Monday, August 29, 2011

Libya: The Colonel's Missing, So are Lots of Prisoners

First, the good news:
  • Folks in Libya who wanted the country's boss out, got help
    • A military coalition operating under a United Nations mandate
  • Rebels have taken much of Libya's capital city
  • Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi (Qaddafi? Gaddafi?) is missing
Now the bad news:
  • Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi (Qaddafi? Gaddafi?) is missing
    • So are many of his troops
  • About 50,000 of Qadhafi / Qaddafi / Gaddafi's prisoners are missing
It wouldn't be so bad if the colonel was 'missing and presumed dead.' As it is, there's a good chance that Libya's boss may have gathered his remaining loyal troops and gone into hiding. Which could mean trouble for Libya - particularly if Qadhafi / Qaddafi / Gaddafi's 'I am a victim of the big bad West' line is swallowed by regional governments.

Even if they don't really believe it, I suspect that a lot of the old-school autocrats would love to blame all their woes on Yankee imperialism. That's so much easier, in a way, than admitting that incompetent leadership might be a factor. And that's almost another topic.

Evil is Not Nice

Even allowing for exaggeration on the part of the rebels, what's showing up in Libya is - unpleasant. Some of the details are so grotesquely nasty, that they almost seem like something from an off-color comedy.

Like the Libyan colonel's family torturing a nanny.

Actually, taking a page from the sort of 'tolerance' I had to learn about in college, that torture could be explained as a biased Western view of a non-western culture's cherished customs:
"...And they found the horribly scarred Shwygar Mullah, the Ethiopian maid who cared for the children of Gadhafi son Hannibal. Mullah told CNN that Hannibal Gadhafi's wife Aline twice expressed her displeasure with her work by scalding her with boiling water -- then refused to get her medical attention, leaving her scalp and face covered in a mosaic of scars and raw wounds.

"Her offense: Failing to beat a daughter who refused to stop crying...."
Somehow, though, I don't think we'll hear much about poor, maligned Colonel Qadhafi / Qaddafi / Gaddafi and his misunderstood family. It's not the '60s anymore: and I think a lot of folks have realized that.

Those missing prisoners may be alive, for now: squirreled away in hidden lockups, and left there. The trick now will be for the rebels to find them before food, water, or air runs out.

Other prisoners aren't missing, they're just unidentifiable. The colonels' enforcers killed quite a few, and burned the bodies.

If these stories were just that - stories, with no supporting evidence: I might discount them as possible propaganda. As it is, we've got what's left of prisoner flambé, a badly scarred nanny, and a few survivors with bullet holes in their skin to back up their accounts.

The trouble is, Libya's colonel and his family being a bad lot - doesn't guarantee that whoever winds up in charge next will be a distinct improvement.

Even so, I think Libya will be better off without the colonel.

And Now, the News

I've taken excerpts from a few recent news and op-ed pieces about Libya:
"Qaddafi Forces Killed Detainees, Survivors Say"
Associated Press, via (August 28, 2011)

"Retreating loyalists of Muammar Qaddafi killed scores of detainees and arbitrarily shot civilians over the past week, as rebel forces extended their control over the Libyan capital, survivors and a human rights group said Sunday.

"In one case, Qaddafi fighters opened fire and hurled grenades at more than 120 civilians huddling in a hangar used as a makeshift lockup near a military base, said Mabrouk Abdullah, 45, who escaped with a bullet wound in his side. Some 50 charred corpses were still scattered across the hangar on Sunday.

"New York-based Human Rights Watch said the evidence it has collected so far "strongly suggests that Qaddafi government forces went on a spate of arbitrary killing as Tripoli was falling." The justice minister in the rebels' interim government, Mohammed al-Alagi, said the allegations would be investigated and leaders of Qaddafi's military units put on trial...."

"Charred bodies, nanny's scars left behind by fleeing Gadhafis"
CNN (August 28, 2011)

"Horrifying glimpses of the brutality underpinning the rule of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi emerged Sunday with news of a warehouse full of charred corpses and a nanny to Gadhafi's grandchildren tortured.

"Meanwhile, rebel forces who have driven Gadhafi and his family into hiding advanced toward his hometown. And CNN has found Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the man convicted of blowing up a Pan Am jet in 1988, comatose on what his family says is his deathbed.

"On the eastern side of Tripoli, troops commanded by Gadhafi's son Khamis killed an estimated 150 captive civilians as they retreated last week, hurling grenades and spraying bullets into the building full of men they had promised to release, a survivor said...."

"In Libya, bastions of Kadafi loyalists remain"
Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times (August 28, 2011)

"They are quiet now, absent from the airwaves that they long dominated, gone from the streets that were once theirs.

"Their longtime leader is on the run, his compound ransacked, his once-ubiquitous image now employed on doormats.

"But the supporters of Moammar Kadafi are still out there in working-class neighborhoods such as Abu Salim, a loyalist bastion subdued only last week after intense battles that left its roads littered with shell casings, its buildings riddled with bullets and many of its men dead or in custody...."

"Libya rebels fear for Gaddafi prisoners"
BBC News Africa (August 28, 2011)

"Libyan rebels say they are concerned over the fate of thousands of prisoners held in Tripoli by the Gaddafi regime.

