The death of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi has become one of the most contested moments of Libya’s eight-month war. The exact circumstances of the colonel’s demise on October 20 are unclear, but evidence is mounting that Libya’s former ruler was killed — extra-judicially executed — by the band of young gunmen who captured him.

What can be said for certain is that Qaddafi was alive when found hiding in a roadside ditch after NATO bombed a convoy carrying him out of the battered city of Sirte, his birthplace and location of his last stand against the rebels. A video, filmed by a bystander and later aired on television, shows Qaddafi dazed and injured, bleeding from his scalp or his shoulder, but clearly able to walk and talk to his captors. [1] He pleads for his life as someone in the crowd shouts, “Keep him alive!” But a few hours later, Qaddafi’s dead body was dumped on a mattress and put on public display in Misrata, the town some 155 miles west of Sirte that outlasted a three-month siege by the colonel’s forces during the rebellion.

Libya’s interim prime minister at the time, Mahmoud Jibril, said that Qaddafi was mortally wounded in crossfire after the revolutionaries apprehended him. The colonel, Jibril claimed, died in the ambulance carrying him away for treatment. But several firsthand accounts of what happened in Sirte contradicted the interim premier. Reuters, for example, quoted the ambulance driver saying, “I didn’t try to revive [Qaddafi], because he was already dead.” [2] In an interview aired on Al Jazeera, a rebel fighter said that somebody shot Qaddafi with “a 9 mm,” implying that he did not die in the crossfire of automatic rifles. Another local military commander in Misrata confessed that “over-enthusiastic” fighters had taken matters into their own hands. “We wanted to keep him alive, but the young guys…things went out of control,” he said. [3] Another video shows a group of rebel fighters hailing a clean-shaven young man as a hero. [4] They embrace him, rubbing his head and cheering. “This is the guy who killed Qaddafi,” one of them says, beaming with pride and pointing to the clean-shaven youth. “Using this, you see,” the fighter adds, holding up the young man’s hand in which he holds a gun. An official coroner’s report issued on October 21 states that Qaddafi died of a gunshot wound to the head, without specifying the caliber of the bullet or the likely range.

With a few exceptions, Libyans care little about how Qaddafi died, preferring to see his death as bringing closure to the conflict and a fresh start for the country. Jibril summed up these feelings as “a sense of relief.” After images of the colonel’s corpse began to circulate, Libyans took to the streets to celebrate the death of the “dog,” as they now called the man who had ruled them with an iron fist for 42 years. Over the following four days thousands of people, including women and young children, queued outside a makeshift morgue in a refrigerated storeroom to take snapshots of the bodies of Qaddafi, his son Mu‘tasim and his army chief Abu Bakr Younis Jabr, both of whom were also killed in captivity.

Criticism came mainly from abroad. International observers said that Qaddafi’s improvised execution, if that is what it was, was an inauspicious beginning for a newly liberated country trying to move away from the colonel’s own brutal tactics. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for a probe into the circumstances of Qaddafi’s death, a request echoed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, albeit after some delay. At first, Libya’s new rulers refused to inquire into the matter, ordering that Qaddafi be buried in a secret desert location. Then it took only five days for mounting international pressure to persuade Libya’s interim government to declare that Qaddafi’s killers would be put on trial. Subsequently, however, Jibril alleged (without benefit of evidence) that the order to kill Qaddafi came from abroad. In a CNN interview aired on November 7, the former interim premier charged that whoever pulled the trigger was directed to do so by “a foreign entity,” be it “a country, a person, a certain leader.”

Right or wrong, lawful or unlawful, Qaddafi’s death crystallizes the troubling features of the Libyan conflict. From a Libyan standpoint, the colonel’s final moments exemplify the ambiguous relations between often unruly revolutionary fighters and the interim government, or National Transitional Council (NTC), casting doubt upon the latter’s professed commitments to justice and reconciliation. The contradictory statements made by Libya’s new leaders show the difficulty that the NTC, dependent financially and militarily on Western allies, faces in balancing national interest and international pressure. From an international perspective and that of international law, the French jets and the US drone that bombed Qaddafi’s fleeing convoy serve as a reminder of the strategic role that France, the United States and NATO — in their separate ways — played in the Libyan revolution. Qaddafi’s macabre death also evokes the role of the International Criminal Court, whose preliminary charges of crimes against humanity in March helped to give the military intervention the sheen of international legality. More generally, the killing of Libya’s ex-leader raises the questions of whether the motivations behind the call for intervention were genuinely humanitarian and whether the intervention was necessary in the first place.

