Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 13, 2012

What the imperialists really think about Libya’s militias

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 8:15 pm

NY Times March 12, 2012
Libya’s Franchise Fiasco

As long as militias have power, Libya’s economic normalization will be postponed. If groups outside the government can shape the security environment, outside investors, particularly oil companies, will be wary of returning to the country. Without foreign companies, Libyan oil production will not return to preconflict levels and, worse, it risks slipping backward. Revenue could decrease at the very time the government needs it most.

Geoff D. Porter is a risk consultant specializing in North Africa.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/opinion/libyas-electoral-law-is-flawed.html


  1. Someone on the links.org.au website was telling me Libya’s militias are comparable to those running Somalia. I had a good laugh.

    Comment by Binh — March 13, 2012 @ 9:10 pm

  2. This is cute, Libya’s oil production may return to the levels they were before the country was ass-raped by NATO and had its foreign bank accounts looted. Pray tell, will the pre-invasion social services that were fueled by a nationalized oil sector return after “security” has been established by Libya’s “liberators”?

    Comment by Coldtype — March 14, 2012 @ 4:50 am

  3. What precisely is a “risk consultant”? It sounds like some of the vile parasites I ran into during my experience at Fannie Mae at the beginning of their unmasking.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 14, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

  4. This is a very strange article He claims that Libya’s election law ” contains a plank that may ensure that Libya remains unstable” (ie the exclusion of members of the military from voting) and could culminate in institutionalizing democratic failure”. But the problem he identifies is not the impact this provision will have on the outcome of the elections, but an assumption that it will deter members of the militia from integrating into the new state forces if it means they lose the right vote. If the main concern of large numbers of militia members is with their right to vote, then surely that is a significant sign of growing political stability! In any event since the elections are due to take place in just over 3 months, all they need do is put off signing up for the military and they’ll keep their vote. As far as oil production is concerned, Libya seems to be on course to restore it to pre-conflict levels by the time of the election.

    Comment by Brian. O. — March 14, 2012 @ 5:50 pm

  5. So … we’re championing militias that are doing what exactly?

    For many who rebelled against Gadhafi, it’s payback time.

    MSF is on record saying it felt it was saving people’s lives, or treating and repairing wounds and injuries, simply to keep people alive so tortures could continue.

    Amnesty International has joined MSF’s plea — and accusations.

    The new Libyan regime, the National Transitional Council (NTC) that western countries believed would replace Gadhafi’s rule with democracy, is doing exactly what it said it wouldn’t do — and exactly what it rebelled against.

    At the moment, Libya looks alarmingly like one set of tyrants replacing another set of tyrants.

    Amnesty has noted that there are something like 60 detention centres throughout Libya, where more than 8,000 people are held prisoner, with “hundreds” being routinely tortured.

    Accurate numbers are impossible to verify, but when MSF pulls out of detention centres, it’s safe to assume something is terribly wrong.

    Christopher Stokes of MSF told the Guardian newspaper: “People were brought to us in the middle of interrogation for medical care, in order to make them fit for more interrogation.

    “This is unacceptable. Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions.”


    Don’t recall the Sandinistas ever doing shit like this. To say nothing of the massacres of black guest workers.

    Binh: Is it that laughable? Do you really consider the regional and tribal fissures opening up to be just a joke?

    Comment by Nik Barry-Shaw — March 15, 2012 @ 5:18 pm

  6. Don’t recall the Sandinistas ever doing shit like this. To say nothing of the massacres of black guest workers.

    I guess you are not familiar with the Miskitos.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 15, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

  7. I am aware of the Miskitos, but don’t know the history well. Were the Sandinistas rounding up unarmed Miskitos and slaughtering them? Because the rebels have done that to blacks in Libya.

    Comment by Nik Barry-Shaw — March 15, 2012 @ 6:17 pm

  8. They weren’t being slaughtered but they were put into camps not much different than those that the Americans put Vietnamese villagers into as part of a “pacification” strategy. You (and anybody else) can read my analysis of the FSLN and the Miskitos here:


    Comment by louisproyect — March 15, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

  9. Umm … is that an endorsement of the “pacification” strategy in Vietnam, or are you saying that the rebels are as bad as the Americans were? I’ve never agreed with the “anti-imperialist” romanticization of Gaddafi, but swinging the other way is not good either. The persecution of blacks in the “new” Libya is not really in question – and it is far worse than making them go live in camps. Libya strikes me as fundamentally different from the other Arab Spring uprisings.

