May
10
2013

When Libyans Die From NATO Airstrikes, It's Not Benghazi

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Photo: NY Times

If you've tried to follow the "scandal" over the attack on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, you probably know that the outrage that the U.S. government–supposedly–did not immediately claim this was an act of terrorism. 

Or perhaps the scandal is that there were "talking points" crafted to minimize that angle, and play up the sense that the attack was linked to other protests against an anti-Islamic video. (Contrary to so much of the current reporting on this, there were plenty of reasons to think this was the case, since some of those at the scene of the attack said this was part of what motivated them.)

The reason people care, apparently, is because people died, and U.S. officials may not have told the truth about the circumstances of those deaths.

If that's what makes this a scandal, then there's another Libya story that should be getting attention.  It's not, and never really has, because the dead are Libyan civilians, killed by U.S./NATO airstrikes.

The incident happened in Majer on August 8, 2011–about a month before Benghazi. Some Libyan officials claimed 85 were killed in the strikes; other counts were lower, closer to 30. The immediate response from NATO were that the target "was a military facility," and that, as a CNN reporter (8/11/11) put it, "NATO says it has no evidence of civilian casualties at this point." The incident was of little interest to the media at the time.

By December of that year,  though, the story was finally getting some attention. A lengthy New York Times report (12/18/11) on civilian attacks across the country recorded

credible accounts of dozens of civilians killed by NATO in many distinct attacks. The victims, including at least 29 women or children, often had been asleep in homes when the ordnance hit."

The Times even got NATO to shift its line on the issue of dead civilians:

"From what you have gathered on the ground, it appears that innocent civilians may have been killed or injured, despite all the care and precision," said Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for NATO headquarters in Brussels. "We deeply regret any loss of life."

This was important because NATO's line, up to that point, seemed to be that they could not "confirm" any civilian deaths in Libya–perhaps because they did not make any effort to confirm that anything like this happened. 

On Majer, the Times was able to report that the death toll 

includes 35 victims, among them the late-term fetus of a fatally wounded woman the Gafez family said went into labor as she died.

The Zlitan hospital confirmed 34 deaths. Five doctors there also told of treating dozens of wounded people, including many women and children.

As we pointed out (FAIR Blog, 12/19/11), this stood in marked contrast to how the Times treated Majer at the time, which was to run a brief Reuters dispatch claiming to have found no blood and no bodies at the scene.

So we have a story that has many of the elements of the so-called Benghazi scandal: Official deception, misdirection and stonewalling–as a New York Times editorial (3/30/12) recalled,  "NATO has also declined to cooperate, on jurisdictional grounds, with an expert international panel appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council."

But there is little outrage over this: Pundits aren't spending hours denouncing the deaths in Libya. There are no Congressional hearings or demands for accountability. Is it because the dead are Libyans, and they were killed by our side?

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.