NATO’s War

The rebel fighters who found Qaddafi in Sirte took all the credit for his capture. International leaders, including NATO commanders, were just as keen as the rebels to portray this climactic moment as a purely Libyan achievement. Italy’s foreign minister, for example, said that Qaddafi’s death was the result of an operation carried out by Libyan fighters — “and no one else” — and was a “great victory of the Libyan people.” Clearly, from the point of view of symbolism, it was important for Libyan forces, rather than foreign warplanes, to appear as the source of the coup de grace. It was vital that Libyans strike the last blow if Qaddafi’s end was to enhance national unity and reinforce the sense of pride that the revolution had instilled. It was also necessary to fend off Arab criticism of an Arab leader’s death at the hands of foreigners. But to downplay NATO’s role in the operations leading to Qaddafi’s capture is to distort reality. Without outside air strikes and intelligence, the rebel forces might not have been able to block Qaddafi’s flight from Sirte.

It was a missile fired from a Predator drone, piloted remotely from a US Air Force base in Nevada, that compelled the loyalist convoy of 75 vehicles to disperse. After this first strike, a French jet under NATO command released two 500-pound bombs charring a dozen vehicles and killing at least 25 loyalists. This second attack presumably left Qaddafi injured, and forced him to proceed on foot to the makeshift shelter where the rebels later found him. Not only NATO planes, but also British and Qatari special forces on the ground in Sirte, played an important role in the operations. According to a story in the Telegraph, rebel units were hammering away at loyalist positions with diminishing returns when British forces weighed in with some tactical advice. Armed but under strict orders not to intervene directly, the British urged Libyan commanders to place their men at exit points around the city, where they could spring traps upon loyalists attempting to flee. [5] Without such input, more loyalist forces might have found an escape route to the desert in the south.

Symbolism aside, there was a legal reason why international leaders were intent on downplaying the role of foreign forces on October 20. UN Security Council Resolution 1973, the permission slip for NATO’s Operation Unified Protector, authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and the deployment of “all necessary means” in the name of protecting civilians. It did not authorize the no-drive zone that NATO effectively imposed nor aerial intervention targeting the Libyan dictator. The Security Council, indeed, cannot explicitly call for the toppling of a head of state nor can it lend legal force to such an operation. But Western leaders could claim, as NATO officials subsequently did, that attacks upon Qaddafi’s forces were in conformity with the UN’s mandate to protect otherwise threatened civilians. Probably aware of the gap between the mandate of UNSC 1973 and the means of achieving it, NATO officials stated that they did not intentionally target Qaddafi on his way out of Sirte. In fact, they claimed ignorance of who was traveling in the convoy that was attacked. Not surprisingly, the reason NATO’s after-action report brought forward to justify the air strikes was that the vehicles were fitted with weapons and carrying ammunition, “posing a significant threat to the local civilian population.”

The inherent ambiguity in the interpretation of UNSC 1973’s mandate is a crucial issue in the Libyan war. As Richard Falk, Princeton University emeritus professor of international law, wrote: “This interpretative issue is not just a playground for international law specialists interested in jousting about technical matters of little real-world relevance.” [6] What was at stake was the political future of a country and many human lives.

UNSC 1973 was drafted in mid-March to respond to what appeared to be the imminent threat of serious humanitarian crisis. At the time, more than a thousand Libyans were reported killed amidst a regime crackdown on anti-government demonstrations, as well as armed attacks on military barracks, that had gone on for almost three weeks. Most foreign embassies in Tripoli had closed, and many Libyan diplomats abroad had withdrawn their allegiance from Qaddafi’s regime, siding with the opposition instead. Libyan army commanders in the eastern province and two of Qaddafi’s ministers — Mustafa ‘Abd al-Jalil (Justice) and ‘Abd al-Fattah Younis (Interior), later killed — had also joined the revolt. A previous resolution, UNSC 1970 passed in late February, had frozen Libyan assets and imposed sanctions on the regime, but had proven ineffective in stopping Qaddafi’s violent response to the revolt. In an infamous speech broadcast from his Bab al-‘Aziziyya compound in Tripoli, the Libyan leader refused to negotiate with the rebels in Benghazi and threatened to hunt them down zanga zanga, dar dar — alley to alley, house to house.

