The Independent has another account of the “liberators” in Bin Jawad:
Some local resentment has also been fuelled by the rebels’ hunt for “fifth columnists” supposedly colluding with the Gaddafi forces. In Bin Jawad, The Independent witnessed around 220 men, either members of the Hosseini clan or people associated with them, being dragged out of their homes, beaten up and taken away. The “arrests” took place as the rebels traded fire at the gates of the town with regime troops. Residents, already frightened, saw doors being kicked down by Shabaab fighters who also fired at windows where they claimed to have seen snipers.
One danger of any rapid political change justified in terms of overthrowing a tyrant is that revolutionaries tend to see anyone not actively working with them as potential enemies, and once collaborating with a tyrant has been defined as treason, as many of the rebels seem to define it, the logic of slaughtering those collaborators becomes more powerful. One of the problems with endorsing the cause of the weaker party in a civil war is that any government that does so has probably just aligned itself with the side that will be more desperate and possibly less inclined to use restraint in handling detainees and suspected “traitors” than the more powerful side. The less effective that the rebels are against Gaddafi’s forces, the more they may take their frustrations out on those people, whether suspected regime loyalists or unfortunate migrant workers, who happen to be in their power. Valorizing and cheering for one side in a conflict we don’t fully understand creates serious blind spots, and so does relying on overwrought mythology about previous interventions.
Der Spiegel reports on the atmosphere of distrust and paranoia in Benghazi:
No one dares to go out at night, as rounds of machine gun fire thunder through the empty streets. National Council members are no longer seen in public and they’re hard to reach for interviews. “There are death squads on both sides,” [bold mine-DL] says Nasser Buisier, who fled to the US when he was 17, but has returned for the revolution. Buisier’s father is a former information minister, but was also a critic of Gadhafi, and his son doesn’t have much that’s positive to say about the new leadership. “Most of them never had to make sacrifices, they were part of the regime and I don’t believe they want elections,” Buisier says. He believes the National Council is on the verge of collapse [bold mine-DL] and once that happens, he’d rather not be in Benghazi.
When Westerners say that they want to arm the rebels, I don’t think they mean that they want to arm people to organize death squads in Benghazi. There is something genuinely quite odd about some of the liberal enthusiasm for the rebels’ cause. If someone could go back and tell the same people 25 years ago that they would one day be cheering direct U.S. military support for a group of Libyan contras, they would have probably laughed at him, but that is what is happening. The news today was that Gaddafi’s foreign minister and former intelligence chief fled to Britain. That’s interesting, but if one had to bet on which crumbled first one would probably choose the National Council instead.
The report from Der Spiegel continues:
Around 100 regime loyalists have recently been imprisoned. Armed young men are searching houses and also arresting sub-Saharan Africans, anyone they assume to be mercenaries and all those they simply refer to as spies, locking them up in the same prisons once used to hold opposition members. They are then shown off to busloads of journalists. The prisoners sit in dark cells that stink of feces and urine. They say they’re from Mali, Chad, Sudan, that they’re construction workers and were dragged out of their houses.
The rebels’ mood, exuberant and lighthearted in the beginning, has shifted. Their rhetoric is becoming increasingly tense and they dismiss any criticism as propaganda. One former air force commander — now “spokesman for the revolutionary armed forces” — says, “anyone who fights against our revolutionary army is fighting against the people and will be treated accordingly.”
Another man, also a member of the National Council, talks about “enemies of the revolution” and declares that anyone who doesn’t join the rebel side will get a taste of revolutionary justice: “We know where they are and we will find them.”
These are the same threats, word for word, that Gadhafi uses to scare his opponents.
One can correctly argue that they have learned all of this from Gaddafi, and that he is responsible for so debasing the political culture in Libya and inflicting so much brutality on his people that he is partly responsible for how they imitate him when they retaliate against him and his followers. It still doesn’t help explain why so many Westerners are eager to increase the flow of weapons into Libya and help bring about the day when these rebels might have the strength to do to loyalists in Sirte and Tripoli what they are doing to migrant laborers and detainees in eastern Libya right now.
Update: NATO governments seem to recognize the potential for rebel attacks on civilian populations, and have warned the rebels accordingly:
Members of the NATO alliance have sternly warned the rebels in Libya not to attack civilians as they push against the regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, according to senior military and government officials.
As NATO takes over control of airstrikes in Libya and the Obama administration considers new steps to tip the balance of power there, the coalition has told the rebels that the fog of war will not shield them from possible bombardment by NATO planes and missiles, just as the regime’s forces have been punished.
“We’ve been conveying a message to the rebels that we will be compelled to defend civilians, whether pro-Qaddafi or pro-opposition,” said a senior Obama administration official. “We are working very hard behind the scenes with the rebels so we don’t confront a situation where we face a decision to strike the rebels to defend civilians.”
This would be appropriate and consistent with the resolution. It doesn’t make the intervention any more necessary or wise, because it guarantees that the civil war will be prolonged, more people will be displaced, and ultimately more people will end up dying, but at least it suggests that the U.S. and our allies are not going to be actively aiding the rebels no matter what they do.