You must have seen this article by Alan Kuperman doing the rounds over the past 24 hours. Nevermind the fact that Kuperman is a ‘bomb-Iran’ neocon hardliner, many are referencing it to dismiss the enormity of the situation in Libya. Kuperman begins with some strong declarative statements which he says are based on Human Rights Watch findings.
EVIDENCE IS now in that President Barack Obama grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military action in Libya. The president claimed that intervention was necessary to prevent a “bloodbath’’ in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and last rebel stronghold.
But Human Rights Watch has released data on Misurata, the next-biggest city in Libya and scene of protracted fighting, revealing that Moammar Khadafy is not deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government.
Misurata’s population is roughly 400,000. In nearly two months of war, only 257 people — including combatants — have died there. Of the 949 wounded, only 22 — less than 3 percent — are women. If Khadafy were indiscriminately targeting civilians, women would comprise about half the casualties.
Revealing figures — which seem to leave absolutely no room for doubt. Except Kuperman’s analysis bears little relation to the report he is referencing. First he performs some deductive reasoning based on the estimates of one interviewee and tries to pass it off as the conclusions of HRW. He then inverts the actual conclusions of HRW to claim that ‘Moammar Khadafy [sic] is not deliberately massacring civilians.’ He then proceeds with an impressive kamikaze act declaring in no uncertain terms that Qaddafi is ‘narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government.’
But is this what HRW says? Check this:
“The Libyan government’s near siege of Misrata has not prevented reports of serious abuses getting out,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We’ve heard disturbing accounts of shelling and shooting at a clinic and in populated areas, killing civilians where no battle was raging.” […]
A second doctor, interviewed separately, said that hospitals in the city had documented about 250 dead over the past month, most of them civilians. He believed the actual number was higher because many people could not reach medical facilities. […]On April 3 and 4, Human Rights Watch interviewed 17 civilians wounded by gunfire and tank or artillery rounds in Benghazi after they had been evacuated from Misrata by boat. Some described deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and showed the wounds they had suffered, though their accounts could not be confirmed. […]Government forces have fired mortar rounds and aimed sniper fire that struck the Misrata Polyclinic, forcing its evacuation, said el-Fortia, who was present on March 23 at one of two attacks on the clinic, an account corroborated by the other doctor and two members of the Misrata city council. El-Fortia told Human Rights Watch:
It started that day with snipers who randomly shot people coming into the Polyclinic. Some people were wounded but none died. Then two mortars came from the Libyan Insurance Company building. This attack did not hit the Polyclinic itself; one hit just outside the clinic, 20 meters from the mosque, and one hit right behind the clinic. A fragment from the second mortar killed Noureddin Elgally, who was bringing food by car to the clinic. So we evacuated the patients from the Polyclinic to a place far from the center of Misrata
Here are some of the actual testimonies:
On April 7, another two mortars hit the Polyclinic, but this time one of them landed on the building itself. The first hit the parking area, and the fragments destroyed the emergency entrance where people were standing around. The second hit the Polyclinic building, and the fragments damaged the mobile operating theater. A hospital cafeteria worker, Mohamed el-Mugasabi, who was working as a guard of the evacuated clinic at the time, was killed in the attack.[…]
The 17 wounded civilians told Human Rights Watch how they were injured. Abdullah Abushofer, 26, said that on March 16, Libyan government tanks fired shells into his neighborhood in the Zwabi district of Misrata, although he did not know of any rebel forces nearby. He said he saw shells and high-caliber bullets strike behind his house. When he stepped outside his house to see what was going on, shrapnel struck him in the eye.
Muhammad Bashir, 42, told Human Rights Watch that he was standing outside his home in Misrata’s Al Jazeera district on March 25 when a mortar shell struck nearby, he believed fired by government forces, wounding him badly in the leg. He said that there had been no fighting in the area. Bashir, a police officer who said he was not taking part in the fighting, had the lower part of his left leg amputated before being evacuated by ship.
Khalid Ali, 32, said that on March 29 he was walking down the street in the Gzeer neighborhood, where no fighting was taking place at the time, when two gunshots hit him in the leg.
“The people who took me to the clinic said that the sniper was positioned in the Thanuwayat El-Yarmuk school near where I was walking,” he said.
