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The 41-year rule of Libyan leader Muammar el-Quaddafi appears to be unraveling despite a brutal crackdown on protesters. Warplanes, helicopters and troops fired on crowds of demonstrators yesterday. Libyan diplomats around the globe resigned over the violence and soldiers deserted rather than kill their own people. The eastern part of the nation is reportedly under control of the protesters. And the U.N. security council is holding emergency consultations over the turmoil this morning. Libya holds Africa’s largest oil reserves and prices have risen. A look at the escalating violence in Libya.
- David Schenker Aufzien (Owf-zen) Fellow and Director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute and former top policy aide on the Arab countries of the Levant at the Pentagon.
- Robin Wright Journalist, foreign policy analyst at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and editor of "The Iran Primer."
- Najla Abdurrahman Libyan-American dissident and doctoral student in the department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University.
- Asma Magariaf (May-gariff) A DC-based Libyan American activist. She was born in Libya before her family fled the country as dissidents became hunted down by Qaddafi's regime. She has written about human rights and rule of law in Libya.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The son of Libyan leader Muammar Quaddafi threatened rivers of blood, and that's what the government has brought down on hundreds of protesters. But Quaddafi's 41-year rule seems to be faltering. Joining me in the studio to talk about the situation, David Schenker of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute, Robin Wright of the United States Institute of Peace and Libyan-American activist Najla Abdurrahman and Asma Magariaf. And you can join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a treat (sic) -- a tweet. Najla, if I could start with you, what is happening in Libya today that we know?
MS. NAJLA ABDURRAHMANWell, what we're seeing in the Western press, and also in Al Jazeera, is that in the eastern part of the country, it seems that the security services and the military seem to have vanished. That's what they're reporting. I don't know what the case is. From our contacts on the ground, it's -- they seem to corroborate that. It seems that they've actually overwhelmed any of the forces that are there, have taken their weapons, in many cases, and are now armed and defending themselves. We received -- our little organization received -- we were up monitoring the news all night long. We received some text messages from some friends in Benghazi, and they were very excited messages. And, basically, it was one person saying, Libya is free. We are free.
MS. NAJLA ABDURRAHMANSo we don't really know what the situation is all over the eastern part, or even all over Benghazi. But it seems that people are starting to become very excited about what's going on. And, of course, you know, who knows what's going to happen in the next two or three days? But from what we're hearing from people on the ground, they seem to corroborate what we're hearing in the news.
REHMAnd, Robin Wright, what have you heard about the force being used against protesters?
MS. ROBIN WRIGHTWell, there are several reports that Quaddafi has brought in foreign mercenaries. And we have a very different situation in Libya than we did in either Egypt or Tunisia, where the professional militaries refused to fire against the protesters. And this was clearly decisive in the decision of both President Ben Ali of Tunisia and President Mubarak of Egypt to step down from power. Mubarak has brought in his own forces. And the military in Egypt or in Libya has always been different anyway. And so you have the dynamics, the kinds of pressures, very different on Muammar Quaddafi.
REHMAnd, Najla, what are you hearing from people back home?
ABDURRAHMANFrom Tripoli, the story is very different, and the most difficult thing is that there is no way to know what really is the situation throughout the city. You have certain parts of the city near the center of the city, near the Green Square and areas around it -- Bin Ashur, (word?)-- these different areas, where they've seen sort of the brunt of the security force's attacks on the protesters and the most losses of life and the most bloodshed. And so we actually received an e-mail from a friend who is living in Bin Ashur, which is adjacent to the downtown area, and it was a terrified e-mail.
ABDURRAHMANShe hears planes overhead. She hears gunshots. We recorded an interview with her. She played the gunshots for us. She says that people are -- she doesn't leave her house. But, from what she hears, people are really being slaughtered out there. We received a phone call from a friend who is a doctor in a Tripoli hospital. And, again, these are eyewitness reports. I have no way of corroborating what is being said, so let me just say that before I tell you what he is telling us.
ABDURRAHMANBut he's a doctor there. And, from what he told us, people are -- the morgues are full. The hospitals are full. The blood banks are empty. Security forces are coming to the hospitals, taking people's names, taking victims' names. So you can, you know, draw whatever conclusions you want from that. Shooting people in the hospitals, also -- apparently, this is what this particular doctor...
REHMShooting in the hospitals?
ABDURRAHMANIn the hospitals, intimidating doctors, shooting victims in the hospitals. From what the doctor told us, even going into the blood banks and taking the blood out and pouring it out.
REHMAnd, Asma Magariaf, do you have family in Libya?
