every major media outlet is playing its part (BBC World News is being generally disgusting). "They are 'gaining momentum" = the coalition is bombing the crap out of a place and then the rebels move in and 'triumph'. A band of Butlins redcoats could conquer Libya with that measure of support.

  • Michael.K

    Craig, good, subtle, and detailed analysis, as usual, on these matters. Though I'm personally no fan of Gaddafi, I don't think we need another war, more killing for 'good' reasons. I'm also sceptical about the nature of this uprising. The others seem to have been based on people power and overwhelming moral force, yet this one seemed like an armed revolt almost from the beginning. Which makes one wonder about what's going on.

  • alan campbell

    Maybe some civilians are more civilian than others? Considering that many of the rebels are members of LIFG – who are closely related to AQ Central – the coaltion are on very strange ground.

  • TFS

    So will be seeing charges for crimes against humanity for the use of depleted uranium then, will we?

    White man talk with forked tongue, when he say 'we come to save you'.

  • Duncan_McFarlan

    Completely agree Craig. Bombing artillery and tanks that were shelling Benghazi was justified and protected civilians (even if for other motives for the governments involved).

    Bombing the whole of Libya long after all it's anti-aircraft batteries are destroyed, bombing in support of rebel offensives on Gaddafi held towns, attempting to assassinate Gaddafi by airstrike and bombing Tripoli (where there is no fighting on the ground at all) are all completely unjustified, because they're going to be killing civilians – just like Reagan's 1986 strikes and US air strikes in Kosovo did – and US air strikes in Afghanistan that still are.

    More on this in the posts linked below

  • CanSpeccy

    As I told you a couple of days ago, Clogg and that very nice Mr. David Cameron are a couple of effing war criminals. But it is good to see someone with all the baggage of a diplomatic training getting the the point eventually, as probably no other of Her Britanic Majesty's representatives, former or otherwise, have yet done.

    Clogg seems to have screwed himself. According to the Mirror the Lib-Fascist Party support is now down to 10% in the polls. Why didn't Clogg break with the Cons over this, precipitate a new election and become PM himself? Is he not very bright, or what? Or perhaps the war was already on the drawing board when the coalition agreement was made.

    • Duncan_McFarlan

      Probably because he's so unpopular, even with Lib Dem voters, that he's now relying on Conservatives voting tactically to avoid losing his own seat in the next election (as they did in the first by election since the general election) – so he can't afford to leave the coalition – the lying opportunist c*nt.

      • CanSpeccy

        "so he can't afford to leave the coalition"

        Doesn't look as though he can now. But who knows. According to the Mirror,
        Clegg "has ordered strategists to consider dumping the [Lib-Dem Party's] flying bird logo and even changing the party’s name."

        LOL. I will award one free subscription to the CanSpeccy for the best alternative to the flying bird logo, since off-hand I cannot think what would look best wallowing in deep shit.

    • Clark

      (1) Due to a huge push by Big Finance and the corporate media, too few Lib-Dem MPs were elected. Parliament wasn't hung closely enough, and the Lib-Dems were not in a position to wield enough power. If Con and Lab had been closer in numbers of MPs, things might have been different about cuts, but, I suspect, not about war.
      (2) Somehow (perhaps a Liberal Democrat could explain to me), the Lib-Dem leadership has been hijacked, just like Labour were hijacked into New Labour. The Tories didn't need hijacking anyway.
      (3) If the Lib-Dems were to break the coalition, they would be sensible to do it after the May 5th referendum on the voting system. I think this might yet happen.

      • CanSpeccy

        Nah, they missed their chance. We all know now that Clegg's happy to bomb people on a phony pretext if it fits his political ambition. For that's discredited — surely?

  • dreoilin

    Will Obama violate the arms embargo in Libya? (

    "The administration suggests it may send weapons to the rebels, raising thorny legal questions"

    "The ambassador to Libya said over the weekend that arming the rebels was a real possibility, and the White House press secretary asserted that it would be legal under the U.N. resolution providing for a no-fly zone over Libya."

    Craig is right.
    Also, the fact that the resolution precludes "occupation forces" doesn't, as far as I can see, preclude ground forces altogether. Defending civilians and not using "occupation forces" means whatever they want it to mean.