Jamal Muhammad Suaib, 35, described an attack by government soldiers that caused the deaths of three family members. On March 17, uniformed soldiers broke into his family’s home, stole their valuables, and threatened to return. Shortly after the soldiers departed, Suaib’s family decided to flee for a safer part of town. They loaded three cars and drove away, until they came across soldiers blocking a street in their neighborhood. Without warning, the soldiers opened fire on the three vehicles, killing Jamal’s 4-year-old niece, Aisha Misbah Suaib; his brother Hamza Muhammad Suaib, 22; and his father, Muhammad Suaib, 63.
Human Rights Watch observed the wounds to the surviving family members. Jamal was wounded in the leg; his wife, Hanan Omar Suaib, 21, was wounded in the arm; and their 8-month-old son Muhammad had a dislodged jaw that required a metal structural support.
“My wife was holding my son,” he told Human Rights Watch. “The bullet hit her in the arm and ricocheted into my son’s face. None of us had a weapon. We were just families looking for safe place to stay.”
Government forces in Misrata have also committed violations of international human rights law, which remains applicable during armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said.
Hazma Muhammad Kariat, 32, told Human Rights Watch that on March 19 he attended a protest against the presence of government tanks and soldiers in Misrata. A crowd of civilians gathered in the city center chanting, “We don’t want Muammar!” a reference to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Kariat said he watched government tanks advance towards the protesters on Tripoli Street. Then the tanks and soldiers opened fire.
“It was a slaughterhouse,” he said. “I was hit by a sniper in the back, and there were five other injured people in the ambulance with me.” Kariat was paralyzed from the waist down.
Alnoman el-Fezzani, 33, described taking part in a protest on March 21 at the public hall in downtown Misrata. “When Gaddafi forces arrived downtown and hoisted the [Libyan government] green flag, everyone said ‘No!'” said el-Fezzani. “When one guy raised the independence flag in the public hall, a sniper immediately shot him.” Shortly after, el-Fezzani said, he himself was shot in the leg.
So Kuperman isn’t just spinning, he is lying. Which is courageous even if all you are doing is referencing an HRW report which most will probably not read. But he seems no less fearless in attributing statements to people whose words one might assume many in his audience would remember:
Obama insisted that prospects were grim without intervention. “If we waited one more day, Benghazi … could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.’’ Thus, the president concluded, “preventing genocide’’ justified US military action.
A massacre is not a genocide — but notice those quotation marks around ‘preventing genocide’? He is strongly suggesting that these are Obama’s words. But they aren’t. They are his own — its a strawman.
Even if all that Kuperman is saying were true, that still says little about what Qaddafi might have done in Ben Ghazi. This was a debate not about the scale of past atrocities, but the possibility of a future one. It is a debate about intent and capabilities. Thanks to his British/Italian benefactors he doubtless has the latter, and he was hardly reticent about the former. The question was whether this was a war of choice, a la Iraq. The answer for Kuperman seems self-evident. His reasoning also implies that one must act to prevent a massacre only on the evidence of a massacre. Lets first stand by and watch if it actually happens before we consider doing something about it.
Once again, this is not a debate about whether US should have intervened. It is about whether what was happening in and around Ben Ghazi merited preemptive action by someone. Whether one thinks the US should have intervened in Libya or not is a separate debate. But one hopes that it wouldn’t be conducted at the price of minimizing Qaddafi’s atrocities. There are many good arguments against Humanitarian Intervention — the ideological construct which enables imperialist militarism on humanitarian pretexts — which do not require one to invent, or distort facts. But just because a concept has been frequently abused and turned into an ideological fig leaf does not mean there aren’t actual crises in which the bitter pill of intervention is less damaging than the certain poison of inaction. It was Tanzanian intervention that put an end to the mass atrocities being committed by Idi Amin (whose accession to power was aided by Israel and whose forces were later supported by Gaddafi), or the Vietnamese intervention that ended the slaughter being perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge.
I am sure Kuperman’s reputation will survive this as Alan Dershowtiz’s has his myriad academic malpractices. In politics after all truth is a mere function of power. For adherents of his point of view his falsehoods will I am sure be excusable, even admirable. Isn’t this what led to the unfortunate dichotomoy between scholarship and commitment in the first place?