NATO Strike on Command Center kills Qaddafi Son

I’m going to play skeptic on the Libyan government account of the NATO airstrike. The cover story is that Muammar Qaddafi and one of his wives was visiting son Saif al-Arab and the grandchildren and suddenly a dastardly NATO airstrike killed the son and three grandchildren but left Muammar and the wife unharmed.

NATO says they struck at a command and control center, which is perfectly plausible. Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, the NATO commander, denied that the strike was an assassination attempt, and said:

‘ All NATO’s targets are military in nature and have been clearly linked to the Qadhafi regime’s systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas. We do not target individuals. The strike was part of NATO’s coherent strategy to disrupt and destroy the command and control of those forces which have been attacking civilians.

I am aware of unconfirmed media reports that some of Qadhafi’s family members may have been killed. We regret all loss of life, especially the innocent civilians being harmed as a result of the ongoing conflict. NATO is fulfilling its UN mandate to stop and prevent attacks against civilians with precision and care — unlike Qaddafi’s forces, which are causing so much suffering. ‘

Imagine that someone using a satellite phone repeatedly called from that compound to the tank commanders besieging Misrata, complaining that not enough progress had been made in destroying the port and wiping out the Free Libya forces. NATO signals intelligence could have intercepted such calls, and triangulated to find out where they were coming from. If Saif al-Arab had been given command duties (as many of the sons had), or if his father or a general had given orders from that compound, then the site would have attracted this sort of retribution. A strike on a site from which commands came to kill non-combatants or interfere with their food supplies would be well within the UNSC charge.

There is another wrinkle. Reporters who visited the bombed compound said they could not imagine that anyone who was there survived. We have no proof that Muammar Qadddafi was at the site, except his say-so. I would be cautious about believing without confirmation the allegation of grandchildren killed; if true it would of course be highly regrettable, but Qaddafi shouldn’t have allowed them near a command and control site. But this is a regime that has buried empty coffins in order to create the illusion of civilian deaths from NATO airstrikes, and it would be easy enough for them to later say, oh, sorry, it wasn’t the grandchildren. The story could just be agitprop.

While all this was going on, Qaddafi had ordered Libyan naval vessels to mine Misrata harbor, and had threatened to attack any ships that brought food or medicine to the the residents of the besieged city.

Before the strike, Qaddafi had gone on television and said he was as beloved to Libyans as the emperor of Japan was to the Japanese, that he would never leave Libya, and that he was ready for a cease-fire any time. But Qaddafi is manifestly not popular or else he would not have to order tanks and artillery to fire on non-combatant protesters. And, if he wanted to declare a ceasefire, nothing is stopping him. He is on the attack in Misrata and the Western Mountains region, and the fighting there would stop if he ordered his forces to withdraw.

Aljazeera English has video:

Qaddafi brigades started up their barrages against Misrata again on hearing the news from Tripoli.

Scott Peterson has a rare and brave report from Zintan in the Western Mountains region, which discusses the murderous and indiscriminate GRAD attacks on the city.

Aljazeera English also has a new video report from Zintan:

Posted in Libya | 14 Responses | Print |

14 Responses

  1. The release from Gaddaffi must be firmly aimed at shoring up sympathy at home in Tripoli where he needs popular support.

    I believe that when his government/regime falls an uprising by the people who currently appear supine and open to manipulation will still occur.

    Remember Ozymandias.

  2. While I think it’s good to remain skeptical of the full story, and understand that accident, lack of information, or just simple expediency produce much of the brutality of war, I’m surprised to see you say the following:

    “If you hang around in a charnel house, you could end up being cremated.”

    Isn’t that the same logic we use when the US bombs a wedding in Afghanistan, when Israel takes out a family in Gaza? Guilt by proximity?

    • It is of course sad if civilians were killed. But let us not rush to judgment. This is not portrayed by NATO as like hitting a wedding party. That would be a mistake. They said they meant to hit that compound because command and control had been exercised from it. Qaddafi should not have brought family members to such a place.