MS. ASMA MAGARIAFI still have family members who live in Benghazi. That's where -- the city that started the uprising against Quaddafi. And we have friends, of course, in Tripoli and in (word?) and other areas. And we've been getting the same, sort of, eyewitness testimony and reports -- people who are frantic, talking about bodies that are on the street. And if anyone tries to touch the bodies or retrieve them, they're being hit by sniper bullets. And let me touch on something that Robin talked about in terms of the issue of the military in Libya and how it's different than Egypt and Tunisia.
MS. ASMA MAGARIAFVery early on, the military was very strong in Libya, but because most of the coup attempts that happened against Quaddafi -- for example, Omar Mahishi, (sp?) Adam Hawaz and (unintelligible) -- all of them came from the military. Quaddafi was very swift and very repressive and violent in his response to these coup attempts. He executed all of the officers. Anyone who was related to the officers or friends with the officers, he killed all of them, even those who had prison sentences that were 10 and 15 years. Instead of commuting them, he actually changed the sentence to a death sentence. So, very early on, he marginalized the military. He made sure to replace the heads of the military with people who had some kind of allegiance to him through tribal connections or what have you.
MS. ASMA MAGARIAFSo -- and, in the process also, he trained and groomed these paramilitary groups and forces that are specially trained to kill people, to torture, imprison and kill people. And those are the forces that are taking -- that are killing most of the protesters there on the streets. We are seeing that a lot of members of the military are actually siding with the protesters, especially in the eastern parts. Many of them are joining the protesters against the foreign mercenaries and against Quaddafi sources.
REHMAnd turning to you, David Schenker, the AP is reporting that key Western nations have urged the U.N. Security Council to demand an immediate end to Muammar Quaddafi's bloody crackdown and do strongly condemn the violence. What can the U.N. do at this point?
MR. DAVID SCHENKERWell, if we can get some (word?) or some consensus -- which, I think, there appears to be -- people are talking about potential for some sort of no-fly zone ala what they had in Iraq decades ago and years ago, where these helicopter gunships which are attacking civilians and airplanes flying over and bombing civilians, would be grounded by a U.N. force. I don't think anybody is talking about putting in any type of ground forces. But people are banter around this idea of the no-fly zone, which I think you could get a lot of people backing that, particularly not only for the reasons of bloodshed, which are -- you know, it's appalling, but for economic reasons.
REHMBut how do you support, how do you enforce a no-fly zone?
SCHENKERWell, like we did in Iraq. We get an international coalition and then, likely, Western forces, like the U.S., would be flying planes over Libyan airspace to ensure that planes don't take off.
REHMRobin, how possible is that?
WRIGHTIt might be possible. But I think that Muammar Quaddafi is taking a stand now, and it's life or death and -- politically, anyway and possibly physically, too. He has clearly ignored all international advice. He had a long conversation with the U.N. secretary general who warned him about the dangers of pursuing this track and, you know, gave him some pretty strong words, according to all accounts. And Quaddafi historically has not listened. He is a man who listens only to his inner voice.
WRIGHTAfter all, his regime was associated with Pan Am 103, the downing, in 1988, of a Pan Am jetliner. That was one of the most heinous acts of terrorism in modern history. And he just seems -- he's a unique character. I've interviewed him twice. And he comes across as someone who doesn't live in our world in terms of his code of ethics, his standard of behavior, the things that set him off. I've often wondered if a psychiatrist or a psychologist wouldn't have a field day with him because I think that it goes beyond just eccentricities. But this is a man who was -- has set on a course, and, unlike what we've seen in Egypt and Tunisia, it's all or nothing with him.
WRIGHTAnd I think they've gone so far -- in the massacres, leaving bodies on the street, using foreign military, using helicopter gunships, opening up on streets, not knowing who's -- even who the protesters are or not, people who are going out to try to get food -- that Libya is no longer a viable country. He's lost part of the country physically, and his economy is no longer viable. Look at the oil companies pulling out some of their workers. This is not a regime that is in any mode to compromise. And if it does, it's finished.
MAGARIAFAlso, on that issue, you're absolutely right, Robin. He has repressed his own people. He has masterminded terrorist attacks against his own people and internationally. The Pan Am 103, the French airliner -- he has destabilized regimes around him in the region, Chad, Liberia, Uganda, you name it. And he's been behind a lot of the training for the Darfur rebels as well. He's been implicated in that. But the issue is, unfortunately, in the last several years, he has been -- he feels that he's been given a green light to continue because we are very keen on having a stable and secure region at the expense of human rights, unfortunately.
REHMAsma Magariaf, a D.C.-based Libyan human rights activist. Short break and right back.
