On Civilian Casualties 60

During the initial phase of the war in Iraq, stray US missiles aimed at Iraq hit Kuwait, Turkey and Syria. Two missiles hit Syria which were specifically supposed to hit Baghdad. That is on top of the numerous instances of misidentification. You will also remember that we hit the Chinese Embassy when bombing Belgrade.

Two nights ago, 118 Tomahawk missiles were aimed at 20 targets. These things are extremely destructive. We know that some of the targets were radar installations and SAM missile sites. These are not extensive. Airfields would need more, but the fact that 118 extremely expensive missiles were fired at just 20 targets undoubtedly includes a large measure of redundancy, precisely because the military know very well that some of them will miss.

You cannot send hundreds of cruise missiles and numerous bombing raids into Libya without killing civilians. You do not have to accept anything the Gadaffi regime says to know that.

There are genuine questions arising now about proportionality and whether the allied action really is confined to carrying out the mandate of SCR1973. Taking out air defences can be justified as an essential precursor to setting up the no fly zone. But whether taking out the command and control structure of the entire Libyan armed forces is really necessary to the protection of civilians appears at best a dubious proposition.

The Guardian’s editor, disgraceful Blair catamite Alan Rusbridger is always up for military action to kill Muslims. The Guardian reports that

Critics claimed that the coalition of the willing may have been acting disproportionately and had come perilously close to making Gaddafi’s departure an explicit goal of UN policy

The last part of that quote is misleading nonsense. The “coalition of the willing” have failed miserably to make regime change explicit UN policy. That is extremely clear in SCR1973. What the coalition of the willing are extremely close to doing is acting illegally in making war beyond their UN mandate. That is a very different thing.

According to the Guardian report, the allies are now going on to attack Gadaffi’s artillery and armour. Whether there is still any threat to Benghazi remains unclear. But there seems to be a very real danger that the bombings will only serve to stoke patriotic support for Gadaffi among wide sectors of the population.

Plainly what compliance with SCR1973 would require now is a period of pause, during which the no fly zone is enforced, and whether any further ground attacks are in fact needed to enforce the very limited aims of SCR 1973 can be assessed. If instead we continue to see further intense attacks upon Libya, plainly the coalition is moving into illegality.

Actually, having seen the man in the flesh, I don’t object to the “Mad Dog” descriptions of Gadaffi. Britian has its own “Mad Dog” in Liam Fox, shooting his mouth off about assassinating Gadaffi and doing his best to alienate international support. I remenber Fox as a rumbustious bigot from the beer bar of Glasgow University Union. He was a leading light in the successful campaign to ban the Gay Society. He struck me then as a talentless zealot of deeply unpleasant views. It is deeply worrying that somebody like him can achieve high office.

Al Jazeera have excellent coverage today of the terror being visited upon the people of Bahrain now their democracy movement has been temporarily crushed. The US were complicit in this, and Qatar and the UAE – neither of them democracies, both of them involved in the brutality in Bahrain – are now providing the Arab military forces supposed to give political cover to the coalition.

The endgame may be the division of Libya into two parts – diesel and unleaded.

60 thoughts on “On Civilian Casualties

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  • kathz

    When I hear the reports, I cannot help recalling the words of John Donne's most famous Meditation: "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind" . http://www.online-literature.com/donne/409/
    I don't share Donne's beliefs on most matters but when I hear the news of bombing and think even of Gaddafi's pilots, nothing seems apter than this. One of the horrors of the time is that we're getting back to the pictures of pretty explosions and forgetting the human beings. If we are led by our politicians and media to forget our involvement with mankind, we too are diminished.

    Forgive me if that sounds preachy and thank you for your posts.

  • Mm

    Resolution 1973 refers to 1970 which states that a comittee will investigate alleged offences & report in 6 months,the dates of these should be checked also!

  • Suhaylsaadi

    My concerns exactly, Craig, wrt Libya.

    I didn't know Liam Fox when he was at Glasgow University, though I was in the year below him in Medicine there. I do remember the vitriolic attitude of some in the Glasgow University Union in those days, especially towards women and gay men. I'm afraid that nothing Fox has said or done in the 30 years since then has suggested that his real views have changed one jot. He also seems to voice what I can only presume are the views of an aggressive, corporate, militaristic imperialism. I have always viewed him as an exceedingly dangerous politician.

