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Horace Campbell reconstructs ‘the decision at the highest levels’ to execute Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi and considers ‘the urgency for organising to oppose the remilitarisation of Africa.’

The inability of the Western media and other “information” sources to manage the news of the execution of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was compounded by the news, according to the New York based Human Rights Watch, that 53 supporters of the ousted regime were executed at a hotel in Sirte with their hands tied behind their backs (Huffington Post October 26, 2011). Wall-to-wall news bulletins of the demise of Colonel Gaddafi, which should have been a moment of victory for the imperial forces, has now turned into a public relations disaster and nightmare for those military planners who want to distance themselves from the gruesome details of the execution.

Gaddafi had vowed to fight to the end. Thus, the outcome of his death was not surprising. But the NATO forces tried to capitalize on Gaddafi’s cockiness and delusions by trying to re-package his death as a result of a firefight. But they could not cover up the truth. Video footage taken on camera phones show a wounded Colonel Gaddafi being dragged, beaten and tortured but very much alive. In the next set of footages he is dead. The videos are strong evidence that the Geneva Convention was violated.

According to international law, Gaddafi’s death would constitute a war crime because he was killed while in captivity. Article Three of the Convention (III) Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (Third Geneva Convention), explicitly prohibits “the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

The immoral and illegal actions by the NATO-backed military forces and private contractors in Libya were further exacerbated by the lack of respect shown towards the religious and cultural traditions of the Libyan people when the mortal remains of Colonel Gaddafi and his son, Muatassim, were kept in a meat locker until the bodies started to decompose.

Moreover, a supposedly secret burial failed to resolve the tussle amongst those who had hijacked the body in the on-going struggle inside the National Transitional Council (NTC) between the three centers of power, Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata. These three factions fear each other and they have lost the one factor that had united them - hatred for Gaddafi. Fearing the other factions in the NTC, the Benghazi section had called for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to extend the mandate of the no-fly zone until December 31, 2011. However, on Thursday, October 27, 2011 the UNSC voted to end the NATO no-fly zone over Libya by October 31, 2011.

The manner in which Gaddafi died has now highlighted the goal of the Western world (in particular, Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States) to use the cover of protecting civilian lives to effect regime change in order to gain control of the oil, gas and water resources of Libya. In a moment of revolutionary upheavals all over the world, the leaders of France, Great Britain and the United States had intervened in Libya to divert attention from their problems and to derail the wave of revolutionary change that is now underway internationally. Italy which is in the throes of a profound crisis tagged along to protect its colonial heritage and oil contracts in Libya.

On Tuesday October 25, 2011 the Los Angeles Times reported that Libya had more than US $200 billion in reserves. As outlined in my article, “Global NATO and the Recolonisation of Africa” it is no secret that leaders such as Nicholas Sarkozy of France deeply want to get their hands on this money to save the banks in Europe and to save the Euro. But the crisis in the Eurozone area is too far gone and the depth of the structural and systemic crisis is too extreme to save the politicians who oversaw this military campaign inside Libya. Eight days after the execution of Colonel Gaddafi, The New York Times indicated that, “Western security, construction and infrastructure companies that see profit-making opportunities receding in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned their sights on Libya”, thus exposing the true purpose of the NATO intervention in Libya.

The article further reported that, “A week before Colonel Qaddafi’s death on Oct. 20, a delegation from 80 French companies arrived in Tripoli to meet officials of the Transitional National Council, the interim government. Last week, the new British defense minister, Philip Hammond, urged British companies to ‘pack their suitcases’ and head to Tripoli.”

The truth is now out.

Gaddafi was an obstacle to the wholesale looting of Africa. This author has in the past critiqued the limited Pan –African vision of Gaddafi, but even with these limitations, the Western bankers and oil companies were afraid of his pan African vision taking concrete material form. His schemes for communications, energy, irrigation and independent pan-African financial institutions posed a real threat to western financial interests. Back in June of this year, The Washington Post’s article, “Conflict in Libya: U.S. Oil Companies Sit on Sidelines as Gaddafi Maintains Hold” detailed the soured relationship between the Gaddafi regime and the oil companies.