      The Gaza war was illegal and is not comparable.

  3. yet — according to Al-Jazeera English last night, “He (Libyan spokesman) said the compound that was hit was in the Garghour neighborhood.” with the suggestion this was the son’s residence.

    Yet, Nato report states: “In a press release issued early on Sunday, NATO said it had staged air strikes in Tripoli’s Bab al-Azizya neighbourhood but did not confirm Libyan claims that strongman Gaddafi’s youngest son and three grandchildren were killed.

    “NATO continued its precision strikes against Gaddafi regime military installations in Tripoli overnight, including striking a known command and control building in the Bab al-Azizya neighbourhood shortly after 1800 GMT Saturday evening,” the statement said.

    link: link to

    I don’t have a Libyan or Tripoli map to tease out neighborhood boundaries and titles … but …

    fwiw, I’m eagerly awaiting Susan Rice’s ‘proof’ or justification of claims made to UN delegates …

  4. I agree completely with the sceptical approach. It will not be the first time that Gaddafi’s regime has ruthlessly spun propaganda. Your proposal that intercepted mobile phone traffic caused a possible confusion of the site with a formal command and control centre seems very persuasive, given the likely use of GPS to locate targets. It does leave open the unexplained “co-incidence” of Gaddafi’s alleged presence in the building at the time. He will not be using a personal mobile phone. This is the weakest part of the regime’s account, but necessary to ground the allegation of deliberate illegality.

    I am sorry for the length of this comment, but there are many questions that arise from the pooled footage of the scene. It would be interesting to know what an explosives forensics expert makes of what is available already. To a non-expert, it looks unconvincing: very little diffused airborne dust or debris within a few hours of the explosion, contrasted with the localised plume around the scraped missile (makes me think that dust has been settled much longer than a few hours); the sharp outline of dust patterns on some furniture and fittings (looking as if it settled evenly on existing surfaces rather than combined in a single explosive event – like dust from building work); at least one sharply defined hole punched in an what seems to be an interior wall; steel mesh lattice in a wall deformed and bulging but chunks of concrete debris apparently from the wall piled up adjacent to it; the variable size of debris chunks and apparent lack of settled dust/small material given the amount of pulverised concrete to shatter so much of the structure; the overall destructive power of the blast (removing one substantial concrete pillar completely and causing massive destruction) which left wooden furniture, fabrics, a mirror and a plastic computer mouse intact.

    There are no signs of ignition or burning visible from the footage and not a single comment from the journalists about the smell of explosives, fuel or accelerants. Presumably, some pretty powerful residues would be expected. It also seems strange that an obvious civilian to be poking and scraping inexpertly at an unexploded missile. It clearly had not been examined before as it was covered in thick dust with no apparent scratches or visible marks on the casing (only one small blunt dent front-right)to explain how it got into the middle of the building. This guy seemed to be very confident that the missile would not explode and blow him out of his fashionable shoes. Very strangely he also had sufficient thought for his health and well-being that he was covering his mouth with a handkerchief to reduce ingestion of dust. He knew there was no possibility of that unexamined, unmoved and unshielded missile exploding. Presumably, there will have been unexploded NATO ordinance landing in Libyan sand for that missile to have been recovered, disarmed and transported to the scene.

    It doesn’t seem to add up, but a forensics expert might explain all of these apparent anomalies. Leaving them aside and assuming there was a strike, most confusing of all, (apologies for being graphic) apparently only about a dozen small drops of blood were seen and photographed by journalists and there was no other reported evidence of bodily trauma. This is surprising if four people died traumatically in an enclosed concrete structure subject to substantial explosive forces. It may be that death was caused purely by percussive forces from the detonation(s), but given the amount of airborne concrete bodily trauma would inevitably have resulted.

    Allowing for human decency, a regime desperate for sympathy /propaganda must have thought to take (if not generally release) some photographs of the scene to preserve the evidence. They were quick enough to allege that the attack was outside the scope of Resolution 1973 and accordingly illegal.