  • spectral

    As far I as am concerned it was illegal from first moment. UN as organization is farce, and General Secretary is buffoon. This war is based on lies, and fabricated "humanitarian" pretext and premises. Sorry, but to use legalities as an argument when you are dealing with brutal imperial power and NATO which have blood to the neck is worst than silly. In same time US has disdain and hate for International Criminal Court.

    I do not like the Colonel and I do think he is wicked, I am reading his speech, but after all he was right:

    "This is terrorism. We cannot have the Security Council and the countries which have the superpowers. This is terrorism in itself."


    I read Juan Cole just briefly during Egypt's uprising, after what I read his article about Libya…quited him. He is liberal interventionist cheerleaders, I consider this euphemism and he deserves harsher qualification but as George Orwell wrote:

    ‘The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies “something not desirable”.

    I hope will fire him, as well.

  • dreoilin

    I suspect the argument that they ("NATO") will use will be as follows: As long as Gaddafi still has (any) power, (some of the) civilians will be at risk. So anything they do to get rid of Gaddafi will be termed "legal" under Resolution 1973. They will in fact be bringing about regime change, despite the fact that military aggression for regime change still illegal under international law.

    Funny from Snowmail: "The Turks are apprehensive, the French want to be dominant, the Americans want to be dominant but don't want to be seen to be, and the Brits want to be seen to make hay while the sun shines."
    IMO, Cameron has been far, far, too enthusiastic about all this, and seems to me like a little boy eager to see himself as a war PM.

    Snowmail again, "One of the mysteries of the air bombardment is just how many Libyans have been killed. Presumably all these tanks had crews and it's not easy to run away from an exploding tank."
    No Fly Zone howareye. I did wonder when the resolution was passed, how they could have much impact on Gaddafi's tanks by patrolling the skies. I too would be interested to see the advice of the Attorney General.

  • Suhaylsaadi

    Here are two interesting articles, expressing opposing views. I post these because they are written by men whom one cannot remotely describe as pro-imperialist. Even the facts about the Libyan rebels seem disputed. I think this illustrates the difficulties and complexities of the Libyan situation. It's not clear-cut, black and white, light and dark – few situations are, of course. Nonetheless, the fact is that the regime would have exacted a terrible revenge on Benghazi. What will happen in Tripoli, one wonders? I think that few of us have answers, really. My Arab friends – including the Egyptian ones, some of whom were deeply involved in the overthrow of the Mubarak regime – appear to be equally divided and unsure.

    • Duncan_McFarlan

      yes – it's certainly not nearly as clear cut as Iraq in 2003 was – because in Libya now there is a risk of Gaddafi disappearing large numbers of people if he wins entirely – but equally NATO are going far beyond their remit and almost certainly killing civilians as much as protecting them in their bombing campaign – and we don't know enough about the rebels to know whether they'll conduct their own massacre if they take Tripoli. We certainly know an attack on Tripoli backed by air strikes is likely to lead to a lot of civilian casualties if it goes ahead. There are also all the migrant workers and Libyan civilians trapped without enough food, medicines, water or medical treatment for the wounded as long as the fighting continues. Definitely time for a ceasefire and considering just having a de facto independent zone in Benghazi or the East, with no more generalised bombing of Libya allowed.

    • CheebaCow

      The Gilbert Achcar article is interesting and definitely got me thinking. I found it far more thoughtful than the recent Juan Cole blogs I criticised above. I guess where I differ from Achcar's position (although he also touches on this) is that I simply don't trust the West to stick to the UNSCR 1973 resolution. I think that once there is a fig leaf to cover their aggression, the West will do whatever they want to serve their own agenda. Just look at how the UN was used in the lead up to the previous Iraq war, the US/UK claimed they had a UN mandate to invade Iraq when clearly this wasn't the case. They don't care what the UN mandate states, they just want the cover so they can tell their domestic population the war is legitimate. I also find the hypocrisy too confronting, surely the aims can't be good when in order to get the international support they need, the US supports Saudi Arabia sending tanks in to crush the Bahraini democracy movement.

      I do agree that the issue is not nearly as clear cut as the Iraq war, but my rule of thumb is 'when in doubt, don't bomb'.

