We broke it, but refuse to own Libya’s disaster

Amidst the horrific devastation in eastern Libya the Canadian media has largely refused to mention the central role NATO’s war played in the country’s instability.

In a report on the thousands killed by flooding in eastern Libya Global National offered some context to the tragedy that’s thought to have left over 10,000 dead. It noted, “once one of Africa’s most prosperous countries, decades of lawlessness have left Libya fragile.” But the three-minute clip omitted any mention of NATO’s 2011 war in creating that lawlessness. Commanded by Canadian General Charles Bouchard, seven Canadian fighter jets, two naval vessels and special forces participated in NATO’s six-month assault.

A front-page Globe and Mail story on the deadly flooding reported that the country’s “divided authority delayed flood warnings” and “years of wars and military clashes across Libya have left cities vulnerable.” But, the article spread over two full pages in the middle of the paper failed to mention a war in which NATO dropped 20,000 bombs on almost 6,000 targets.

When it could be framed in a more positive light, the Globe and Mail hasn’t hesitated recently to mention Canada’s war. In “Moammar Gadhafi stashed billions in Canadian bank accounts, former diplomat says”, the paper reported lastmonth that “not only did Canada play a central role in the NATO-led military intervention that ousted him in 2011, Ottawa has since contributed tens of millions of dollars to help stabilize Libya and to provide humanitarian assistance.”

CBC’s flagship TV and radio programs also ignored NATO’s assault. The National’s report, however, managed to portray Russia’s role in Libya negatively. Wednesday’s program noted:

“For some it was a tragedy that should have been avoided. We’d warned the authorities last week, no for years, says this man, that the dam had cracks. A legacy first of the Muammar Gaddafi years built in the 70s and then of the power struggle that followed the dictator’s fall. This is a country that has fractured between these rival systems has made absolutely everything absolutely a nightmare to do. A UN recognized government often accused of corruption in the West and a warlord backed by the likes of Russia in the East.”

The Current aired a 15 minute report headlined “Dam breaches wash away entire Libyan neighbourhoods”. NATO’s war wasn’t even mentioned.

(An Associated Press story published on the CBC website was headlined “Years of war and political chaos in Libya left its people vulnerable in face of deadly storm”. It mentioned NATO once, noting “the north African country has been divided between rival administrations and beset by militia conflict since the NATO-backed Arab Spring uprising toppled autocratic ruler Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.”)

The media hasn’t always been reticent to discuss Canadian intervention into Libya. The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, National Post and Vancouver Sun all published editorials endorsing the 2011 war. After six-months of fighting the federal government organized an $850,000 nationally televised celebration for Canada’s “military heroes,” which included flyovers from a dozen military aircraft. Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the 300 military personnel brought in from four bases: “We are celebrating a great military success.”

At a ceremony held in the Senate, General Bouchard was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross by the Governor General and PM for leading the NATO mission. Bouchard was also made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

The war celebrations were a cross party affair. After Gaddafi was savagely killed interim Liberal leader Bob Rae commended the Canadian military and NDP leader Nycole Turmel released a statement noting, “the future of Libya now belongs to all Libyans. Our troops have done a wonderful job in Libya over the past few months.”

But NATO’s 2011 assault unleashed more than a decade of instability and violence as well as deteriorating social and economic indicators. Libya remains divided between two main political factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million.

On Thursday the head of the UN World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas said that with better management most of the deaths in the 100 000-person city of Derna could have been avoided. “They could have issued the warnings and the emergency management forces would have been able to carry out the evacuation of the people, and we could have avoided most of the human casualties,” Taalas told reporters. Additionally, Derna’s deputy mayor, Ahmed Madroud, told Al Jazeera that the two dams that burst after the heavy rainfall on Sunday haven’t undergone maintenance since 2002.

In such a monumental tragedy it’s hard to apportion blame. But some of it no doubt rests with a Canadian government and NATO that bombed Libya in 2011, not to mention a sycophantic media.

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