  • CheebaCow

    Craig, do you not believe the reports that the US intentionally bombed the Chinese embassy? I haven't studied the matter in great detail, but the following article seems to make a good case that it was intentional: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/1999/nov/28
    We also know how much the US likes to bomb Al Jazeera. All that said, obviously missiles miss their targets and kill civilians. The US loves to promote the myth that they have 'smart' bombs that make the wars 'clean'. Each war since WW1 the proportion of civilians to be killed vs troops has been steadily increasing. It's been a while since I looked at the numbers, but WW1 was something like 20% of deaths were civilian, Vietnam was closer to 65%-75% civilian. I would be very surprised if this trend was reversed in the recent wars.

    In regards to the bombing campaign under way in Libya, I found some pics from the NYT site, and they appear to show bombs being dropped on Libyan army ground forces in support of rebels fighting on the ground. It doesn't look like the bombs being dropped have anything to do with establishing a no fly zone. What do others think? Am I wrong in my assessment? http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/03/20/world

    HRW is reporting that the Bahrain government is now arresting doctors and human rights activists. http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/03/20/bahrain-new

    • Duncan_McFarlan

      Even where they hit the target they intended to, they often have bad intelligence on whether the target was military or civilian – and just as often they define everything as a "military target" – e.g in Iraq and Kosovo and Serbia they defined party headquarters, factories, refineries and even bridges too narrow for a tank to go over (bombed on market day and then returning to bomb people trying to help the wounded).

      They have authorisation from the UN resolution to target any forces attacking civilians or causing civilian casualties – it's not just a no-fly zone. However they don't have authorisation to drop bombs in support of rebel forces fighting for control of cities unless e.g Gaddafi's artillery and tanks are outside a town in the desert, firing into it, in a position where they could bomb them without risking causing heavy civilian casualties by doing so.

      Unfortunately, as usual, they've interpreted "all necessary means" to mean "we can do whatever we fucking like", missing out the "to protect civilians part". I'm sure they'll all have some MoD and Pentagon etc lawyers who'll be willing to argue anything and everything is protecting civilians so long as some of Gaddafi's forces were attacking them at some point in the past though.

  • eurorrocket

    I guess you've given up on being any space in the Guardian ever again? Catamite…really
    PS – I assume yugostiglitz is our old friend Larry from St Louis…am I correct? Either way, I refuse to feed that particular troll.

  • Stephen Morgan

    Those missiles are guided by GPS systems, which are known to be easily jammed for many miles with cheap and easily available equipment. This thread on a web based message board for example:


    refers to a news story in which the American FCC has been running various operations to stop people jamming GPS in America. Apparently it’s possible to jam the signal for a x miles radius with a $30 device.

  • somebody

    @You cannot send hundreds of cruise missiles and numerous bombing raids into + Iraq+ without killing civilians.

    Typo there. Wrong country. Same Basra Road style bombing though.

  • somebody

    You and family too I hope Craig. I was awaiting the return of your blog and checking on it daily. On the same date that you actually started it (on which congratulations) I fell over in the garden, fractured both arms and had to stay in hospital. One arm in plaster. The other in a collar and cuff. Hopefully will be healed by mid April thanks to a good surgeon, wonderful nurses and now carers from our cherished NHS soon to be dismantled and privatised by the Condems The carers in the Surrey Community Health team have already all been downgraded by one grade, the service will be offered to 'preferred bidders' in April but if none come forward, the service will go at the end of the year when the PCT is abolished. It is shameful.My MP is Anne Milton, Health Minister! Known to Tim I think.

    • Dick the Prick

      Gadzooks! I think your first word should perhaps have been 'nope'. All the best, yowzers, that's one heck of a garden fall.

  • Erica Blair

    Don't forget Layla Al-Attar.

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Layla Al-Attar (born in Baghdad, Iraq) was an Iraqi artist and painter that graduated from the Academy of fine Arts in Baghdad. Layla, known for her beauty and kindness, had once held five one-women shows in Iraq and took part in all national and other collective exhibitions held in the country and abroad.

    Layla also took part in Kuwait Biennil (1973), the first Arab biennil (Baghdad 1974), 2nd Arab biennil (1976), Kuwait Biennil (1981) and won the Golden Sail Medal in Cairo Biennia (1984). She was director of the Iraqi National Art Museum.

    On June 27, 1993, Layla along with her husband and housekeeper were killed by a United States missile attack on Baghdad which was ordered by President Bill Clinton in retaliation for an assassination attempt on George H. W. Bush. Layla's house was next to a mukhabarat, Iraqi Secret Service compound. The attack also blinded her daughter.

    Kris Kristofferson dedicated and wrote a song about Layla named The Circle.[1]

    <iframe title="YouTube video player" width="480" height="390" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/AgF914EHmeg&quot; frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

  • Leo

    I find it funny that the west can find the money to fire off over 100 cruise missiles which cost (give or take the cost of firing them etc.) $600,000 each, on an oil-rich nation when they claim they cannot afford to pay for healthcare in their own.