Decent elements within the armed forces of western societies want to join the 99 per cent movement that is seeking another world in this moment. In this submission, we seek to reconstruct the decision at the highest levels to execute Colonel Gaddafi and to analyze the urgency for organizing to oppose the remilitarization of Africa.


When on Sunday, October 23, 2011, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said on the US television Channel NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she backed a proposal that the United Nations investigate Gaddafi’s death and requested that Libya’s National Transitional Council also look into the circumstances, it was clear that the execution had backfired. This was the height of hypocrisy or what would be called a preemptive strike to protect her own reputation. Earlier in this same week, Clinton had met with the NTC in Libya and called for Gaddafi to be captured or killed. This blood thirsty statement from a high-ranking and influential official from the United States was a tacit endorsement to kill Colonel Gaddafi.

Security planners and military strategists of the Obama White House are now cowering in shame on the fallout from the failure of the Libyan quagmire and the exposure of the bankruptcy of the US military and imperial logic. We now know from the reports in the New York Times that, on October 19, 2011, the National Security Council of the White House had debated the execution of Colonel Gaddafi. The article, “Before Qaddafi’s Death, U.S. Debated His Future”, stated that the White House considered “The killing of Colonel Qaddafi … [as"> one of the three scenarios considered last Wednesday.” The article also said, “Putting the colonel on trial, either in Libya or The Hague, was one of a host of situations for which the administration planned.”

The mere fact that the United States pre-planned for what to do with Gaddafi if he were captured alive strongly supports the perception that the US had great influence with the anti-Gaddafi forces. Although the New York Times, article took great pains to indicate that there were different scenarios under deliberation at this meeting, it ended with the ominous point that the outright killing of Gaddafi was considered. The day after this 90-minute meeting at the White House, Colonel Gaddafi was killed. It is now known and documented through video footage that Gaddafi was captured alive thus begging the question: Why was he killed?


The details of the escape of Colonel Gaddafi from Tripoli and the attempted escape from Sirte has been provided for posterity by Mansour Dhao Ibrahim, an aide to Gaddafi who survived the NATO attack on the convoy ferrying Gaddafi from Sitre. Dhao, head of the People’s Guard, was with Gaddafi during his final days and told Human Rights Watch officials on Saturday how he was wounded and Gaddafi was killed. According to Dhao:

“[T]he decision for Gaddafi to stay in Sirte was based on Muatassim, the colonel’s son. … Gaddafi’s son and the military entourage had “reasoned that the city, long known as an important pro-Qaddafi stronghold and under frequent bombardment by NATO airstrikes, was the last place anyone would look.”

It was further revealed that:

“The colonel traveled with about 10 people, including close aides and guards. Muatassim, who commanded the loyalist forces, traveled separately from his father, fearing that his own satellite phone was being tracked. Apart from a phone, which the colonel used to make frequent statements to a Syrian television station that became his official outlet, Colonel Qaddafi was largely ‘cut off from the world.’”

It was this satellite phone that was tracked so that when Sirte was bombed to smithereens, there was only one option left for Gaddafi, and that was to make a run to escape.

British news reports from both the Telegraph and The Independent UK since August 21, 2001 had been reporting that British SAS forces and U.S. Special Forces had been scouring the Sirte area for Gaddafi, unable to find him. According to these reports, when the resistance continued for two months, the British and US Special Forces on the ground disguised as Libyan NTC fighters had been coordinating the bombing campaign of Sitre. These SAS forces synchronized the bombing and one or two weeks before the execution, “NATO had pinpointed Gaddafi’s position after an intelligence breakthrough.” Once the SAS and the coordinating forces confirmed Gaddafi’s position, “an American drone and an array of NATO eavesdropping aircraft had been trained on his Sirte stronghold to ensure he could not escape.”

This was around the same time the debates on execution intensified and the drones were deployed to ensure that Gaddafi did not escape from Sirte. This military operation to block anyone leaving Sirte (essentially a no-drive zone) ensured that hundreds of innocent civilians were killed. For NATO and their surrogates of the NTC, the no-fly zone to protect civilians did not extend to the citizens of Sirte.