    Of course, if this turns out to be wrong it will be regrettable, but neither the parents of the 5 year-old boy who died in a Misrata hospital yesterday, nor the hundreds of others who have died or been mutilated there will be offended. This week-end, Gaddafi’s thugs have been mining Misrata harbour to prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid and the evacuation of injured civilians and non-Libyan Africans. Their claims to be acting in a humanitarian way in pursuit of a ceasefire are as false as they are nauseating.

    There needs to be some expert analysis of the available evidence swiftly, so that the surprisingly leaden-footed NATO PR operation doesn’t create a vacuum for the Gaddafi regime to fill. It is also necessary to deter future instances of what seems to be an amateurish but determined attempt to manipulate opinion using crude propaganda to fracture the consensus within and around NATO.

  5. CNN reports that the attitude in Benghazi is “show us the body.” The fallen son was a relatively sympathetic figure, dragged reluctantly back from the easy life in Germany. The death of one of the militia-commanding chip-off-the-old-blocks would not inspire much outrage.

    Why NATO cannot push heavy weaponry out of firing rage of the Misrata port is baffling. I suppose there is activity across the country that they have to monitor, and they just can’t concentrate enough resources. Obama/Gates need to adjust their strategy.

  6. Juan writes:

    “There is another wrinkle. Reporters who visited the bombed compound said they could not imagine that anyone who was there survived. We have no proof that Muammar Qadddafi was at the site, except his say-so.”

    This is hardly the only expression of skepticism about the reported event. Al-Arabiya, for example, insists that the son was killed but that none of the three grandchildren were. Other media sources echo Juan’s suspicion based on the extent of the damage, which no one could have survived. This may be the only place, however – certainly the only one I’ve read – that questions the claim that Qaddafi was there.

    It’s understandable that no one else would question this claim. If Qaddafi’s camp were trying to maximize the PR value of this tragic event, and it had no reservations about lying, wouldn’t it be more likely to insist that Qaddafi was nowhere near the house?

  7. Juan writes:

    “They said they meant to hit that compound because command and control had been exercised from it.”

    Labeling this single-family home in a residential neighborhood a “compound” arguably advances the argument, but it doesn’t transform that single-family home into a “command and control center.” I think it was Groucho Marx who once said: “Sometimes a single-family home in a residential neighborhood is just a single-family home in a residential neighborhood.”

    Certainly one could argue – Juan essentially has – that wherever Qaddafi goes is a “command and control center,” at least if he’s got his cell phone in his hip pocket. But wouldn’t that mean NATO was “targeting an individual” if it dropped a bomb on a place for that reason?

  8. Nato bombed a “known command and control centre” which the media call “a single storey house in an upscale residential area”. The bombing killed at least 3 children under twelve yet Nato’s ambit is supposedly to protect civilians.

    The Guardian put it: “…the deaths of Gaddafi’s three grandchildren, if confirmed, will reinforce the doubts of alliance members uncomfortable with Nato’s six-week bombing campaign and generate criticism from countries such as Russia that Nato is pushing beyond its UN security council mandate.

    “Statements by participants in the coalition that the strikes on Libya are not aimed at the physical destruction of … Gaddafi and members of his family raise serious doubts,” the Russian foreign ministry said. “The disproportionate use of force … is leading to detrimental consequences and the death of innocent civilians.” The ministry called for “an immediate ceasefire and the beginning of a political settlement process without preconditions.” …

    Yet Nato has rejected a proposed Libyan government ceasefire and amnesty for rebels who lay down arms. This is the second proposed ceasefire to have been rejected and, all the while, ever increasing numbers of civilians are dying in what is undoubtedly a civil war.

    In other news, “Army chiefs from Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Algeria are on alert as the crisis in nearby Libya deteriorates, placing the entire region at risk, a military source said on Saturday.

