The world has grown accustomed to the euphemism "collateral damage" to deaden human outrage over the killing of civilians. It is a phrase deployed when a big power or one of its friends gets a little trigger-happy while going after some "bad guy."
Such civilian deaths are deemed regrettable, perhaps worthy of a half-hearted apology, but nothing that merits a special tribunal to prosecute the noble officials responsible for the "mistake." Of course, the same international audience is supposed to get angry when some "rogue" state or group kills civilians in pursuit of its military goals. Then, a tribunal is called for.
But the war in Libya has brought into prominence a parallel euphemism that justifies not only accidental killings but the military conflicts that guarantee such deaths. The new rationale for war is "to protect civilians," an Orwellian twist that NATO and the Obama administration adopted in March to justify an air-and-ground war to achieve regime change in Libya.
Naturally, the NATO powers repeatedly denied that "regime change" was their goal, although their war planes and intelligence agencies have coordinated military operations with Libyan rebels whose stated goal has been to eliminate longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, an objective that appears close to success.
NATO authorities have denied, too, that their missile strikes against Gaddafi's compound were "assassination attempts," although one attack did kill one of Gaddafi's sons and three of his grandchildren. Yes, these victims were "collateral damage."
But the key to the Libyan war was the United Nations Security Council's passage of a resolution on March 17 authorizing a "no-fly zone" over Libya and permitting member states "to take all necessary measures ... to protect civilians and civilian populated areas."
Less noticed, the UN resolution also demanded "the immediate establishment of a ceasefire" and "the need to intensify efforts to find a solution to the crisis," but those words of peace essentially became window-dressing for war.
Peace proposals from the African Union and offers from Gaddafi's side for a ceasefire and even democratic elections were spurned out of hand by the NATO-backed rebels. AU officials were literally chased away when they arrived in Benghazi to seek negotiations.
In other words, NATO and its allied rebels never took seriously the parts of the UN mandate seeking "to protect civilians" by resolving the conflict through negotiations. Instead, the war was expanded westward toward Tripoli to achieve Gaddafi's ouster, i.e. regime change.
The Security Council's phrase "to protect civilians" was just the camel's nose under the tent for war.
After the UN resolution was passed, NATO unleashed its planes to devastate Gaddafi's defenses, incinerate his soldiers in the field and blast away parts of Libya's capital city of Tripoli. NATO nations and Arab members of the coalition also dispatched military trainers to upgrade the rebels' fighting capacity; supplied weapons to the insurgents; and provided crucial intelligence and command-and-control assistance.
Now that NATO's rebels have entered Tripoli and driven Gaddafi from his seat of power -- though he and some of his loyalists fight on -- the world is finally getting a chance to see the human toll of this six-month conflict.
Atrocities are being exposed on both sides with reports of mass executions of captured soldiers. Many civilians, far from being "protected," have ended up in hospital morgues.
Though the New York Times has staunchly backed the Libyan war -- and chided President Barack Obama for not providing more U.S. warplanes -- a Times article on Aug. 26 described the flood of dead and wounded arriving at Tripoli Central Hospital, whose "morgue was already overflowing with more than 115 bodies of fighters and civilians still unclaimed."
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