    Thanks for the link, I’ll read it soon.

    But NATO’s stated goal to protect Libyan civilians was seen by critics as a one-way street, with the focus being on protecting only those allied with the rebels. It would later emerge that rebel forces hunted down black Libyans they believed supported Gadhafi, as well as African guest workers.

    The BBC interviewed one Turkish construction contractor who told the news service he witnessed the massacre of 70 Chadians who had been working for his company.

    There were also reports the rebels ethically cleansed the town of Tawergha, south of Benghazi, as well as other locations. Tawergha originally had more than 30,000 people, most the descendants of black slaves brought to Libya in the 18th and 19th centuries, but the town, which supported Gadhafi and provided soldiers for his cause, had been emptied. Some of its inhabitants had been killed, others fled.

    People from Tawergha who sought safety in refugee camps have been chased down by rebel groups, taken away and disappeared, warned Amnesty International. Women from the town have been raped. “Others have simply vanished after being arrested at checkpoints or taken from hospitals by armed revolutionaries,” Amnesty reported.

    Canadian Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, who directed the coalition’s war effort, did not respond to a Citizen request for an interview.

    But he recently told a Senate defence committee he warned rebel forces about violence against civilians, informing them they too could be subject to NATO airstrikes. Bouchard also told the senators he was aware that the “fate of the individuals of Tawergha continues” to this day.

    But he added: “Many of these individuals are still remnants of mercenaries who need to move out of the country and need to go home because there is no value in keeping them.”

    Exactly where these Libyans should go, Bouchard did not say.

    Asked by the Citizen whether airstrikes were launched against rebel positions to protect civilians, Brig.-Gen. Derek Joyce, who oversaw Canada’s air task force fighting in Libya, replied: “Not that I’m aware of.”


    Armed militias operating across Libya commit widespread human rights abuses with impunity, fuelling insecurity and hindering the rebuilding of state institutions, warned Amnesty International in a new report released today, a year on from the start of the February 2011 uprising.

    The report Militias threaten hopes for new Libya, documents widespread and serious abuses, including war crimes, by a multitude of militias against suspected al-Gaddafi loyalists, with cases of people being unlawfully detained and tortured – sometimes to death.

    African migrants and refugees have also been targeted, and revenge attacks have been carried out, forcibly displacing entire communities – while the authorities have done nothing to investigate the abuses and hold those responsible to account.

    […] Not a single effective investigation is known to have been carried out into cases of torture, even in cases where detainees died after having been tortured at militia headquarters or in interrogation centres which are formally or informally recognized or linked to the central authorities.

    “Militias with a record of abuse of detainees should simply not be allowed to hold anyone and all detainees should be immediately transferred to authorized detention facilities under the control of the National Transitional Council.”

    No investigations have been carried out either into other grave abuses, such as the extrajudicial execution of detainees and other war crimes, including the killing of some 65 people whose bodies were found on 23 October in a hotel in Sirte which served as a base for opposition fighters from Misratah.

    Militia members are seen on video footage obtained by Amnesty International hitting and threatening to kill a group of 29 men in their custody. One is heard saying “take them all and kill them”. Their bodies were among those found three days later at the hotel, many with their hands tied behind their back and shot in the head.


    Comment by Nik Barry-Shaw — March 15, 2012 @ 7:06 pm

  10. This has nothing to do with the militias politics, which are mostly reactionary, but it has to do with political instability. Capitalists do not like political instability and a dozen different laws to follow.

    They are worried about Libya as a Somalia, not as some sort of Chavez-like Venezuela (although they are happy to do business in Venezuela too).

    Comment by purple — March 15, 2012 @ 11:46 pm

  11. This has nothing to do with the militias politics

    Don’t you understand why I posted this? The pro-Qaddafi left wrote millions of words to the effect that the militias were *tools* of imperialism. If that was the case, the oil companies would not be wary of investing.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 16, 2012 @ 12:09 am

  12. it’s no wonder you didn’t state more explicitly your reason for posting this at the top. the argument that you would have had to make would be too obviously untenable. the outcome of the civil war was unforeseeable, who could have predicted what a post-Gaddafi Libya would look like? nevertheless, this unpredictability kept no one from picking sides. you may be unwilling to admit this but capitalists, those imaginative bunch of crooks, envisioned a post-Gaddafi environment that would be more suitable for doing business in the region–(not unlike the neocon dream of Iraq) so they threw their weight behind the rebellious militias, and pressured NATO countries to do what they could to ease the toppling of the Qaddafi regime. the fact that the capitalist investors may not be pleased with the outcome, does not mean that they were not supporters of the process. you are flat out wrong to find in this article evidence of “what the imperialists really think about libyas militias”, only what some may think in the present moment. all this goes to show the short-sightedness of capital, and no more.