    “Moreover, because of the Libyan crisis, the security situation in the Sahel has deteriorated, so it is necessary to be careful. We are all on alert and we keep each other informed,” he added.

    According to a document from one of the participating countries, seen by AFP, “there is now no doubt, several Al-Qaeda fighters are involved in the Libya fighting.” …

    link to

    In summary, Nato:
    – bombed a residential area knowing it would likely injure kids;
    – continually rejects diplomatic efforts to end all killing;
    – is destabilising a vast chunk of North Africa thereby bolstering, indeed arming, al-Qaeda in the area.

    Nato is well on the way to losing the moral high ground to Gadaffi – a truly remarkable effort.

  9. In my comment I referred to a photograph showing drops of blood (and a mouse). It was posted by Frederik Pleitgen of CNN. Here is the photo’s link on Plixi: link to Frederik is on Twitter @FPleitgenCNN I am also on Twitter @Inkelectric.

  10. Let’s be sensible: all this talk of “command and control centres” is nonsense. This was clearly an attempt to kill Ghadaffi and terrorise his colleagues into deserting.
    And the results were quite predictable: when you bomb houses people get killed.
    In the meantime the rest of the world watches, cynically, to see, firstly what lies the NATO side will come up with and, secondly, how easily they are swallowed.
    NATO and the US are very rapidly throwing away the moral advantage that they have spent generations of skilful propaganda work and billions of dollars building. Remember Encounter?
    The Chinese and Russian governments cannot believe their luck: it took enormous hubris on the US side not to recognise the significance of the abstentions of not only the two permanent members but Brazil and India too. Add to that the fact that the US knew how meaningless South Africa’s vote, extorted after a lengthy plea from Obama, was
    and it really shows diplomatic ineptitude of an unusual kind to be trapped into the corner in which the NATO powers now find themselves.
    They are in a no win position, employing their power without thinking through the cosequences. If Ghadaffi goes, what doth it profit them? He will be replaced by a regime of sleazy kleptocrats in debt to the Empire and the Wahabbis. If he doesn’t go it will be because he has outlasted or defeated his enemies, the same empire and wahabbis.
    What Talleyrand said really does apply. In fact it has become the epitaph for US Foreign Policy, long criminal and now irrational too.

    Criminal I can understand Academic “patriots” going along with, but “irrational’ is where, for their own country’s sake, they should draw the line.

  11. To be clear, is the White House residential wing a legitimate military target for enemies of the United States? Should Obama not keep his family and children anywhere near a command and control center?

    • The white house residential wing would not be a legitimate target unless their was a military bunker hidden beneath it.

  12. I apologize for belated making and length of this comment, which hopefully will contribute to the proper evaluation of the Libyan government story regarding purported deaths of Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Arab and three grandchildren in the purported NATO air strike. Regretfully, this story has been uncritically accepted at face value by many people, and such credulity has been exploited to the fullest by Qaddafi’s people and the other interested parties. The critical evaluation of the publicly available facts shows, however, this story to be full of the gaping holes, which warrant its complete rejection as the crude hoax cynically fabricated by the cunning, ruthless despot for the purposes of the psychological warfare against his numerous unrelenting enemies.

    Indeed, the thoughtful analytical comments made here by the Professor Cole, Susan Sunflower, and Inkelectric showed lack of the credible proof of any NATO air strike being conducted at the Garghour neighborhood at that time, and of the Qaddafi’s presence therein just prior to such time. To these comments I would like to add that the Libyan government failed to present any proof that the villa in question even belonged to Saif al-Arab or any other member of the Qaddafi family. Could such air strike on this villa been staged by the Libyan government for PR purposes? Absolutely, since the sky over the Tripoli is not tightly patrolled by the NATO planes.

    In addition to the foregoing gaping holes, there is the huge gaping hole in this story, which, in my opinion, kills it outright. This gaping hole was created by the conflation of the two easily discernable from the media facts, to wit, the fact of the absence of the proper forensic confirmation of purported deaths of Saif al-Arab and Qaddafi’s grandchildren, and the fact of the Libyan government substitution of such forensic confirmation with the cheap trickery.