“About two weeks ago, as the former rebels stormed the city center, the colonel and his sons were trapped shuttling between two houses in a residential area called District No. 2. They were surrounded by hundreds of former rebels, firing at the area with heavy machine guns, rockets and mortars. “The only decision was whether to live or to die,” Mr. Dhao said. Colonel Qaddafi decided it was time to leave, and planned to flee to one of his houses nearby, where he had been born. On Thursday, a convoy of more than 40 cars was supposed to leave at about around 3 a.m.”

With the voice recognition technology picking up any call made by Gaddafi, the drones were called in when the convoy carrying Gaddafi was pinpointed by the drone.

The Daily Telegraph reported that:

“They built up a normal pattern of life picture so that when something unusual happened this morning such as a large group of vehicles gathering together, that came across as highly unusual activity and the decision was taken to follow them and prosecute an attack. Electronic warfare aircraft, either an American Rivet Joint or a French C160 Gabriel, also picked up Gaddafi’s movements as he attempted to escape.”

Hilary Clinton had flown to Tripoli on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 to debate Gaddafi’s future. It was then that Clinton made her position clear that she wanted Gaddafi killed or captured. Was this a clear message to the Special Forces on the ground that the NATO forces wanted Gaddafi killed?

“In a Toyota Land Cruiser, Colonel Qaddafi traveled with his chief of security, a relative, the driver and Mr. Dhao. The colonel did not say much during the drive. NATO warplanes and former rebel fighters found them half an hour after they left. When a missile struck near the car, the airbags deployed, said Mr. Dhao, who was hit by shrapnel in the strike. He said he tried to escape with Colonel Qaddafi and other men, walking first to a farm, then to the main road, toward some drainage pipes. “The shelling was constant,” Mr. Dhao said, adding that he was struck by shrapnel again and fell unconscious. When he woke up, he was in the hospital.”

Sensitive to the repercussions of this attack on the convoy, the British media declared early that the Royal Air Force had not been involved in the aerial attack. Contrastedly, and with great bravado, the French took credit for firing the missile that stopped the car carrying Colonel Gaddafi. French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet revealed that a French Mirage-2000 fired a warning shot at a column of several dozen vehicles fleeing Sirte.

Despite the views of Hilary Clinton and French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet, it is now evident that the bombing of the innocent civilians in Sirte was a violation of the Geneva Conventions. The nature of the killing of Gaddafi is also a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions on the humane treatment of prisoners. Hence, there is the continued effort to manage the information on the circumstances surrounding the last days of Gaddafi.


Video footage after the airstrike shows that Gaddafi was wounded and alive. Later footage showed a bloodied, bruised dead Gaddafi. There is also video footage of the humiliating sodomization of the wounded Gaddafi. Additionally, there is video footage of Mutassim, Gaddafi’s son alive and then dead. He was smoking a cigarette and drinking water and then the next video he had a wound on his chest that was clearly not there before.
In stumbling and clumsy attempts to control the story, the re-packaged story was that Gaddafi was killed in crossfire. But the inconsistencies were so blatant that it was embarrassing for the psychological warfare experts of NATO. Was it crossfire, was it stray bullet, was it an assassination? There were too many cell phone images of what transpired for the western intelligence agencies to attempt to cover the clear violation of international law.

From the time of the war against the people of Vietnam, the US military had consciously worked with the pliant corporate media so that the main news networks in the United States were integrated into the disinformation and psychological warfare units of the US military. In the past, Cable News Network (CNN) and National Public Radio (NPR) have acknowledged that members of the US Army 4th Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) Group served as interns in their news divisions and other areas during the Kosovo war. PSYOPS is a highly specialized unit of the military whose personnel are trained in the production and dissemination of US government propaganda, including on television and radio programs. This form of psychological warfare was deepened during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In order to justify the military buildup in Africa, news organizations have been supporting the general line that Africa is a breeding ground for terrorism. News organizations such as those controlled by the Murdoch Empire were willing accomplices of this psychological warfare against citizens of the West during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and this aspect of the war was so important that Al Jazeera was bombed in Iraq and some of their journalists killed. In the case of the war of regime change in Libya, the disinformation services had been working overtime, ‘to not just fabricate events but to create.’

As Lizzie Phelan had reported for Pambazuka News and other media, NATO had been willing and able to confuse and disorient those civilians in Libya who did not support the NTC. One example was when the news reported the capture of one of the sons of Gaddafi, only to have this son turn up to show that this was part of a disinformation campaign.

