Nato invasion of Libya based on a tissue of lies
The trial of two of Muammar Gaddafi's sons opened in Tripoli on Monday and was immediately adjourned until April 27.
Joining Saif al-Islam and Saddi Gadaffi on the indictment were their father's intelligence chief, two former prime ministers and 34 other officials of the ousted regime. Charges include torture, murder and organising mass rape.
The conduct of the trial suggests that, when it comes to law and justice, things in Libya are at least as bad as under the previous regime.
The Nato assault which delivered victory over Gaddafi was, we were told, intended to usher in a civilian government based on the rule of law.
But two-and-a-half years after Gadaffi (below) was put to death by the roadside, Libya's "trial of the century" was set to take place in a barracks surrounded by tanks.
Neither of the Gaddafis was present on Monday. Saif was to give evidence by video link, because the militia group holding him in the Nafusa mountains refused to hand him over. Seven other defendants were in the hands of a different militia, based in Misrata. The whereabouts of Saddi Gadaffi were unclear.
On Sunday, prime minister Abdullah al-Thinni had resigned, complaining that the army had refused to defend his family against militia attacks. Yesteday, the Jordanian ambassador was kidnapped.
Cyrenaica province, home to about a third of Libya's population, has effectively seceded. Much of the rest of the country is under the rule of a ragbag of heavily armed groups, some with reputations for murderous racism.
If we judge the Nato intervention by its stated aims, it has been a disaster. Nowhere in the West is this admitted – any more than the phony nature of the casus belli in Iraq is acknowledged by those who procured the war.
A key moment in the Iraq conflict came in October 1990 when a young woman, Nayirah Al-Sabah, introduced as a Kuwaiti nurse, told the human rights committee of the US Congress that she had seen Iraqi soldiers grabbing infants in intensive care and tossing them aside to die on the floor before making off with the incubators.
Her story was repeated by President George Bush on 10 occasions in the following fortnight, was reported as fact in newspapers including the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, "confirmed" in briefings by US intelligence officers and by US ambassador-designate to Kuwait, Edward Gnehm jnr, and quoted by seven senators in turn in the subsequent debate on funding the war.
In fact, Ms Al-Sabah wasn't a nurse, but the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador, studying in Washington. She had been coached in her evidence by public relations firm Hill and Knowlton. By the time her story fell apart, public opinion had swung around and the war was well under way.
A similar pattern can be discerned in relation to the rape charge in Libya. Three months into the Nato bombing assault, in June 2011, Gaddafi's forces were more than holding their own on the ground, while Western governments were finding it hard to whip up support for escalation.
The story then emerged that inflamed opinion across the world and in the minds of many came to symbolise the demented evil of the Gaddafi regime, of soldiers, libidos boosted by Viagra, raping children in front of their parents and parents in front of their children on the direct instructions of Gaddafi himself. Here, surely, was a regime which had to be destroyed by any means necessary.
Apparent confirmation of the story was supplied by the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, Moreno Ocampo, who called journalists to his office at the Hague to announce that he had "convincing" evidence that Gaddafi had personally ordered "hundreds" of rapes by men provided with Viagra. He has not mentioned this in his recent demands for the trial of Gaddafi's sons and aides to be held under ICC auspices.
One reason for his reticence will have been that, after the Gaddafi regime was routed, allowing human rights groups to investigate, not a single victim of, or witness to, the bestial events he had advertised in 2011 could be discovered.
Rape is commonplace in war. Only a fool would dismiss suggestions that women were violated by pro-Gaddafi forces. But the organised, Viagra-fuelled mass rapes alleged by Western sources didn't happen. Or, at least, there is no evidence that they happened. Nato governments will feel able to shrug their shoulders at that, too. Again, mission already accomplished.
With these things in mind, we would do well to be wary of the pronouncements of politicians on Ukraine.