    And are we seriously expected to believe that a government hell-bent on destroying public spending (or rather, spending that benefits the public!) and against even slight electoral reform in its own country really cares about protecting civilians and democracy in another country? Yeah, right.

    Nobody likes Gaddaffi but it'd be nice if our media learnt from past mistakes and dropped the naive charade. Let's be honest about what we're doing and why. If it's still worth doing then we can still do it. If you have to tell lies to get public support then that seems rather wrong and undemocratic.

  • Michael.K

    One of the main arguments against Gaddafi was that he, by using air-power to conduct "massacres" and as a cover for "genocide", was guilty of a massive, disproportionate, use of violence against defenceless civilian targets. So it's ironic that the methods employed by the "allies" is also massively disproportionate, bombing a country that is in now way comparable militarily to the United States.

    I have the feeling that these attacks will only lead to even more support for Gaddafi, who can now, with some justification, claim that the rebels are really stooges of the West on a mission to split Libya and return it to colonialism and foreign control.

    The BBC have had a host of "witnesses" to events in Libya who make wild accusations about "massacres" and attacks on defenceless civilians, without any independent or neutral corroboration, which one can understand, but one should, given the obvious interests the rebels have in showing Gaddafi to be a bloodthirsty monster on the rampage, regard these strories with a degree of sceptism.

    • Suhaylsaadi

      Yes, remember the 'Kuwaiti babies in incubators' story? Skepticism is the only possible attitude in the face of this propaganda onslaught.

  • Michael.K

    One of the main arguments against Gaddafi was that he, by using air-power to conduct "massacres" and as a cover for "genocide", was guilty of a massive, disproportionate, use of violence against defenceless civilian targets. So it's ironic that the methods employed by the "allies" is also massively disproportionate, bombing a country that is in now way comparable militarily to the United States.

  • Michael.K

    Catamite? Is he one too? I always thought that was Tony Blair's role in relation to Bush? Though I preferred to call him a rent-boy so everyone could be in on the joke.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    Ironic isn’t it:-
    1. Give the Saudis a green light to massacre the protesters in Bahrain; while
    2. Firing over a hundred cruise missiles into Libya – in support of “humanitarian assistance”

  • somebody

    Gaddafi's son dies in hospital of burn woundsi

    © RIA Novosti
    16:53 21/03/2011One of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's sons died in a Tripoli hospital of suffering severe burn wounds, a German website reported on Monday.

    Khamis, aged 32 and Gaddafi's sixth son, was allegedly injured on Saturday when a Libyan Air Force pilot deliberately ploughed his jet into a compound in Tripoli where Gaddafi and some of his family were staying, the Deutsch-Tuerkische Nachrichten said.

    The news comes as Western forces launched a second wave of air strikes on Gaddafi's positions under a UN resolution authorizing military action to protect Libyan civilians.

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday called the resolution "defective and flawed," but it remains unclear why Russia, which opposed Western intervention in Libya from the start, did not use its power to veto the move.

    BERLIN, March 21 (RIA Novostianyn news of

  • mark_golding

    It is NOT a 'coalition of the willing' – an ugly phrase used to describe the predominantly Anglo-American force and others coerced (bribed) with foreign aid (coalition of the billing) to smash Iraq and condemn over 1 million Iraqis to death including children to which the United Nations Security Council did NOT agree to use force 'by any means' in any resolution that supported a military operation and invasion of Iraq.

    I have written to the editor of the Guardian in the strongest terms to express my disbelief at the use of the term and suggest they have done so in some diabolical way to re-write history in an attempt to strengthen the legality argument still being debated in the concluding analysis of the United Kingdom Iraq inquiry committee of Privy Counsellors.

    Pathetic Mr Rusbridger – absolutely pathetic! – I have copied my letter of disgust to Sir John Chilcot.

  • somebody

    Proud to say that Felicity is a friend.

    Response to Nick Clegg, UK Deputy Prime Minister
    by Felicity Arbuthnot / March 21st, 2011

    The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.

    — Albert Camus, 1930-1960

    A letter1 has been sent by the British Deputy Prime Minister of the coalition, Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, to his fast dwindling political followers.

    Here are some thoughts in response, which have been put to him. The politically attuned should not hold their breath for a response……..


    There are some good pieces about Libya on Dissdent Voice who sadly are ceasing to take comments and also links on Medialens.