The fabrications now failed and it was clear that the manner of the killing of Gaddafi was meant to humiliate him. One does not have to support Gaddafi to realize that this kind of killing will not lay any basis for a society free from revenge killings. Revenge and perpetual violence only serves to postpone peace and reconstruction. From the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to the post war efforts in Burundi and Sierra Leone, long drawn out phases of reconciliation proved more beneficial to society than revenge killings.

Throughout the world, the management of the news of the execution of Colonel Gaddafi has backfired; even those who had disapproved of Gaddafi’s antics in Africa were now also opposed to the wanton disregard for international law by the military forces. The same US military that had been appalled by the treatment of its soldiers in Mogadishu in October 1993 was now silent as the NATO machine violated international law.

From all corners of the world, NATO and the United States Africa Command were being condemned. Despite efforts by western news agencies to place a microphone before those who would parrot the western line, the disregard for law and the hypocrisy of those who had used the mandate of the “responsibility to protect” to carry out executions were too blatant. The Russians called for an end to the NATO mission and called for the UN Security Council to end the mandate of the no-fly zone. At the United Nations, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who had repeatedly accused NATO of exceeding its U.N. mandate in Libya, has called for ending the mandate of the no-fly zone on October 31, 2011. Churkin said extending the U.N. authorization beyond this date would be “unrealistic.”

In Africa, even those who had been opposed to Gaddafi, especially when he called his people rats, were now seeing the real criminal actions being carried out by NATO. Former Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu condemned the killing of Gaddafi, saying mob justice and violence should always be deplored.

“The manner of the killing of Muammar Gaddafi on Thursday totally detracts from the noble enterprise of instilling a culture of human rights and democracy in Libya,” “ ... the people of Libya should have demonstrated better values than those of their erstwhile oppressor.”

The same managers of disinformation realized that this manner of the execution revealed the true nature of the NATO/AFRICOM operations so the New York Times editorialized on October 20, 2011 that:

“But a gruesome video broadcast on Al Jazeera — apparently showing him being dragged, beaten and then, perhaps, shot to death by armed men — is deeply troubling, if it is real.
Libyans must resist further reprisals and channel their passion into building a united, free and productive country. If not, they risk even more chaos and suffering.”
Here the servile American media was seeking to distance itself from the celebratory role as more and more information continue to emerge as to the scale of the revenge killings and murders that were carried out in Sirte.

Recently, the government of Qatar has admitted that it sent hundreds of ground troops to support the “rebels” who overthrew the Gaddafi regime. Previously, Qatar had only acknowledged that its air-force took part in the NATO operations. Now that it is in the open record that Qatari troops were on the ground responsible for training, communications and strategy. It is only a matter of time before the details of other foreign ground forces will come out in the open.

Internationally, the information of the indiscriminate bombing of the people of Sirte is seeping out and from all corners of the world. There were now Human Rights reports calling for an investigation into the manner of the Colonel Gaddafi’s and Mutassim’s killings. Bloggers and writers are reminding the imperialists that Article 13 of the Third Geneva Convention clearly states: “Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”

The Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Geneva Convention) which pertains to civilians in areas of armed conflict and occupied territories states that, “Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honor, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity.” The discovery of the 53 corpses at the Mahari hotel, and another ten dumped in a nearby reservoir reveal a glimpse of the bloodletting and indiscriminate killings and blatant disregard for the rule of law.

Africans from sub-Saharan Africa were being particularly targeted, and the opposition to the NTC intensified all over the continent, if not over the world. Seumas Milne a writer from the UK’s Guardian sums up best the NATO operation in Libya: “If the Libyan war was about saving lives, it was a catastrophic failure.”


From the start of the war against the peoples of Libya in March 2011, NATO exceeded its mandate with indiscriminate bombing and disinformation as to what was happening on the ground. Those decent humans who had been offended by the leadership of the Libyan society calling their people rats and feared for a massacre were soon shown the reality that it was the NATO bombing that was a greater threat. The shelling of civilian communities by NATO jets that destroyed homes, and cities and displaced people (refugees) will take years to rebuild. The city of Sirte has now been reduced to rubble and throughout the country, people are asking whether Libya is better off after the destruction of its infrastructure than before, pre-NATO intervention.

