By Alaa al-Ameri
This commentary was published in The Guardian on 03/05/2011
Let's not spend any time discussing the various theories about whether the deaths really occurred or whether they're part of Gaddafi's increasingly desperate propaganda, designed to put political pressure on the governments involved in enforcing UN security council resolution 1973. Although he's more than capable of such a thing, the greater issue is the international reaction and some of the interpretations expressed regarding the implications for the Nato mission.
Various commentators have declared that the deaths prove Nato has overstepped its mandate, and has violated international law by targeting Gaddafi personally. This is based on their definition of Gaddafi as a head of state, and their belief that the UN mandate is confined only to the establishment and maintenance of a no-fly zone. Both these premises are false.
Gaddafi is not a head of state. He is a warlord in control of a personal army that he has tasked with the mass killing and terrorising of Libyans for the crime of wishing to live as free human beings. There is no meaningful Libyan government structure or decision-making body besides Gaddafi himself and his sons.
Which logic or legal principle underlies the notion that while militia in the act of aggression against a civilian population may be attacked, the leader of that militia – actively engaged in directing the violence – is off limits? What claim to special rights and privileges can be made by a man who uses rape as a weapon of war? Which principle of international law would be eroded by his death?
Despite assertions to the contrary, UN resolution 1973 does not confine Nato action to a no-fly zone. The now familiar central clause authorises member states "to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory". Some critics of Nato's action have interpreted this so narrowly as to assert that it allows no more than "a protective cordon around Benghazi".
In reality, resistance to Gaddafi, and his merciless reaction to it, extend across the entire country with even the Tunisian border post at Dehiba changing hands several times last week. Civilians also come under attack whenever a pro-democracy demonstration is attempted in Tripoli. These attacks are based on the orders of Gaddafi, his sons and their close circle.
The often repeated complaint that Nato must also attack revolutionary forces in the name of consistency is misguided. There is no evidence that revolutionary forces set out to attack civilians, or operate in such a way as to indiscriminately endanger civilian life. This cannot be said for Gaddafi's men, who seek to punish entire cities, killing, raping, torturing and kidnapping as they go.
All Gaddafi has to do to demonstrate a genuine interest in peace and negotiation is to withdraw his forces and stop killing people for exercising basic freedoms.
If Gaddafi has lost family members due to Nato bombing, there is only one man to blame – Gaddafi. He funds, arms and directs the horrific violence that his forces have inflicted on the Libyan people simply for desiring to be free. He could stop the violence today but chooses not to. Instead he uses even the death of his son as a tool to serve his own political interests.
To argue that the victims of Gaddafi and those enforcing resolution 1973 must now react to these reported deaths by seeking to placate the man responsible is nothing short of perverse.