"Rebel military spokesman Col Ahmed Omar Bani said almost 50,000 people arrested in recent months were unaccounted for.

"The rebels believe they may be being held in underground bunkers, which have since been abandoned.

"Rights groups have seen evidence that dozens of people have been massacred near prisons, but Col Bani did not accuse anyone of killing the prisoners.

" 'The number of people arrested over the past months is estimated at between 57,000 and 60,000,' he said in a news conference in Benghazi.

" 'Between 10,000 and 11,000 prisoners have been freed up until now... so where are the others?'

"The colonel appealed for anyone with information to come forward, and said it would be 'catastrophic' if they had been killed...."

"Analysis: Why Gaddafi's crack troops melted away"
Shashank Joshi Associate fellow, Royal United Services Institute, BBC News Africa (August 22, 2011)

"When one Libyan opposition activist reflected on the rebel advances into the city of Zawiya last week, he mused that 'Eid could be a massive celebration indeed'. He was wrong - the jubilation came much earlier....

"...Why did battle-hardened Libyan soldiers, fed on a diet of anti-rebel propaganda and willing to fight in the face of overwhelming Nato air power, melt away so suddenly?

"The answer can only be speculative at this stage, but there are a few possibilities.

"First, there was an element of retreat rather than a rout. Tripoli is unevenly pacified and the euphoria of Green Square obscures the continuing fighting in several suburbs....

"...Second, where soldiers did lay down their arms, the much-maligned National Transitional Council (NTC) deserves some credit....

"...Third, Nato's relentless pounding of armour and artillery east of Zawiya greatly softened up government units, breaking down much of the resistance that would otherwise have slowed the rebel path...."

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Flags at Half-Staff in Minnesota

Driving home through central Minnesota this evening, I noticed several flags flying at half-staff. Those folks were going an extra mile, honoring Sergeant Matthew Allen Harmon:
"Governor Dayton orders flags flown at half-staff in honor of Sergeant Matthew Allen Harmon"
Press release, Office of the Governor Mark Dayton, State of Minnesota (August 26, 2011)

"In honor and remembrance of Sergeant Matthew Allen Harmon, Governor Mark Dayton has ordered all U.S. flags and Minnesota flags to be flown at half-staff at all state and federal buildings in the State of Minnesota, from sunrise until sunset on Saturday, August 27, 2011.

"Sergeant Harmon, of Lengby, was twenty-nine years old, and a 2000 graduate of Fosston High School. He enlisted in the United States Army in 2004. Stationed in Germany, Sergeant Harmon completed two tours of duty in Iraq and was recently deployed to Afghanistan as a member of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade. He died a hero on Sunday, August 14, 2011 in Afghanistan.

"At the direction of the Governor, Minnesota flies it's flags at half-staff following the death of Minnesota military personnel killed in the line of duty, on the day of interment."
I've archived a copy of the Minnesota Governor's proclamation regarding Sergeant Matthew Allen Harmon (*.pdf) (August 25, 2011)

My condolences to family and friends of Sergeant Matthew Allen Harmon.

Related posts:
In the news:More:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stealth Helicopter, Pakistan, China, and Getting a Grip

If you've been on the planet recently, you probably know that:
  • An American stealth helicopter was shot town in Pakistan
  • Someone in Pakistan held on to the wreckage
    • And showed it to Chinese specialists
On the whole, I'd be a bit happier if Pakistan's national government had collected the wreckage and turned it over to the American military.

I'd also be a bit happier if Pakistan had a national government that seemed to control more than a few parts of the capital city - if that.

As it is, I'm not even convinced that Pakistan's government gave the folks from China access to the wreckage. I don't doubt that someone with enough muscle to grab and hold the helicopter made a deal with China's national government. What I'm not entirely clear about is whether that person is someone in Pakistan's nominal national government, a military commander, someone in Pakistan's spy racket, or a local of the "tribal leader" variety.

Security, Pakistan, and Getting a Grip

I think - hope - that eventually folks in Pakistan will develop a national government that's functional and relatively benign. Until that happens, my take on the situation is that they're stuck with a motley assortment of civilian officials, warlords of various sorts, and the sort of family-based leadership that's existed in the area since the day when Abram moved out of Ur.

Apparently America's operation to get bin Laden had to use a stealth helicopter because Pakistan's alleged government had:
  • A proven track record of leaking information to the Al Qaeda leader
  • Somehow managed to ignore bin Laden's headquarters, which was
    • Large
    • Slightly fortified
    • In a city near the capital
Quite a few Pakistani VIPs seem to have their skivvies in knots over not being allowed to go about the usual routine of passing information on to their alleged enemies - intentionally or otherwise.

Can't say that I blame them, in a way. It must have been a little embarrassing when America's leadership let folks know why Pakistan's bosses were kept in the dark.

Now there's some very secret military technology in the hands of whoever managed to grab it most recently. In a country that's got nuclear weapons and feuding warlords. Plus a spy agency that's apparently a real-world example of America's liberal view of the CIA.

