Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Libya's Rebels: Yesterday We Tortured Them, Today We Arm Them

There's no doubt that NATO, primarily the UK, France and the US, inserted themselves into the Libyan uprising as a means of gaining control over the course of the Arab Spring. In the case of France, it's clear that expanding the control of Libya's oil - most notably at the expense of Italy - was also part of the reason for Sarkozy's newfound enthusiasm for democracy when only a few weeks earlier he was rather more enthusiastic for keeping the Tunisian dictator in power. Reasserting hegemony in Africa also played no small part in the Libyan adventure.

Nonetheless it is always important to keep in mind that when imperialist powers insert themselves into an insurgency - particularly against a recent ally like Gaddafi - they are at risk of not only unleashing forces that they cannot control but of being exposed for what they really are: double-dealing hypocrites.

To be honest, it doesn't appear to me likely that there will be open resistance to the overall imperial agenda as it is expressed through the new government that is coming into being, led by the NTC. The oil contracts have been signed, the backroom deals have been struck - and NATO's deeply penetrating role in the war against Gaddafi has ensured that the rebel soldiers are dependent upon them for military success of any sort. Over the coming weeks the most likely scenario is that the rebel volunteers will be demobilized or incorporated into the national military. That military and most of the governmental apparatus will remain essentially unchanged from the Gaddafi regime - the police who kept order in Tripoli under Gaddafi will be the same police who keep order under the NTC. The generals who ran the Gaddafi military will run the NTC military. And economic and social policy will be guided by people like Mahmoud Jibril, who was the head of the Gaddafi agency charged with the responsibility of selling off state assets, probably to mostly foreign buyers or other former-Gaddafi officials.

That said, I would be glad to be mistaken. There is a reason why one of the NTC's first acts is to demobilize the rebel soldiers and to clear them out of the capital. People fought for freedom and will be less likely to accept Gaddafi-ism without Gaddafi if they have guns and are organized into fighting units. And with the armed phase of Gaddafi's overthrow all but passed, it is still possible that the remnants of the revolutionary councils that dominated the early phase of the insurgency will re-emerge to challenge the NTC's policy of business-as-usual minus the Brother Leader and some of the more odious aspects of a police state.

But in the initial days it's good to see that, at the very least, some of the duplicity of the United States and Britain are being revealed. The discovery of documents in the Interior Ministry building that show the level of cooperation between the CIA and the Gaddafi regime are something of an embarrassment. As is the fact that the new commander of Tripoli was a victim of CIA torture and the extraordinary rendition program that sent him back to Libya for several years of brutal incarceration. Abdul Hakim Belhaj, a former commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group has been undergoing something of a renovation, with a fluff piece in the New York Times, which I covered the other day. He may be claiming that he is now grateful for the support of NATO and the USA - but he hasn't forgotten what was done to him and some reporters have cottoned on to this.

The result is that the British spy agency MI6 is now exposed as having cooperated - perhaps illegally - with the American rendition program and facilitated torture. In some ways nobody ought to be surprised by this but the fact that it is coming out in public at a moment when the UK is jockeying for fat reconstruction and oil contracts is sweet. These revelations are undermining one of the domestic goals of the intervention in Libya - to rehabilitate the idea of humanitarian intervention by demonstrating that the UK, USA and NATO really do have good intentions, even if sometimes they get the details wrong. Let's hope that the revelations keep on coming. There is a sweet irony in the possibility that the countries of NATO will be more fully exposed as having aided Gaddafi in crushing the revolt that they ended up opportunistically supporting.


MI6 knew I was tortured, says Libyan rebel | World news | The Guardian
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