The NATO-led air campaign had been launched in March under a United Nations mandate to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces trying to crush popular protests. It was clear that the objective of NATO was not to protect civilians and there was opposition to this NATO operation. Eight months after the operation to protect civilians five times more persons were killed by the NATO bombing and by the bloodletting of the NATO supported forces on the ground than by the Gaddafi military in February and March. The destruction of Libya was meant to ensure greater western control over that society.

Throughout the war, the African Union spoke with one voice and called for a roadmap that would establish an inclusive government. From countries like Burundi and the work of The Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation and The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory there is sufficient expertise and experience in Africa to bring about reconciliation. Clearly, the actions of the United States, France and Britain, suggest that they do not want peace and reconstruction in Libya. France continues to ensnare China in the spoils of war by promising reconstruction contracts. But if the BRICS societies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) support the African Union, there will be no contracts to be given out by France. The National Transitional Council (NTC) Chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, would like the UNSC to extend the mandate of the nofly zone on the grounds of controlling surplus weapons. However, Jalil has no means to exercise political leadership.

The NTC is divided. There are Islamist factions supported by the Qatari forces, others supported by the Bashir regime in the Sudan with other factions supported by the British, French, Italians and US oil companies. Three months after Tripoli was “liberated” the leaders in Benghazi are still afraid to move to Tripoli. The Misrata elements of the “uprising” hijacked the body of Gadddafi and his son and kept the bodies in a meat freezer in Misrata. Humiliation was piled upon total disrespect for religious and traditional customs as the bodies were made a public spectacle. When the bodies started to decompose, they could no longer keep the bodies and Gadddafi and his son were buried in the desert.


Fifty years after Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1961, we now have another gruesome execution of an African leader with the objective of halting the liberation and independence of Africa. While this author does not want to make comparisons between these two leaders, the one key fact that link the two assassinations is that there must be an impartial international inquiry into the assassination of Gaddafi, In normal circumstances NATO commanders, United Nations personnel, point persons for the Arab League, and other imperial actors would be required to testify before an impartial enquiry in order to justify their role if any in these atrocities. It required the tenacious work of peace loving persons to ensure that Belgium and the United States were named as the murderers of Patrice Lumumba.

Today, international law can only be enforced by a new international alliance of societies that want to avoid total destructions. Progressive persons must take seriously the warning of Samir Amin that the West may want to turn Libya into another Somalia.

In the midst of this crisis, the criminal actions carried out in Libya point to the reality that we are not in normal circumstances. How can the United Nations or NATO investigate crimes committed on their watch? Under the cover of providing security from the air for the NTC, NATO, the UN, and the other imperial actors in this campaign, granted themselves the alibi now being espoused for cold blooded murder. It is unthinkable to believe that NATO and the UN did not know what the NTC and other Special Forces were doing on the ground. Given the turn of events in Libya, which erupted in the cold blooded bloodletting, what seems to be emerging is some kind of sinister plot to obliterate any remnants of the former regime. There is no justification for such bloodletting. These people, including Gaddafi should have been captured and brought to trial under international law. International law cannot be exercised in a piecemeal manner to suit the whims and fancies of big powers. International law must be applied equally in all circumstances and in all areas of the world.

What has emerged in Libya is a double standard and NATO has been exposed as the face of terrorism in Africa.

The same leaders who proclaim themselves as upholders of human rights applauded the humiliation and execution of Gaddafi. Decent human beings all over the world were outraged and it is now clearer that the decision to execute Gaddafi was made to silence one voice for anti-imperialism. Far from humiliating and silencing Africans, there is now a realization that the work for the freedom and unity of Africa must be engaged with even more clarity.

The execution had the opposite effect and the work for expelling foreign military forces from Africa will be now more intense.


* This is a revised version of an earlier article posted on 27 October, updated to reflect the decision of the United Nations to end its operations in Libya on 31 October.
* Horace Campbell is professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is the author of ‘Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA’ and a contributing author to ‘African Awakening: The Emerging Revolutions’. He is currently a visiting professor in the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.