With this scenario unfolding, Libyan opposition leaders appealed to the international community to mobilize against an impending massacre of civilians. Fortuitously for the demonstrators and rebels, prominent French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy was in Benghazi at the time to follow the Libyan revolt up close. Inspired by the tenacity of the opposition leaders whom he met, Lévy called French President Nicolas Sarkozy and told him that unless he acted, “There will be a massacre in Benghazi, a bloodbath.” He added for good measure that “the blood of the people of Benghazi will stain the flag of France.” [7] Sarkozy met the fledgling NTC leaders at the Élysée Palace on March 10 and surprised everybody (including the oppositionists themselves) by granting them official recognition as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Other European and Arab countries followed suit and, eventually, so did the US. The reasons for doing so were varied. Some states, such as Italy, which had enjoyed privileged relations with Qaddafi, were afraid to end up on the wrong side of history should the opposition win its battle. Others (particularly the Arab countries) supported the NTC because of their historical difficulties with the Libyan leader and also to evince tangible support for the Arab revolts, thus easing political pressure at home. For most, the decision certainly came from a combination of idealism, political opportunism and the allure of financial reward from oil-rich Libya in the post-Qaddafi era.

Because of the gravity of Qaddafi’s menace and the rising death toll, and thanks to the strenuous efforts of France, the US and allies, the UN was under pressure to intervene only a month after the revolt had begun. With Russia and China declining to veto, on March 17 the Security Council passed Resolution 1973. In this document, the Security Council stated that the Libyan situation posed a continued “threat to international peace and security” and thus, in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter, that member states were compelled to take action. In what way the revolt in Libya constituted a “threat” to international peace and security was not explained. The instability of the already volatile oil markets, the regional consequences of a mass exodus of foreign workers, the burden of a severe refugee crisis, the risk of Qaddafi’s retaliation against European states — these are some possibilities that come to mind. But none of these factors are mentioned in the resolution. Instead, the no-fly zone and military action appear in the text under the general rubric of “protection of civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack.” In light of this reference to “protection of civilians,” the NATO intervention in Libya is generally considered a humanitarian intervention, inspired by the “responsibility to protect,” a doctrine that has found increasing traction at the UN since it was first referenced there in 2005.

UNSC 1973 explicitly excluded the deployment of “foreign occupation forces,” but what it did allow (“all necessary means”) was vague enough to satisfy all voting members of the Security Council. The wording reassured those countries that wanted a light humanitarian intervention to protect Libyans who had risen up against Qaddafi; it also emboldened those pushing for more decisive moves, up to and including the insertion of special forces to arm and train of the rebels, if needed. Following the resolution’s approval, an international coalition was assembled that included forces from a number of NATO countries, with the addition of Qatar. This tiny, but supremely wealthy Gulf state had played a key role in securing the Arab League statement calling for international protection for Libyan civilians at the start of the uprising, giving the US and its European allies political cover in a region long suspicious of outside intervention. Within a few days, a no-fly zone was imposed and the bombing of military and strategic targets began. The operations were initially placed under US command, and later given over to NATO.

Over time, however, it became apparent that NATO was increasingly willing to strike targets beyond the purely military. Its warplanes hit symbols of the regime, such as the library and reception hall in Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, and residential neighborhoods in besieged cities. The purpose of Operation Unified Protector quickly morphed from the protection of civilians to direct, military assistance to the rebellion, including training of armed opposition fighters on the ground. (UNSC 1970 passed in late February had imposed an arms embargo, directing member states “to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, from or through their territories or by their nationals” of war materiel. But, two clauses later, the text stipulated that the embargo was not to apply to “other sales or supply of arms and related materiel, or provision of assistance or personnel, as approved in advance” by a subcommittee of the Security Council also created by the resolution.) The extent of the ground support to the rebels is gradually coming out. British special forces arrived in Libyan territory early on and did not even wait for UNSC 1973 to make contact with the rebels. In what became a national embarrassment in Britain, a group of Special Air Service commandos was spotted by rebel forces on March 6 and arrested because London had not given the NTC advance warning of their deployment. Egypt’s military is known to have sent arms and equipment overland to the rebels at a very early stage of the conflict. Wealthy Libyan businessmen also brought in armaments across the Egyptian border. As for Qatar, it sent hundreds of troops to support the revolutionaries, winding up as their main Arab ally. The Gulf state had previously said only that its air force took part in NATO-led attacks, but in early November the Qatari chief of staff made a public statement acknowledging that Qatari troops had helped the rebels to overthrow Qaddafi.

