The leading segment on Thursday's Democracy Now [12/22/2011] carried the headline:
NATO Forced to Admit Air Strikes Killed Dozens of Libyan Civilians, Contradicting Initial Denials
The report begin:
JUAN GONZALEZ: NATO is admitting for the first time Libyan civilians were killed and injured during its seven-month bombing campaign that led to the ouster and death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. NATO made the acknowledgment after a New York Times investigation revealed at least 40 civilians, and perhaps more than 70, were killed by the bombing raids. The New York Times reports the victims include at least 29 women or children, who often had been asleep in homes when the ordnance hit. Others were killed when NATO warplanes bombed ambulance crews and civilians who were attempting to aid the wounded from earlier strikes.
The segment featured two heavy hitters from the NY Times that had just done a story on the same subject. They both repeat the point that NATO had failed to take responsibility for civilian deaths before this:
ERIC SCHMITT: Well, the principal findings, as your introduction has suggested, was that initially NATO had said, and the Secretary General of NATO had said, that throughout the seven-month air campaign, they knew of no confirmed civilian casualties on the ground as a result of NATO air strikes.
C.J. CHIVERS: NATO has withheld details on most of the errors and labored to portray its role in the war as all but flawless. Until this month, it insisted it had not confirmed the killing or wounding of a single civilian.
There is a problem with this retelling of history. It is wrong on the facts.
NATO had already publicly acknowledged responsibility for civilian deaths caused by an air strike in Tripoli in late June. The Guardian ran the story on Sunday 19 June 2011:
Libya: Nato admits civilian deaths in Tripoli air raid
Nato has admitted it was responsible for an air strike that killed civilians in Tripoli over the weekend.
"A military missile site was the intended target of air strikes in Tripoli last night," a statement said. "However, it appears that one weapon did not strike the intended target; there may have been a weapons system failure which may have caused a number of civilian casualties."
Earlier the Libyan government had said that a Nato missile had struck a house in a residential area of the Libyan capital, killing at least nine civilians, including two children.
The attack is the biggest mistake by coalition forces during the four-month campaign, at a time when Nato has been trying to increase the tempo of operations against the Libyan leader.
"Nato regrets the loss of innocent civilian lives and takes great care in conducting strikes against a regime determined to use violence against its own citizens," said Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, commander of Operation Unified Protector. "Although we are still determining the specifics of this event, indications are that a weapons system failure may have caused this incident," he added.
There may have been other such reports from NATO but I remember this story because I used it in one of my diaries about Libya at the time, so Thursday the more that I heard them repeat that "NATO is admitting for the first time Libyan civilians were killed", the more I thought it important to correct this error before it gets repeated so often that it becomes legend.
At the NATO press briefing after the tragic June 19th attack, NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu said:
Clearly, the main issue for NATO over the weekend and yesterday are the allegations of civilian casualties. Mike will provide more operational information, but it's important that we put those allegations in context of the NATO mission.
Each and every civilian death is a tragedy. On Sunday, due to a technical failure, one of our weapons did not strike the intended military target, which was a missile site. We deeply regret this tragic accident.
Speaking to the media yesterday the Secretary General personally conveyed his condolences to the families of all those who may have been involved, and I would like to do that again today.
To booster the DN claims on Thursday, Juan Gonzalez, even quotes "Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary General of NATO, speaking in June.":
We have carried out this operation very carefully, without confirmed civilian casualties.
But this was a quote from June, no doubt before this tragic, but admitted, accident.
And in fact, the day after the accident, the NATO Secretary General was all over the media apologizing in person, this report was typical:
Nato boss regret at loss of life in Tripoli - Channel 4 News
Monday 20 June 2011
Nato's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tells Channel 4 News he regrets the "tragic loss of life" following an off-target air strike in Tripoli, but says the mission is meeting its objectives.
Even Democracy Now reported on it at the time, making Amy's current amnesia even more remarkable:
NATO Bombs Libyan Home, Killing Nine Civilians, Including Two Babies
NATO warplanes have bombed a home in a residential section of Tripoli, killing nine civilians, including two babies. Libyan officials said another 18 people were injured. NATO admitted to carrying out the strike but blamed the bombing on a "weapons systems failure." A Libyan government spokesperson described the NATO strike as a "pathetic attempt to break the spirit of the people of Tripoli."
So, Amy, just how do you square the DN claim in June that "NATO admitted to carrying out the strike" that killed nine civilians with the current DN claim that "NATO has admitted for the first time Libyan civilians were killed and injured during its seven-month bombing campaign?"
The claim that the NY Times investigation finally forced NATO to admit something it has never admitted before became the headline, because if the truth be told, the finding that NATO killed as many as 70 civilians, and possibly more, is hardly the indictment of NATO they were looking for.
While every single civilian death is a tragedy and each individual story, some of which were told on the DN segment, is heart rending, 70 civilians killed by NATO means that the overall NATO effort saved civilian lives when it is considered that Qaddafi killed more than 10 times that number of unarmed civilians in a single night in Tripoli and the revolutionary Libya government put the total war dead at over 30,000.
Now I know that certain factions in the US left took the early approach to the Libyan revolution that if NATO supported it they were against it. Their singular focus in this struggle was patriotic opposition to NATO, veering on support for Qaddafi. They predicted massive civilian causalities as a result of NATO bombing. They also expected that it would lead to NATO troops in Libya and the complete domination of post-Qaddafi Libya by the western powers. None of this has happened.
Now we see attempts to remember the story in such a way that it supports the views they had all along, and while they are entitled to their own opinion, they are not entitled to their own set of facts.
Orwellian re-writing of history, which is what Democracy Now engaged in on Thursday's show, must be strongly opposed whether it is done by the right or the left.