Ronald Reagan understands the uses of terrorism. The air strike he ordered against Libya demonstrates that far more powerfully the press accounts available to Americans revealed. A short trip I made to Tripoli last month leaves no question about the purpose of the bombing.
There were three main targets in the Tripoli area. The first was Colonel Qaddafi. In the large compound where he lives while in the capital, and where he was the night of the bombing, two multiton bombs shattered the wing of the building in which he had an office and often worked late at night. Two bombs struck the field where a tent in which he often slept was pitched, collapsing it. Two bombs gutted the large house in which his family lived. These were the three locations where Qaddafi could reasonably be expected to be at 2 A.M., the time the U.S. planes first struck. No other areas within the several-hundred-acre compound were hit by the big bombs. The bombs were intended to kill Qaddafi and show the Libyan people the omnipotence of the U.S. military.
The second target was a congested, densely populated, albeit well-to-do residential section of Tripoli. Big bombs destroyed homes in at least six places. An entire family of seven was killed instantly by a direct hit on their apartment. A 29-year-old father of three was killed when he went to a window to see what was happening. His wife and children were injured. A Greek citizen’s home was destroyed and his family injured. An 18-year-old Lebanese woman, on a brief holiday from school in England, was killed. The home of a longtime employee of an American oil company was hit, causing one death in the family.
There are various estimates of the total number of dead and injured. Hospitals in Austria, Italy and Switzerland are treating scores of survivors who lost arms, legs and eyes, and sustained the other injuries modern conventional bombs are capable of inflicting; Libyan hospitals are overflowing. The French Embassy stands completely empty, its rear exterior wall demolished and its interior destroyed by a bomb which leveled the home immediately adjacent to it. The bombs were presumably intended to show Libyans with power that the United States will kill them, too–that no place is safe.
The third target was a naval training school about twenty-five miles west of Tripoli. There were casualties and extensive damage to buildings. Two West German professors who taught at the school have stated they knew of no secret naval weapons or military planning there. These bombs were intended to warn Libyan naval personnel to stay away from the Sixth Fleet–that the United States has the capacity to crush all enemies.
Panic in the aftermath of the bombings also took lives. One fiery crash of two automobiles crammed with people fleeing south to the desert killed seven, according to two horribly burned survivors I met at a hospital in Vienna. A man whose daughter was killed and who himself was apparently saved by a door that blew open and kept the ceiling from falling on him lost thirty-five pounds and is going to Europe for therapy. Parents talk of children who scream in the night; husbands, of wives who are unable to sleep. No one I spoke with had expected the United States to bomb Libya.
The sudden and unexpected attack terrorized the people because they had not experienced anything like it since World War II. Their shock, grief and anger are profound. Many older people were stunned that the United States, of all countries, would bomb them. On walls and billboards are posters and signs condemning the United States. Many young people told me they hate America because of the bombing. A boy of 6 who saw his father die in his home said he would kill Reagan when he grew up. As I left Tripoli for the airport on June 18, the streets were jammed with automobiles, trucks, buses, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians on their way to a rally Qaddafi was supposed to address.
The day before, I spoke with Qaddafi, who had just returned to Tripoli. A reception room on the far side of the building that contained his old office had been repaired since the bombing. Like his home, his office remained in ruins. The field where his tent had stood was empty. There were two large sandy spots where the bomb craters had been filled. He spoke calmly and quietly but with deep anger. He said he never believed a civilized nation, a superpower, would attack a foreign leader and his people as the United States had done. He expressed shock that such a bombing would have been directed at a residential area. His words for Reagan, as translated into English, were virtually the same words we have heard the President use when speaking of Qaddafi. He emphasized Reagan’s violent nature, America’s immature culture, its uncivilized, barbaric character. History will decide whose appraisal is more nearly right.
Reagan’s raid, called a surgical strike, killed at least twice as many Libyans in one night as all Americans killed by terrorists worldwide in 1985. The President seems to be proud of what he ordered and of the “heroes” who carried it out. His one-liners are vintage Hollywood: “‘We didn’t aim to kill anybody.” He should tell that to a judge.
Unless it is lawful for the President to use military bombers in an attempt to assassinate a foreign leader and to kill and mutilate scores of human beings sleeping innocently in their homes thousands of miles and many days from any claimed act of provocation, of which they probably were never aware, then Ronald Reagan must be impeached and tried for high crimes and misdemeanors. It will be interesting to see whether the elected representatives of the American people, all of whom will proclaim the virtues of our Constitution during its bicentennial year, will dare to do their duty.