REHMAnd here's our first posting on Facebook from Liz. "I would like to know," she says, "where he can find refuge. And, since the Libyans have been seemingly so disorganized in their opposition, how can they quickly organize themselves for running the government?" Robin.
WRIGHTThat's the question in all of the Middle East countries. The opposition -- whether it's liberal, leftist, Islamist, whatever -- has been so marginalized, outlawed, exiled or executed that there aren't easy options. People who emerged -- civil society has been so weak. And Libya may be the best example of that. There are -- it's a very small population. Even though it's the 17th largest country in the world, there are only 6.5 million people, and they're very divided along old tribal lines. There are divisions within the country. So it's not going to be an easy solution finding out who takes his place if and when he steps down.
REHMAnd, Najla, here's a question for you, submitted from Robert, who says, "Will the national army attempt to defend the citizens from the mercenaries that the government has hired to silence their protest?"
ABDURRAHMANWell, like Asma was saying earlier, the military is a little bit different than the security forces. So we have seen in certain places, in certain cities, soldiers, military aligning with the people. In other places, not. I'm not sure if you saw in Al Jazeera television. They actually showed bodies, burned bodies lined up in rows. Presumably -- what the reporters were saying were these were soldiers who had refused to fire upon their own people. And so they've been showing that footage, and it's absolutely horrendous. But there is definitely -- there are definitely many soldiers in the military who are refusing to fight against their people and aren't joining.
SCHENKERWe had -- there were reports yesterday that the head of the military was put under house arrest because he refused to give orders to open fire in the crowds. Certainly, it's a very dangerous situation, particularly with this, you know, paramilitary security apparatus so affiliated with the regime. For, among other reasons, the more atrocities they commit, the more implicated they are in these atrocities -- the murders of Lebanese, of the innocent people of Libya -- you know, they have no recourse. They have to go forward because, if they lose, they will be hanged, and they will be held accountable.
REHMThere have been complaints that the U.S. has not done enough. What do you believe the U.S. should be doing, Najla?
ABDURRAHMANI mean, at this point, I believe that they should be demanding, unequivocally, that he leave Libya. I know that's a very strong statement, but everybody has seen the video last night, the -- his "statement" to the Libyan people. Everyone has seen how absurd it was. We don't need to really describe it in detail here or attempt to analyze it.
REHMBut, for those who have not seen it, he was holding an umbrella.
ABDURRAHMANRight. So he was in some -- it's hard to describe whether he was inside, outside, in the studio.
REHMHe seemed in a Jeep.
ABDURRAHMANYeah, he was sort of sitting on the door -- sort of hanging out of the door of a Jeep with an umbrella. There was a man holding a microphone -- holding an umbrella that looked exactly like his umbrella, a couple of drops of water coming down. And he said that he had wanted to speak with the youth in Green Square tonight, but, unfortunately, it was raining, and so he couldn't and then also not to listen to the media and referred to them as dogs.
ABDURRAHMANAnd also said, I'm not in Venezuela. I'm still in Tripoli.
REHMAnd isn't there another statement expected today?
MAGARIAFOh, we're expecting a statement from him today. But in terms of your question about the White House and its response, we've been getting a lot of responses from people inside the country who are saying, where is the White House? Where is President Obama? They're not expecting a lot, but they're expecting at least a statement of condemnation, the same that happened in Egypt and Tunisia. In five or six days of protest and uprising in Libya, we've had more killings than in two weeks in Egypt -- actually, double the number. And we saw that the White House, despite its very strong relationship with Mubarak, they were debating about, is he a dictator or not? There was some kind of a debate.
MAGARIAFThere was going back and forth about how to turn this and how to respond to it. But with the Libyan issue, a lot of people are just surprised. And Libyans are educated. They've read about the Civil Rights Movement here in the U.S. They were so inspired by President Obama, the first African-American president to be elected to the office, and they see that there is no response from him. And that's very shocking for many of them, disappointing.
WRIGHTWell, the United States has far less leverage over Libya than any other country. We've only sent out a full-time ambassador since 2008. This is a country with which we've had longstanding tensions. In terms of aid, we only sent $1 million, and it's largely for the dismantling of its weapons of mass destruction program. So -- and the reality is that one of the reasons the U.S. renewed relations, one of the reasons that it got off the terrorism list was because it renounced terrorism, and it gave its weapons of mass -- gave up its weapons of mass destruction because the Europeans rely heavily on Libyan oil. There was an interest in engaging with Libya, finding some kind of compromise, but no one ever made domestic human rights issues a focal point.