  • Michael.K

    Is there a pattern, or a model, at work in our various 'humanitarian crusades' for freedom? Is NATO lurching towards a new strategy which is based on a plan to 'invade' Asia from the south? With the ultimate aim of gaining access to and control of the entire oil and gas reserves of the Middle East and the area around the Caspian Basin? It seems this will inevitably lead NATO into conflict with rival great powers, like Russia and China and even Turkey, who all seem 'ripe' for a bit of 'humanitarian intervention themselves.

  • Clark

    Michale.K, The pattern is obvious. Look at the map linked below. Note how the hydrocarbons are surrounded, by Russia and it's client states to the north, and the US's client states and military bases to the south. The pattern is now extending to include the smaller deposits of hydrocarbons in North Africa. This short-term idiocy is called "energy security", but the term has been hijacked; it used to mean overcoming our dependence upon fossil fuels.

    • Suhaylsaadi

      Yet none of this is new, is it? Going back to the 1950s, there's been a tussle among great powers to control oil in these regions. The Great Game (vis a vis Central Asia), of course, extends back even further. Of course it's short-term idiocy, but unfortunately human history is predicated on such idiocy. We seem doomed forever to repeat our cave ancestors' behaviour. Not that I am fatalistic, mind!

      • Clark

        Well oil was always worth lots of money, but I think it's getting more intense now as production starts to fall away due to dwindling reserves. They need the oil to run the military, and they need the military to hold the oil. Russia has the proximity advantage, China and India are at least on the same land-mass, but the US has the military head-start. It'll be a good thing when there's so little left that it's not worth pumping up, but there will be loads of grief before then.

  • Guest

    "Illegal War"

    Yes indeed, but VERY profitable for the oil companies/commodity markets and the military industrial complex!. I wonder if after all this we will see Tony Blair take up an additional role as…North Africa and Middle East peace envoy!. Does anyone know ?, can you buy shares in "Windrush Ventures No 3 LP" ?.

  • spectral

    It is very clear!

    For neoliberal/subservient regimes the choice is "activists" and so-called Twitter and Google revolution. For the rest, i.e. axis-of-evil: "armed revolution", demonization and fierce media anti-regime propaganda. The Iran is primary target.

    Some people still believe that Vietnamese are at fault for the Gulf of Tonkin. "… the fact is that the regime would have exacted a terrible revenge on Benghazi." that is something from the Western media and Al-Jazzera are saying. I do not trust that.

    Second important thing, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez proposed to arrange a mediation between the parties under the leadership of former U.S. President, Mr. Carter. This possibility is accepted by Qaddafi and supported by the African Union, ALBA and the Arab League but has been refused by the other party. This, other party is obviously has been backed by "invisible hand". That hand might be this:

    "jnack" commented:
    "Living in a Virginia suburbs of DC where he led a clandestine army against Qaddafi, but nobody knows how he made a living. Hmmm… does anyone else smell a CIA operative?"

    Now the West waging war, and killing and destroying the country, with Libian money. It is typical.

    "He added that many countries have agreed to provide credit backed by the Libyan sovereign fund, and the British government has also agreed to give the rebels access to 1.4 billion dinars ($1.1 billion) that London did not send to Qaddafi."

    We know that US freezes $30 Billons of Libyan assets.

    The men from Washington DC suburb is in charge now, who appoint him, one may wonder, still not clear?

    • Suhaylsaadi

      Interesting and somewhat typical. I'm sure you're right that the USA et al are taking control of, and instrumentalising, the revolt, sending out their stooges, etc. They want to take control of, and exploit the opportunities for resource control and wealth acquisition thrown-up by the widespread rebellions that are occurring in the Middle East. It's not the product of some great plan coming to fruition, it's thinking and acting on the hoof in response to largely unpredicted popular revolts.

      "For neoliberal/subservient regimes the choice is "activists" and so-called Twitter and Google revolution. For the rest, i.e. axis-of-evil: "armed revolution", demonization and fierce media anti-regime propaganda. The Iran is primary target." Well, in Iran, it was largely the activists, wasn't it? So how does that factor-into your schema? Is Iran a "neoliberal/subservient regime"? And Syria? Activists there too. No armed struggle as far as I can see. Just civilians demonstrating and being killed.