A Humanitarian War?

Humanitarian intervention is a complex matter that has aptly been dubbed a “Pandora’s box.” [8] As noted by Raeesah Cassim Cachalia, the lack of an agreed-upon framework for humanitarian intervention has three consequences. First, it is difficult to ascertain when a situation qualifies as a humanitarian disaster that warrants intervention. Did the regime violence in Libya, or the threat thereof, amount to such a disaster? What is often forgotten is that the Libyan demonstrators went rapidly from being unarmed civilians, who had rallied for the liberation of an arrested human rights activist, to being an armed group that attacked government troops in Benghazi’s military barracks. The typology of the Libyan revolt was markedly different than the largely non-violent demonstrations that had characterized the uprisings in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. Weapons were quick to circulate among the rebels in Benghazi and the wider eastern provinces, thanks to the fact that several local army units sided with the uprising and made their stockpiles of arms available. Some would argue that the demonstrators had no option but to take up arms against the regime. In Syria, however, the local coordinating committees and other opposition elements maintained a strong commitment to non-violence for months, despite brutal regime violence.

Second, humanitarian intervention lends itself to all kinds of misuse in service of ulterior motives. Past imperialist expansions and colonial wars fought in the name of a “civilizing mission” could have been justified as “humanitarian” (and sometimes were, albeit in the Christian parlance of the day). It is due to ambivalence on this point that South Africa, which initially gave the green light for the intervention in Libya, turned against it later on. Russia and China, capitalizing on this sentiment, have regretted their own abstentions on UNSC 1973, arguing that NATO exploited a limited UN resolution imposing a no-fly zone and authorizing the protection of civilians as a pretext for regime change. The death of Qaddafi reinforces this idea.

The third problem is that the humanitarian intervention is itself difficult to regulate under international law. It violates state sovereignty, a cardinal norm of the international order. Numerous states have recognized the NTC as Libya’s legitimate government with great speed. As early as August, several weeks before Qaddafi’s death, Italy agreed to unfreeze a first installment of more than $500 million in Libyan assets to be handed over to the rebels. This action took place outside the UN mandate for Libya, as the UN did not authorize the release of frozen assets until the passage of UNSC 2009 on September 16. Such handing over of assets also occurred without clear evidence that the Libyan majority had accepted the authority of the rebels.

From the outset of the conflict, the NTC claimed to represent the Libyan people at large because it was an inclusive assembly composed of delegates named by local committees from the country’s various regions, cities and tribes. Before the liberation of Tripoli, the NTC assured the international community that delegates from the capital were also part of this transitional assembly, but that it could not disclose their names so as not to put them in danger. There is no reason to doubt that representatives from Tripoli were secretly making arrangements with the NTC. But questions arise as to who chose them and how, given that the city was still under Qaddafi’s control and no local assembly could have possibly convened. When Libya’s new premier, the largely unknown ‘Abd al Rahim al-Kib, took office in early November, he revealed that he had been one of the Tripoli NTC men. Al-Kib is indeed a Tripolitanian native, but he lived and worked in the US for many years, and returned to the capital only after Qaddafi fled in August. During the period when most countries recognized the NTC — between March and May — there was no formal consultative process to ensure that the NTC actually represented the majority of the people. International leaders seemed to agree that Qaddafi’s government had lost sovereignty over the country because it had failed to guarantee basic human rights and protections to Libyans. Here they appeared to be invoking the thorny principle of “contingent sovereignty,” according to which statehood itself is legally dependent on acceptable government behavior and can be revoked if certain standards are not met. [9] At that point, the NTC assumed de jure control over Libya pursuant to recognition by the West and its allies. Here it is noteworthy that, according to Libya’s provisional constitution promulgated in August, the NTC is the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people by dint of the fact that it led the uprising against Qaddafi. This document states that the NTC “derives its legitimacy from the Revolution of February 17,” and makes no mention of the Libyan people or their will as a source of authority. This series of events raises the question of whether it is international recognition, self-appointment or popular consensus that confers true legitimacy on a governing body. As Cassim Cachalia writes, “Such [foreign] interference runs contrary to a nation’s right to self-determination — the right to freely choose the political future of their nation, which is an entrenched principle in international law.” Again, this point is of special significance in Africa, given the colonial history of the continent. [10]

