Much of the information about the Libyan uprising that reached the West in recent weeks came from Libyan expatriates who were phoning, emailing or instant messaging with family and friends inside the country. Often, the Libyans abroad would relay incomplete or exaggerated news, as when false reports spread that protesters in Benghazi had found hundreds of political prisoners held underground for decades (in fact, a dozen or so were released, and their internment was several times smaller than had been reported, Sanalla said.)
“Some of it was well exaggerated,” he said. But in his mind, if it helped the uprising’s cause. It was an acceptable distortion.
“It put more pressure on the international people, it made it even more horrific.”
According to Al Jazeera and BBC, on February 22 Libyan government inflicted airstrikes on Benghazi – the country’s largest city – and on the capital Tripoli. However, the Russian military, monitoring the unrest via satellite from the very beginning, says nothing of the sort was going on on the ground.
At this point, the Russian military is saying that, as far as they are concerned, the attacks some media were reporting have never occurred.
Much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no real security challenge. This version would appear to ignore evidence that the protest movement exhibited a violent aspect from very early on. While there is no doubt that many and quite probably a large majority of the people mobilised in the early demonstrations were indeed intent on demonstrating peacefully, there is also evidence that, as the regime claimed, the demonstrations were infiltrated by violent elements. Likewise, there are grounds for questioning the more sensational reports that the regime was using its air force to slaughter demonstrators, let alone engaging in anything remotely warranting use of the term “genocide.”
Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, says that “we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped”.
She stresses this does not prove that mass rape did not occur but there is no evidence to show that it did. Liesel Gerntholtz, head of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, which also investigated the charge of mass rape, said: “We have not been able to find evidence.”
Rebels have repeatedly charged that mercenary troops from Central and West Africa have been used against them. The Amnesty investigation found there was no evidence for this. “Those shown to journalists as foreign mercenaries were later quietly released,” says Ms Rovera. “Most were sub-Saharan migrants working in Libya without documents.”
Others were not so lucky and were lynched or executed. Ms Rovera found two bodies of migrants in the Benghazi morgue and others were dumped on the outskirts of the city. She says: “The politicians kept talking about mercenaries, which inflamed public opinion and the myth has continued because they were released without publicity.”
Nato intervention started on 19 March with air attacks to protect people in Benghazi from massacre by advancing pro-Gaddafi troops. There is no doubt that civilians did expect to be killed after threats of vengeance from Gaddafi. During the first days of the uprising in eastern Libya, security forces shot and killed demonstrators and people attending their funerals, but there is no proof of mass killing of civilians on the scale of Syria or Yemen.
I’ve stated this before and I’ll state it again:
Lies helped lead America into the Vietnam War, Gulf War I, the NATO campaign against Serbia and the invasion of Iraq and undoubtedly many more international conflicts. So say what you will about 9/11 truthers and similar conspiracy theorists, their un-“acceptable” distortions of the truth are not enabling mass slaughter and aggression.