      Hypocrisy and complexity would better characterise what is going on in the region and in the West. I am afraid, spectral, though we long for simplicity, I suspect it is not that simple.

      • spectral

        There is shadowy organization Mujahideen-e-Khalq (sunni), officially they are on list of State of Department as a terrorist organization. They have a record of terrorist activity and they are very hostile to Teheran. Operate on border with Pakistan – CIA friendly country, sorry regime it seems convenient for both side. In order to undermine regime past administration approved considerable fund (I think $150 million) for anti Iran subversive operations. Continuity of US policy is famous and Obama administration and its propaganda arm the Voice of America now have the programme in Farsi. Another propagandists BBC received from same administration, maybe a week ago, high six figures to keep its Farsi language alive.

        Each country in the region is different, despite common language and sometimes the religion. Given the size of Iran and its population and vigilance of the regime which translated means: the Westerner's inability to create upheaval, they are forced to use "activists". All in all they will everything possible to topple regime, but Iranians aren't Arabs. i.e Teheran is not Riyadh or UAE. Nor Teheran's regime is structured as it was in time of Mossadegh. As to Syria, US doesn't have the ambassador for five years, and there is every reason to be (in logic of the west) overthrown.

        You choice of the word is interesting "hypocrisy and complexity", both terms imply something benign. I wish it is so simple. But not so when you are dealing with NATO and US military. The Western imperialists (in my parlance I call them Nazi) always play on sectarian and tribal card, always. Well known and understood fact which, unfortunately, it always works. As multicultural societies both Iran and Syria are "soft targets" in particular their economies are off limits of free-marketers. As long as it stay just "news" on TV you don't bother that much. The life itself is not simple nor are complex societies, once when the Nazis aka Humanitarians came into you life/society, it gets different dimension it becomes bloody war . The events in Libya I've seen with my own eyes and lived that life for four years, in different war but with the same scenario and the same actors and pretext.

        • Suhaylsaadi

          Thanks. No, it's not "benign", I would never have suggested that. I know about the terrorist groups the CIA sponsors wrt Iran, etc. But you are suggesting I think, that the entire phenomenon of this year's rebellions in the region has been US-created and run like a film-script with no indigenous provenance at all and I disagree with this analysis. First you give a simple paradigm: neoliberal/subservient states get this, the others get that. Then, when I question the simplicity of that, you elaborate using facts we know (that are widely known) about CIA destabilisation techniques. Yes, they certainly use these techniques. Of course, divide-and-rule is the maxim of imperialism. What I am saying is that basically the revolts we are seeing in the region have largely been generated internally for internal reasons. The US et all will attempt to generate counter-revolution (eg. via the Army, NDP, etc. in Egypt); this is because the revolt there was not US-led or US-controlled and they want to regain control. In Libya, they have gained control of the revolt and now are prosecuting war in that country. However, I would be very interested in learning of your experience "in a different war"; you may well have experience that trumps all of our armchair analyses!

    • Suhaylsaadi

      Well, yeah, interesting. But Qaddafi too was a past master at negotiating with the great powers and also at distancing himself from his own regime ('I am not in charge, I have no title, the people are in charge', etc., etc.). This business of 'giving the oil wealth to the Libyan people' – so why didn't he relinquish his own family's vast and deep reserves of corruption which were/ are at the the very centre of the system? Qaddafi's regime was anti-imperialist and redistributive in the first years, no question (oppressive, though, Eastern-bloc-style). But he's not been these progressive things for decades – he uses it as rhetoric for either an external or an internal audience, or sometimes both. I know the great powers and their toadies want to steal the oil – that is obvious – but you know, there are no 'goodies' here. Qaddafi is not a 'goodie'. He was in bed with the great powers and oil cartels. I am afraid, Moxi, though we long for simplicity, it is not simple. That is the problem.

  • CheebaCow

    All the big boys are meeting to plan out Libya's future.

    "In a joint statement, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the talks were aimed at sealing support for "Libya's transition from violent dictatorship and to help create the conditions where the people of Libya can choose their own future."

    No representative from Libya's opposition was expected to attend the conference",8599,206

    Priceless. I don't know whether the author wrote it that way to highlight the sheer audacity of it all, or whether they are simply oblivious to the arrogance of the major powers. If I had to bet I would put money on the latter.

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