Libya: Qaddafi exploits civilian casualties, Gates says air-strikes are “not hostilities”

NATO acknowledged June 18 that its aircraft had mistakenly hit a column of rebel military vehicles last week near the Libyan oil port of Brega, and early June 19 the Qaddafi government showed reporters a destroyed cinder-block house that neighbors and the government said was hit by an errant NATO air-strike in Tripoli. Two bodies were pulled from the rubble, and at the Tripoli Central Hospital, government officials showed reporters three others, including an infant and a child, who they said were killed in the house. Western media accounts called it the first time in three months of air-strikes that the Qaddafi regime has presented credible evidence of what appeared to be direct civilian casualties of NATO attacks. The destroyed building was far from any obvious military facility, in the Souq al-Juma area, which is actually known for its hostility to Qaddafi. In a statement NATO said: “A military missile site was the intended target of air strikes in Tripoli. However, it appears that one weapon did not strike the intended target and that there may have been a weapons system failure which may have caused a number of civilian casualties.” The air-strike was apparently carried out by French jets. (The Telegraph, June 19; NYT, June 18)

On “Fox News Sunday,” US Defense Secretary Robert Gates defended President Barack Obama‘s decision to deploy military power in Libya without seeking congressional approval, echoing the White House view that it did not violate the War Powers Act because the government is not engaged in “hostilities.”

That same day, in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said he would not support proposed measures to defund military operations in Libya—but also said he rejected the White House argument that the NATO operations do not amount to direct engagement in hostilities. “Hostilities by remote control are still hostilities,” Durbin said. “We are killing with drones what we would otherwise be killing with fighter planes. What we should do is act on a timely basis to pass congressional authorization under the War Powers Act.” (NYT, June 19)

The New York Times reports that President Obama rejected the views of top lawyers at both the Pentagon and the Justice Department on the legality of the Libyan intervention. Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the White House they believed that the Libyan operation amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, this determination would have required Obama to terminate the mission after May 20 or seek Congressional approval. (NYT, June 17)

Although Congress has not approved military action in Libya, although it has approved “non-lethal” aid to the Libyan rebels and also moved to free up the Qaddafi regime’s frozen assets to make them available to the rebels.

See our last posts on Libya, the Arab Spring in North Africa, and the propaganda device of words-mean-whatever-we-say-they-mean.

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