  • sabretache

    Please forgive me re-posting this. The original is at the end of a 3 day old post and may therefore pass un-noticed.

    The thing I find most curious and of potentially vast significance about the Libyan situation is the Chinese and Russian abstentions on the UNSC resolution when either could have vetoed it. I would be very interested to hear Craig's take on that.

    The first overt sign of Chinese and Russian subservience to the Western Imperial Project (for want of a better description) was their failure to veto further sanctions against Iran last year – and now this. I really do struggle to see how they could judge their interests to be best served by allowing it to pass. IOW, there appears to me to some kind of co-option to the 'Unipolar' world view that Putin was at such pains to expose as dangerous back in 2005 (as I recall).

    Also interesting to note that there appears to be a serious rift developing between Putin and Medvedev on the issue – see these two links:

    Putin likens Resolution to 'Crusade Call'
    Medvedev rebuts Putin over Libya

    As Craig says something big is afoot in the diplomatic world.

    • CanSpeccy

      "I really do struggle to see how they could judge their interests to be best served by allowing it to pass…"

      "You are either with us or your are with the terrorists."

      They don't wish to be the next to be singled out as a regimes whose people need humanitarian relief.

      But just in case neutrality is not enough, Putin made his critical statement of the UN resolution while visiting a missile plant.

    • Duncan_McFarlan

      I suspect they're banking on Gaddafi surviving in control of Libya (like Saddam after the 1991 war) and – as with Iraq in the past, getting oil and arms contracts for their firms.

  • CanSpeccy

    "What the coalition of the willing are extremely close to doing is acting illegally in making war beyond their UN mandate."

    Come on, Craig. Your friend Clogg and his associate, that very nice Mr. Cameroon, are a pair fucking war criminals. They're shooting Gaddafi's tanks right out the air, while MI6 is reported to be assassinating his military commanders.

    Why not have a sensible grown up discussion here about what interests underlie the war.

    BP was all set to drill in Libyan waters, so what was the problem? Was it the 35,000 Chinese who were evacuated a few days ago? Was China providing infrastructure for oil at prices with which Western states could not compete?

    What it looks like is that the NATO states, with the honorable exception of Germany, believe it best to steal stuff, rather than engage in honest trade.

    Why else would they attack Libya? Certainly not because anyone in the West gives a damn about human rights in some Saharan enclave about which we know nothing — look at the Der Spiegel story on American kill teams in Afghanistan: you think the United States Congress will hand Obarmy over the the Hague? LOL.

    And we're certainly not waging war on Libya because Libya refuses to trade with the West: the oil is no more use to Gaddafi than to us as long as it remains in the ground. So why wouldn't Gaddafi trade it to the highest bidder? I think he would, and I think the Western oilco.s were being outbid by the Chinese. Hence, another criminal war of aggression.

    But if there's another explanation, let's hear it.

    • spectral

      "…honorable exception of Germany"

      Well, Germany was instrumental in destroying Yugoslavia. Now, obviously the French took over that role. German send couple of ships to waters of Libya and they actively supporting and meddling in Sudan's affair. BND in not better than CIA or any other intelligence service. They also support dictators throughout Meddle East countries

  • Dick the Prick

    Bloody quick planning process! Be interesting to see how Algeria acts and French interests through Total. And Medvedev, Putin, Berlusconi and Gazprom forms a nice little hornet's nest.

    PS – Dr Fox seems like a right wanker.

  • Michael.K

    The concept of "humanitarian war" is an obscenity. Would we be interested in the Middle East at all if it wasn't the source of most of the world's oil. Isn't that why we've been involved in the region for almost a century? I know that's why my family have. We moved from Galicia, to Rumania, to Baku, to Persia, to Iraq, to the Gulf. It wasn't because they produced dates!

    Of course there was the Suez Canal, the various colonies, and all that, but the real money and power was in oil. And nothing much has changed.

  • Ruth

    But if there's another explanation, let's hear it.

    There has been huge investment into Libya over the last few years. From what I understand the UK had been firmly supporting Saif Gadaffi as his father's successor. Saif had attempted to make reforms – freeing of political prisoners, etc. However, it appears that he was met by opposition from the more conservative members of Gadaffi's circle and maybe his brothers. Without reform Libya was a tinderfbox particularly the eastern region where the government policy was to downgrade it..
    Without stable government foreign investments were at risk. So hence, the revolution with the lead players, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya and along with their flag and according to reports funded by Saudi Arabia, the CIA, and French Intelligence.

  • Ruth

    Craig, what's your reasoning in this, 'The endgame may be the division of Libya into two parts – diesel and unleaded.'

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