What’s this, Cockburn? You’re saying that after all the endless disclosures of NATO’s lies concerning its onslaughts on the former Yugoslavia in the late ’90s, and the hundreds of postmortems and official inquiries into the propaganda blitz before the attack on Iraq in 2003, the press is more gullible regarding Libya, less inclined to question official claims than in those earlier failures?
That’s exactly what I’m saying. The bar was already low, but now that those supposed lessons have been acknowledged and ignored, it has been lowered even further.
Who can argue with a straight face that UN Resolution 1973, passed on March 17, permits efforts to assassinate Qaddafi by bombs and missiles or escalations in the arsenal of regime change, such as the deployment of British Apache helicopters? A hundred years from now this UN/NATO intervention will be seen as an old-fashioned colonial smash-and-grab affair, tricked out with trumpery nonsense about a mission “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas” as hollow as the old imperialists’ claims that the conquest of India was primarily about saving widows from suttee.
In the past few weeks we have had amply documented records of ferocious repression across the Middle East. There are body counts and vivid reports out of Syria. The violence that finally prompted President Saleh’s flight from Yemen to Saudi Arabia was relayed in graphic reportage.
Admittedly, the US press has been less energetic in relaying the savageries being inflicted on erstwhile democracy seekers in Bahrain, thus reflecting the desire of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton that the topic not be mentioned. Whereas “Libya” appears at least fourteen times in the three major declarations issued at the recent G-8 summit in Deauville, France, and “Syria” twelve times, “Bahrain” appears not at all.
Contrast these detailed reports with the amazing vagueness of news stories coming out of Libya. Here, remember, we have a regime accused in Resolution 1973 of “widespread and systematic attacks…against the civilian population [that] may amount to crimes against humanity.” We have a press corps and insurgents ready and eager to report anything discreditable to the Qaddafi regime.
Yet since mid-February the reporting out of Libya has had a striking lack of persuasive documentation of butcheries or abuses commensurate with the language lavished on the regime’s presumptive conduct. Though human rights groups have furnished some detailed accounts of specific repressions, time and again one reads vague phrases like “thousands reportedly killed by Qaddafi’s mercenaries” or Qaddafi “massacring his own people,” delivered without the slightest effort to furnish supporting evidence. This is not said out of any singular respect for Qaddafi. But it was the secondhand allegation of massacres that drove both news coverage and UN activities—particularly in the early stage, when UN Resolution 1970 was adopted, calling for sanctions and the referral of Qaddafi’s closest circle to the International Criminal Court.