    Comment by riothero (@riothero) — March 16, 2012 @ 2:59 pm

  13. Of course the imperialists hoped for an outcome that would be amenable to their interests. The only point I was trying to make is that the Libyan militias act on their own.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — March 16, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

  14. On revenge attacks and racism by Libya’s revolutionaries, see:

    Turns out that some of what gets reported as racism actually isn’t when you study the situation in context.

    Comment by Binh — March 16, 2012 @ 4:36 pm

  15. If Louis’ intention in posting this is, as he suggests, to demonstrate that the militia groups are not politically under anyone’s thumb ,then he is quite right: the main thrust of militia political interventions has been to insist that former Gaddafi supporters should not be allocated important posts in the post-conflict political order – and in this demand they have been pretty successful.I guess whether you consider that “reactionary” or not depends on your attitude to the former regime. Beyond that the militias do not have a common political agenda (which makes the Porter article poor analysis.) The western media has been keen to promote a “Libya in chaos” narrative based on demonising the militia, which the left seems keen to swallow for its own reasons. The extent of disorder post-has actually been much smaller than most western commentators confidently predicted. The abuses by some sections of the Misrata militia are well documented by Amnesty and HRW and are a serious blot on the revolution. But they are again relatively small when compared with what has gone on in the aftermath of almost any other similar conflict: a confirmed 12 deaths in custody among detainees and another 12 killed during protests by Tawerghan refugees. You can add to this a larger number of Gaddafi fighters killed after capture. But if you want to see how battle-weary soldiers have treated the captured enemy throughout history, try watching Band of Brothers on the behaviour of US troops in Normandy in 1945.

    Comment by Brian. O. — March 16, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

  16. Brian, you are right on the money. These people who cite Amnesty International now were never to be heard from when Qaddafi was slaughtering 2000 prisoners.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — March 16, 2012 @ 5:05 pm

  17. I agree with one half of the analysis presented here: that the oil companies and imperial powers wish to take the weapons and power away from the militias and vest it in the hands of the ex-Gaddafi ministers and CIA agents on the TNC, to make sure things go pretty much back to the way they were under Gaddafi, except with sweeter deals for the oil giants and less social services for the underlying population. The neoliberal medicine. That’s their ideal scenario.

    But the implied other half – the rebels, despite some “excesses”, are defenders of the democratic, national revolution – just doesn’t follow, except with the kind of plus or minus logic that disregards a lot of facts, the kind of logic Louis so rightly chastises the GlobalResearch et al. people for. Minimizing the quite nasty racism, the regional (Cyrenica, anyone?) and tribal divisions, and the grotestque abuses of the rebels is as bad as what the mechanical anti-imperialists do.

    Brian: Trying reading up on the ethnic cleansing of Tawergha in the BBC or any other mainstream source. It is harrowing. The levelling of Sirte is pretty grisly too. Amnesty said “war crimes” not just “oh, a few abuses.”

    Binh: If you doubt the racism of the Libyan rebels, their leadership, and Libyan society more generally, see here,


    Speaking of laughs, Clay’s article is a ridiculously over-the-top example of what I take issue with: the romanticization of the militias. These “revolutionary brigades” are “the principal armed organizations of this democratic people’s revolution.” Clay goes on to compare the “horizontal, non-hierarchal” Libyan militias to the Occupy movement, and describes them as heirs to the ideals of the Founding Fathers. All while claiming totally falsely that the ethnic cleansing of the Tarwegha was just an isolated incident.

    Louis: I read the Miskito article, and while there were some points of interest re: Marxism and indigenous issues, there was nothing justifying or explaining the rebels’ conduct.

    In my view, all the sides are pretty fucked up, and it can only get uglier from here. I hope I’m wrong and Clay is right, and the Libyan people, both black and Arab, will find some way to unite against the imperialists and the TNC, but renewed civil war seems more likely. There was never the kind of mass movement like in Egypt or Tunisia. Whatever the case, I think we are better off focusing on exposing and opposing the plans of the imperialists, rather than lionizing the rebels. Unfortunately, it is only the Counterpunch cranks (and a few saner voices like Vijay Prashad) who have taken up this task.

