Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

... Cluster bombs, of course.

I don't remember where I first saw a link this weekend to the claim that loyalist (that's pro-Qaddafy) forces in Libya have been using cluster bombs. I do remember thinking that I should see if the article mentioned the fact that the US has often used such weapons, but I didn't get around to it until I found this post on the FAIR blog.

The Times article is indignant about the barbarity of Qaddafy's forces, with inflammatory details:
Where a crowd had assembled for food, bits of human flesh had been blasted against a cinder-block wall.
“I jumped onto the ground when the explosions started,” said Ali Hmouda, 36, an employee of the port. “My friend did not. His head came off.”
As the FAIR blog post said, the article does mention US use of cluster bombs, in connection with "conflicting pressures" that may be brought to bear on President Obama:
At the same time, the United States has used cluster munitions itself, in battlefield situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in a strike on suspected militants in Yemen in 2009.
"Battlefield situations" is bogus, considering the circumstances: "battlefield situations" are wherever US forces happen to be fighting "suspected militants," such as cities, farmland, villages, and roadsides. As FAIR pointed out, the suspected Yemeni militants turned out to be "'21 children and 20 innocent women and men'" (, 12/9/10)--all killed in the U.S. attack." The same post listed past US use of cluster bombs in Serbia as well as Iraq and Afghanistan; it might have added northern Laos, where as Noam Chomsky says, civilians are still being killed by bomblets forty years later.
In Laos the Pentagon would not even provide instructions on how to defuse them to a volunteer British de-mining group that was working there. In Kosovo as well, the U.S. refused to remove cluster bombs.
(It's probably not entirely irrelevant that "In fact, one of the last acts of the U.S.-Israeli invasion [of Lebanon in 2006], right after the ceasefire was announced before it was implemented, was to saturate much of the south with cluster bombs. There’s no military purpose for that, the war was over, the ceasefire was coming."
UN de-mining groups that are working there say that the scale is unprecedented. It’s much worse than any other place they’ve worked: Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, anywhere. There are supposed to be about one million bomblets left there. A large percentage of them don’t explode until you pick them up, a child picks them up, or a farmer hits it with a hoe or something. So what it does basically is make the south uninhabitable until the mining teams, for which the United States and Israel don’t contribute, clean it up. This is arable land. It means that farmers can’t go back; it means that it may undermine a potential Hezbollah deterrent. They apparently have pretty much withdrawn from the south, according to the UN.
But it's probably anti-Semitic of me even to mention it. And it occurs to me that, considering how long these weapons have been in use, the manufacturers and the countries that use them -- that includes us, remember, as well as Israel -- must be fully aware that they represent a long-term threat to civilians, including children, who are said to pick them up because they look like toys. In which case, the countries that use them -- including the US and Israel -- are responsible for the injuries and deaths of those civilians: they're an indirect but intended consequence of their use.)

So, where did Qaddafy's forces get these cluster bombs? According to the Times article, they were manufactured in Spain, just before Spain banned them.

How the Qaddafi military came to acquire Spanish cluster munitions, banned in Spain soon after their manufacture, was not immediately clear. But the war has shown what has long been known or suspected: that Colonel Qaddafi’s military, flush with oil money, has amassed stockpiles of arms from all manner of sources.

On the front lines in Libya, the government’s stockpile, whether used by loyalists or rebels who looted government armories, has included a full suite of former Eastern bloc arms beside former NATO munitions.

Like, Oh My God! By US propaganda standards, then, NATO is supplying Qaddafy with munitions! But that is probably true, since just a couple of years ago Senator John McCain went on a junket to Libya to discuss the possibility of supplying "non-lethal defense equipment to the government of Libya."

In March, the BBC innocently ran "Libya No-Fly Zone: Coalition Firepower," one of those stories on military hardware that give boners to little boys of all ages. It listed by country the newest, hottest war toys that would be deployed against the Libyan Hitler. Key US hardware included the A10 Warthog, a "[s]imple, effective and survivable twin-engine jet aircraft that can be used against all ground targets, including tanks and other armoured vehicles. A-10 - close air support, A-10C - airborne forward air control."
Weapons: 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun; up to 16,000 pounds (7,200 kilograms) of mixed ordnance including cluster bombs, Maverick missiles, and laser-guided bombs
The B1-B Lancer, a "Long-range, multi-role, heavy bomber", has the "to carry up to 75,000lbs of munitions including general purpose bombs, Quick Strike naval mines, cluster munitions, Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles." (Bold-type on the cluster weapons is mine, in both cases.) Excuse me; like all war fans, I think I'd better go have a lie-down for a moment.

Of course, the US would never use those cluster bombs on Libyan civilians -- we're there to protect them, not shred them and blow their heads off. Except that, of course, we have used such weapons many times before, often on civilians. According to the Wikipedia entry on cluster bombs, they were developed independently during World War II by the Germans, the US, the USSR, and Italy. I couldn't find whether the US used them during the Korean war; the Wikipedia article on cluster bombs includes a photograph of an American soldier loading "a munition with 22,500 Korean language leaflets in 1950 for use as psychological warfare during the Korean War", but contains no reference to their use for scattering bomblets.

The Times article mentions that cluster bombs "have been banned by much of the world", but the US has resisted such bans. That FAIR blog post points out:
As for cluster bombs being "banned in much of the world," that includes Britain. But as WikiLeaks revealed, the U.S. colluded with the British government to circumvent the ban and allow U.S. cluster bombs to remain on British soil. WikiLeaks also disclosed that the U.S. has been lobbying for countries to keep cluster bombs legal, arguing that they are "legitimate weapons that provide a vital military capability" (Guardian, 12/1/10).
Well! If the US regards cluster bombs as legitimate weapons with a vital military capability, it can hardly condemn Libya for using them, especially since they were evidently acquired legitimately with that good "oil money." Either that, or we'd better look into implementing no-fly zones over London and Washington, DC.