    Indeed, when the story of such purported deaths was initially presented by the Libyan government spokesman to the international media, he failed to mention any forensic proof of the occurrence of any of these purported deaths, and refused to name purportedly killed Qaddafi’s grandchildren, alleging the government’s concerns for the privacy of their parents. Notably, when the doubts regarding these purported deaths were voiced by the rebels, and the media, familiar with the Qaddafi’s fabrication of the killing in the american bombing in 1986 of his purported adopted daughter, whom, in fact, was adopted by Qaddafi after the bombing [sic!], the Libyan government quickly gave short shrift to purported privacy concerns of the parents and informed the media that the three purportedly killed Qaddafi’s grandchildren were 2-year-old Carthage, the daughter of Hannibal; 6-month-old Mastura, daughter of Aisha; and 15-month-old Seif Mohammed, son of Mohammed. To further dispel such doubts, the Libyan government spokesman informed the reporters of the purported independent forensic confirmation of the purported deaths of Saif al-Arab and these Qaddafi’s grandchildren. This purported independent forensic confirmation, reported as such by the international media and believed by many deserves a brief recitation showing its total absurdity.

    Initially, this purported independent forensic confirmation was not performed by the foreign forensic pathologist urgently flown to Lybia. Instead, it was made at the request of the Libyan government by the Dr. Gerard Le Clouerec, a French orthopedic surgeon [sic!] who runs a private clinic in Tripoli. Further, instead of the four bodies of the purported victims, the Libyan government provided Dr. Le Clouerec with the three bodies, which included the body of adult male, and two bodies of children. Finally, the Libyan government failed to provide Dr. Le Clouerec with any of the requisite for proper forensic identification past medical records of Saif al-Arab and Qaddafi’s grandchildren, although such records were easily available in the Tripoli, the city of their domicile, especially in light of their belonging to the family of the dictator.

    As the result, Dr. Le Clouerec’s identification of the body of the adult male as that of Saif al-Arab was based only on the photograph of his face [sic!]. Dr. Le Clouerec, however, was unable to make even such identification of the two children bodies [sic!], because their faces were badly disfigured. Now, with the bodies of the killed adults and children being in constant supply in Libya, due to Qaddafi’s merciless use of the tools of war against his subjects, the three bodies produced by the Libyan government to Dr. Le Clouerec could have belonged to anybody. Thus, the Libyan government purported independent forensic confirmation of purported deaths of Saif al-Arab and Qaddafi’s grandchildren represented nothing, but the cheap trickery.

    The foregoing fact, completely overlooked by the international media, shall dispatch the story of purported killing of Saif al-Arab and Qaddafi’s grandchildren where it properly belongs, into a dustbin, not, of course, the dustbin of history, but that overfilled dustbin of governmental propaganda, where it should join the latest arrival, the story of the purported intense “firefight” at the bin Laden compound, and his purported “armed resistance” to our troops.

    Moreover, even, if the deaths of Qaddafi or members of his family in the NATO air strike had occurred, reproaching the NATO for such deaths would be absolutely untenable on the moral ground. People who engage in such reproaching conveniently forget the fact that Qaddafi is the ruthless despot who has unleashed the bloodshed in his country by mercilessly using the tools of war toward slaughtering and maiming his involuntary subjects, including the children. Therefore, there should be no exemption for Qaddafi and his family from such killing and maiming. Any such exemption would fail to apply the same moral yardstick to Qaddafi and his subjects, which would be patently unfair and, frankly, callous toward the latter, and would only serve to increase their slaughtering and maiming by Qaddafi. Hence, it is hard to see how the NATO could be reproached for refusing to grant Qaddafi such an exemption.

    History teaches us that institutional mendacity of government has no limits, and those who uncritically accept governmental claims do it at their own peril.

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