    P.S. Shameless self-promotion:

    ”An extraordinary exposé.”
    –Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums

    Paved with Good Intentions: Canada’s development NGOs from idealism to imperialism
    by Nikolas Barry-Shaw and Dru Oja Jay (Fernwood Publishing)

    “NGOs are as Canadian as hockey,” a 1988 Parliamentary report declared. Few institutions embody the image of Canada’s international benevolence like non-governmental organizations devoted to development abroad. But do the actions of Canadian NGOs genuinely match this perception? Ranging from poverty in Africa to turmoil in Haiti, from Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the Afghanistan war, Paved with Good Intentions uncovers the darker side of the role played by NGOs.


    Comment by Nik Barry-Shaw — March 18, 2012 @ 8:05 am

  18. #17:
    Nik – I can only suggest that those who claim that racism was a dominant feature of the anti-Gaddafi fighters try watching a bit more tv. Any footage of the fighters shows several who are clearly “of African appearance”.
    Clay Claiborne has been a beacon of lucidity in the midst of a very fog-bound discussion , one of the few people (apart from me) capable of a balanced account of what is happening in Libya.
    I am familiar with the situation in Tawergha and all the information available on it: including the AI and HRW reports. Its a tragic situation and a blot on the revolution. I won’t ‘t say that its an “isolated” incident (its too big a thing to be isolated) but it is a very specific situation, as Clay explains, born out of the most protracted and bitter episode of the Libyan conflict. There is very likely a racist undercurrent in the treatment of the Tawergha people (and in o ther incidents of abuse), but it is not the principal feature.
    Clay’s is also entirely right ( and on solid factual ground) in defending the militias from the demonisation they have been subjected to by the left and the western media (a good example of the process referred to in the title of this thread).
    Nobody has said it better than Clay back in September:”Some see in Libyan racism an opportunity to attack the revolution. Others see in the revolution an opportunity to attack racism. “

    Comment by Brian. O. — March 19, 2012 @ 11:52 am

  19. Nik Barry-Shaw: Where did I say anything about doubting the racism of Libyan society, etc.?

    At least now people can stand up against racism, print newspaper articles about it, and organize campaigns against racism without getting arrested and shot in the middle of the night. I suppose you think that’s not an important step forward?

    And if you think the Libyan revolutionaries are racist, wait until you study the Founding Fathers.

    Comment by Binh — March 19, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

  20. Hi Binh #1
    That was me at Links comparing the Libyan militias to those in Somalia. A very cursory glance at Somalia would tell you that a NYT article showing that the US ruling class is not entirely happy with the militias in Libya hardly disproves this. Somalia is not on the top of any Western list of easy countries to do business in.
    I never saw the militias simply as tools of imperialism, obviously they had their own agenda. But while sections of the ruling class may lament that the current ultraviolent chaos is less conducive to extracting Libya’s oil than the stable (and by 2011 essentially pro-Western) Gadaffi regime, the intervention was never about the West getting their hands on Libya’s oil. Nor was it, as some alleged, because Gadaffi was a thorn in the side of the West (which he wasn’t). The motivation for the intervention was poltical — hijacking and derailing the Arab revolts.
    By the way, did you read the article I posted on the Links thread which referred to sections of the Syrian opposition strongly opposed to Western intervention and interference? Because you can sneer as much as you like at the PSL-type’s simplistic anti-imperialism but you don’t do so from very strong ground by pushing an analysis that is equally simplistic. One of the things you said on the Links thread that I found most strange was that if NATO hadn’t intervened Gadaffi and Assad would be competing on who had the highest bodycount. This may be true. But following NATO’s intervention in Libya the bodycount there is several times higher than that in Syria.
    I am not sympathetic to Western leftists hailing Gadaffi or Assad as anti-imperialist revolutionaries, but I think hailing the Libyan militias as if they were some kind of 21st century Bolsheviks is just the other side of the same coin. Please stop having a laugh and look at the complexities and realities of the situation.

    Comment by Tony — March 23, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

  21. “Henry Kissinger, in his recent op-ed against intervention in Syria, listed the erasure of the Libyan state as an argument against such interventions. I read the allegation with disbelief. Libya is not like Somalia! It isn’t even like Yemen. (The Libyans I talked to about Yemen sympathized with the country’s problems but were astonished to hear that some Western observers looked a their situations as similar!)” – Juan Cole http://www.juancole.com/2012/06/despite-airport-incident-henry-kissinger-is-wrong-about-libya.html

    Comment by Binh — June 22, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

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