It may sometimes be necessary to limit the scope of sovereignty to forestall severe humanitarian disasters, as put forward by the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. This idea, while noble in theory and supported by several White House officials, is hobbled by vagueness. There are substantial disagreements, for instance, over the extent to which the use of force is required to implement the “responsibility to protect.” Libya in 2011 was the first case where this doctrine was relied upon to justify military intervention. One of the problems of upholding it as the underlying principle for intervention is that the violence suffered by civilians needs to fall into one of four categories: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing. [11] In late February, Ibrahim Dabbashi, the defecting Libyan deputy ambassador to the UN, stated that eastern Libya was on the verge of “genocide,” but the term was tacitly understood as hyperbole. Neither the Security Council nor Western leaders described the repression in Benghazi or the western rebel-held cities of al-Zawiya and Misrata in this way. Nor was the violence ethnic cleansing, since allegiances to the revolution or Qaddafi transcended tribal and ethnic boundaries. Nor could it be characterized as war crimes, since (at least in the first few weeks) a regular army was crushing a popular uprising, for the most part, not a rival combatant force. In order for the “responsibility to protect” to be brought into play, what was occurring in Libya had to be labeled as crimes against humanity.

Crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, are particularly odious offenses that constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or degradation of one or more human beings. Murder, extermination, torture, rape, political, racial or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are committed as part of widespread or systematic practices. But how was it possible to attain official consensus that what was occurring in Libya amounted to crimes against humanity?

In order to reach this conclusion, the Security Council referred the case to the ICC. It was the first such referral involving human rights violations that was unanimous. Even countries that are not members of the Court — the US, Russia and China — supported the step. On March 3, the Court’s chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo declared that, after conducting a preliminary investigation, he had reasonable basis to believe that Qaddafi, his son Sayf al-Islam and his chief of security ‘Abdallah Sanusi had committed crimes against humanity. The ICC referral and the opening of a probe into these men’s activities gave the Security Council the link it needed: The text of UNSC 1973 echoed the words of Moreno-Ocampo’s declaration and went on to state that the widespread and systematic attacks taking place in Libya against the civilian population “may amount to crimes against humanity.”

The ICC prosecutor’s statement has two substantial problems that, according to some critics, undermine the Court’s credibility. First, there has been no disclosure of the evidence for Moreno-Ocampo’s conclusions. According to the document’s table of contents, Moreno-Ocampo’s application for arrest warrants for the three Libyans includes a “summary of evidence” extending 54 pages. The entirety of that evidence, however, has been concealed and the corresponding section of the published application does not reveal what evidence was presented to substantiate the investigation. Second, the ICC brings charges against Sayf al-Islam, alleging that he was de facto prime minister and thus ultimately responsible for the violence. But what of Qaddafi’s other sons, some of whom were more closely tied to the mayhem? Saadi, for one, was known to have been in Benghazi when the initial protests exploded and is believed to have given orders to shoot at the demonstrators — an accusation that he later denied in an interview with the BBC. Mu‘tasim was believed to have played a direct military role in coordinating later operations against the rebels. There is no mention of either in the ICC probe. Aside from his televised speech threatening the population with death, poverty and hunger should the revolt proceed, there appears to be much less evidence incriminating Sayf al-Islam. Even Amnesty International, which welcomed the ICC’s request for Qaddafi’s arrest, later raised concerns about double standards the ICC seemed to be applying. As early as May, the group’s international director of law and policy, Michael Bochenek, warned that having come together “in such unprecedented agreement to refer Libya to the International Criminal Court,” the international community could not “allow justice to appear selective.” He added, “By any standard, what is happening in Syria is just as bad as the situation was in Libya when the Security Council referred that country to the ICC.” [12] These controversial points, coupled with the ICC’s instrumental role in legitimizing the recourse to “responsibility to protect,” have led critics from elsewhere on the political spectrum to claim that “the ICC was not an impartial judicial authority, but rather a partisan court.” [13] A photo showing Moreno-Ocampo shaking hands with Mahmoud Jibril at The Hague further reinforced the perception that political interests had the upper hand in the Libyan case.