Here's what I think:
  • Can Pakistan's national government be trusted?
    • No
    • It's a trick question
      • I'm not convinced Pakistan has a functional national government
  • Should the stealth helicopter wreckage be returned to America?
    • Yes
    • But that won't happen until one or more conditions are met
      • Pakistan gets a working national government
      • Whoever holds the wreckage gets an incentive to let go
      • Another stealth mission takes care of the problem
      • Something else happens
  • Now that Chinese specialists have seen the wreckage, will chaos be loosed up on the world?
    • Probably not

Some Secrets are Best Kept - Secret

I'm accepting the idea that the materials and other tech that went into making that helicopter stealthy is something that should be kept secret. And that it would be better for Americans - and anybody who's interested in personal freedom - if the wreckage was back with America's military.

What I don't know is how hard it would be to reverse-engineer the 'stealth technology.' And I don't know if anybody with the necessary knowledge has had the sort of access to the helicopter wreckage that would allow them to copy the tech.

I'll grant that my opinion may be influenced by my not being a news editor with advertising space to sell - and that isn't another topic.

It'd be nice if military secrets weren't necessary, and everybody would decide to be nice - but that's not likely to happen. Not soon. In my opinion.

Meanwhile, I think it makes sense to keep some aspects of America's military force a secret. Just as I think it makes sense to not let someone holed up in a building know how the police plan to rescue his hostages - and, if possible, him.

No, I'd rather that America not be 'the world's policeman.' On the other hand, I don't think the world would be better off without a country that's able to put together a coalition of nations - and that's yet again one more topic.

Two Op-Eds, Two Views

Here's what got me started on this post:
"Did Pakistan sell out America?"
Patrick M. Cronin, CNN (August 15, 2011)

"The strategic partnership between the United States and Pakistan appears once again to be careening toward the brink of self-destruction. Reports that Pakistan may have given Chinese engineers direct access to the remnants of an American Black Hawk stealth helicopter left behind in the May raid on Osama bin Laden, are the latest in a series of blows to the relationship...."

"If China Saw U.S. Stealth Copter, It's No Big Deal"
Noah Shachtman, Danger Room, Wired (August 15, 2011)

"By now, everyone with an internet connection has seen pictures of the stealthy helicopter used in the raid to take out Osama bin Laden. So, if the Pakistani government provided Chinese engineers with a closer look at the 'Airwolf,' as the copter was nicknamed in some military circles, it's not necessarily a security disaster. The potential problems would only start if the Chinese took samples from the modified Black Hawk...."
The CNN op-ed isn't nearly as jittery as the headline might imply - and the Danger Room article isn't as careless as the headline's words.

Another example of why it's a good idea to read past the lead paragraph. More topics.

China and High Tech: Why Worry?

I don't "worry" about China having America's military secrets. Not in the sense of obsessively brooding on the 'yellow peril,' or frantically digging a fallout shelter in the back yard.

I am concerned, since China's national leadership doesn't have a particularly good track record for playing well with others.

There have been too many disturbing events over the years: from Chinese servers 'just happening' to host hack attacks on everything from American corporate websites to the Pentagon's files; to "mobsters" gunned down after criticizing the government.

Eventually, I think China will regain its historic role as a major economic force in the world, and one of the great centers of culture. Right now, I'm not convinced that China's political leaders have quite gotten over the Cold War. Or the idea that world conquest is a good idea.

Not that China is the only source of trouble in the world - and that's yet again another topic.

A Competent International Authority - Someday

Back to that 'world's policeman' idea again. I think America is, like it or not, one of the few nations around that's able to organize an effective resistance to dangerous national leaders.

My guess is that eventually the world will have a secular authority that's global, and able to deal with the occasional wannabe world conqueror, or corrupt official, or whatever. I also think that folks who like the status quo, with its fairly constant warfare and dead "mobsters," can rest easy. Tennyson's "Federation of the World" is centuries away. At least. My opinion.

I've discussed this sort of thing before, here and in another blog:
"...We're a very long way from having an "international authority with the necessary competence and power" to simply arrest someone like Saddam Hussein...."
(A Catholic Citizen in America (June 16, 2011))

Pacifists, Warmongers, and Me

As the name of that blog indicates, I'm Catholic. Despite what you may have heard, that doesn't mean that I'm
  • Conservative
  • Liberal
  • Intolerant
  • Backward
  • A Satan-worshiper
  • Un-American
  • Whatever
I'm also not a pacifist. Or, oddly enough, a warmonger. And I'm certainly not "moderate" in the sleazily political sense of the word. I think war is not nice. Things get broken and people get killed. Unhappily, there are some not-nice people in the world who aren't inclined to let others go about their lives. If these not-nice people aren't stopped, eventually a lot of things will get broken, and many people will get killed. Since we don't have an "international authority with the necessary competence and power" to stop these not-nice people, it's up to neighbors, national governments, and the occasional international coalition, to deal with them. Ideally, the Saddam Husseins of the world are restrained without war. Sometimes that's simply not possible:As I've said before, I admire sincere, dedicated pacifists. And I think they will thrive. As long as there are non-pacifists to protect them. Somewhat-related posts, getting a grip about: News and views:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.