The death of Qaddafi raises further questions about relations between the NTC and the ICC. At the outset of the revolution, Libyan opposition leaders were all committed to bringing Qaddafi to The Hague to face the charges of crimes against humanity. In truth, they wanted the mandate of the ICC to predate the timeframe set by the UN, which limited the investigation to events that happened after February 15, 2011. It should be remembered that one of the issues that sparked the Libyan uprising was justice for the families of the victims of a 1996 massacre in Abu Salim prison that killed some 1,200 people. For years, families in Benghazi have demanded that the perpetrators of the Abu Salim slaughter, including members of Qaddafi’s regime, be prosecuted in an international court. On numerous occasions, the revolt’s leaders echoed this call. Months into the war, however, it became increasingly clear that — if captured — Qaddafi would no longer appear in an international tribunal, but rather a Libyan one. The manner of his death lends weight to suspicions that the quest for justice was just another political instrument in the hands of the opposition.

Regime Change by Another Name

Was the Libya intervention necessary? Obviously, as the war demonstrated, there was little or no chance that Qaddafi would have reached a compromise with the opposition. (Nor were the rebels eager for a rapprochement.) There was no reason to think that the Libyan strongman, who had always portrayed himself as an anti-colonial crusader and embraced resistance to the West as a main ideological tenet, would budge when threatened by European leaders or when confronted with sanctions, frozen assets and the prospect of trial at the ICC. In the past, he had ridiculed the moral authority of the UN, literally ripping up the pages of the UN Charter during a speech at the General Assembly. He had mocked the ICC as a puppet of the West after the Court indicted Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir in 2009. So, rather than deterring his actions, the steps taken by the international community in the first month of the conflict had quite the opposite effect. Rhetorical and other support for the rebels, sanctions and ICC indictment reinforced Qaddafi’s belief that the war and the legal means used to justify it were yet another colonialist plot, similar to what the Italians had hatched a century ago. Qaddafi’s own hero was ‘Umar al-Mukhtar, the “lion of the desert” who resisted Italian occupation for over 20 years until his capture and execution in 1931. It should have been clear from the outset that Qaddafi, imagining himself like Mukhtar, would not flee Libya into gilded exile or willingly surrender himself to the ICC.

Without the intervention, Qaddafi would certainly have clung to power and the revolt would likely have been crushed within a few weeks. Without NATO air strikes, without the Qatari forces advising the rebels on the ground, without the Egyptian and European equipment airlifted to rebel strongholds in the mountains south of Tripoli, the opposition would hardly have been able to break the stalemate of the late spring, let alone liberate Tripoli and topple the regime.

Yet, it bears repeating that, properly speaking, the stated aim of the war was not the removal of Qaddafi. Operation Unified Protector was authorized and marketed as a humanitarian intervention. Therein lies the problem for its credibility in the eyes of history. If NTC sources are to be trusted, some 20,000 — perhaps even 30,000 — Libyans died during the war. After the liberation of Tripoli at the end of August, the NTC’s president, Mustafa ‘Abd al-Jalil, claimed that resistance to Qaddafi had cost Libya 20,000 dead and 50,000 wounded. After the fall of Sirte and the colonel’s death, Ibrahim Dabbashi, now the NTC’s ambassador to the UN, proposed an even higher casualty figure, stating that “more than 30,000 martyrs had been lost.” These estimates imply that the death toll subsequent to the seven-month NATO intervention was at least ten times greater than the tally of those killed in the first few weeks of the conflict, when the international community was pushed to intervene. Intervention cemented the authority of the NTC, flooded Libya with arms and — it seems clear — exacerbated the violence as well. The other long-term consequences of Unified Protector have yet to surface.


[1] The clip is available online at:
[2] Reuters, October 21, 2011.
[3] Daily Mail, October 24, 2011.
[4] The clip is online at:
[5] Telegraph, October 22, 2011.
[6] Richard Falk, “Chapter VII: A Loophole for Imperialists?” Al Jazeera English, September 6, 2011.
[7] New York Times, April 1, 2011.
[8] Raeesah Cassim Cachalia, “Opening Pandora’s Box: NATO’s Military Intervention in Libya,” Consultancy Africa Intelligence, September 16, 2011.
[9] Ian Hurd, “Is Humanitarian Intervention Legal? The Rule of Law in an Incoherent World,” Ethics and International Affairs 25/3 (2011), p. 305.
[10] Cassim Cachalia, op cit.
[11] See Gareth Evans, The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2008).
[12] Guardian, May 16, 2011.
[13] John Rosenthal, “A Political Court: The ICC and Libyan War Crimes,” August 8, 2011, posted at:

How to cite this article:

Claudia Gazzini "Was the Libya Intervention Necessary?," Middle East Report 261 (Winter 2011).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This