WRIGHTAnd now that the Libyans have risen up against Quaddafi, it finally has become something that the international community wants to give, at least, lip service to. Now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, yesterday, put out a very strong statement, condemning Libyan atrocities and behavior and making note of the death toll. The next step will obviously be something from the White House, but a statement from President Obama, unfortunately, is not likely to carry the same weight it does on someone like Mubarak. It may signal to the supporters or those sitting on the fence in Libya, yes, this is something that's backed. But it's not going to be decisive in the way that it was in either Tunisia or Libya.
SCHENKERNo. I think that's right. And the Bush administration made a deal with Libya, essentially focused on WMD, and that was the priority, to denude them of the chemical, biological weapons and the nuclear, primarily. Human rights wasn't part of the deal, and I think, you know, the Obama administration, too, has been, you know, late to the game. We saw, in 2009, Fathi El-Jahmi died essentially in a prison, or he was, you know, sent to Jordan in a coma to die. The administration came forward with a statement welcoming the release of Fathi El-Jahmi to Jordan, and he died as soon as he reached Jordan. This is -- it should have been reason to condemn Libya rather than praise them.
REHMBut, now, we've heard about diplomats resigning. We've heard about soldiers leaving their post. How serious is that for the regime? Or can they just ignore that?
SCHENKERWell, this is not a regime of institutions. Certainly, they have personnel. This is a problem, certainly, for PR for them. I think more pressing for them is what appears to be a momentum of losing tribal support within Libya, not from traditionally the (word?) where you had opposition to Quaddafi from 1969. People who were monarchists supporting the monarchy didn't like it when Quaddafi came in. But now you're seeing this in the West. You have reports of the Warfallah -- one of the largest tribes in Libya -- deciding that they can no longer back Quaddafi and that he has to leave.
REHMNow, Asma, your dad was a diplomat. He left his post under Quaddafi in the '80s. How did you feel when you heard what these diplomats were doing?
MAGARIAFWell, my dad was Libya's ambassador to India -- you're correct -- and he resigned his post in 1980 because, at that time, there was the height of the clashes between Quaddafi's revolutionary committees and people -- students on college campuses. He was executing people publicly in college campuses and leaving their bodies to hang for days. And he was targeting intellectuals, and some of them were my dad's friends. So my dad decided that he's had enough. He opposed Quaddafi, announced his opposition to him, and we had to flee. And, basically, we were hunted down by Quaddafi's agents. But let me say something. I applaud the position of Libyan ambassadors and diplomats who are deciding now to oppose Quaddafi publicly.
MAGARIAFAnd this speaks of the fragility of this regime. It's only been able to maintain its hold on power for so many years using violent repression against its people. And, when people see that the regime is crumbling, they start abandoning ship, basically. And it also speaks of the fact there are many people in the government who are not necessarily directly involved in killings and torture and imprisonment. Their hands are not stained in blood, and they're still on the fence. And that's why I'm saying the statement by President Obama is very, very important.
MAGARIAFIt's not about what effects it's going to have. It's about supporting human rights, which was a pillar in our -- in the U.S. foreign policy, regardless of the consequences. Whether or not it's going to be effective, this is going to send a very strong message to the Middle East and its people. It's going to win their hearts and minds. It's going to undermine al-Qaida and any appeals by terrorist groups. And this is an important strategic policy of the U.S., so we should look at it from that perspective.
REHMNajla, what kind of role is social media playing in this revolution?
ABDURRAHMANWell, within Libya itself, I would have to say not as large of a role as it's played in Egypt, for example. Egyptians in Egypt were a lot more connected to each other, a lot more organized that Libyans in Libya, for sure. Many of the Libyan youth probably found out about Feb. 17, about the planned day of protest that had been announced a few weeks earlier, through Facebook. But my hunch is that it is these social networks, these actual physical social networks, the word-of-mouth, that sort of transferred the information among people.
ABDURRAHMANAnd so at the very -- we, Libyans, watching from the U.S. wondered, really, how many people were going to actually go out onto the streets on Feb. 17. We were wondering -- a lot of us had doubts that people would really go out. Some of us thought that they would. And so what you had was you had small groups converging sort of randomly, groups of people who knew each other in the east. And then, slowly, they started to coalesce into these large groups and snowballed. And, I think, people saw people going out, and then it sort of just built from there. But I don't think social media in the country played such a huge role.
REHMAnd isn't that part of what worries the United States and other Western countries if Quaddafi does finally move out? Who is there to take a position of leadership, Asma?
MAGARIAFWell, you know, there have been references made to tribal connections. And people, I think, focus more on divisions and differences between tribes. And tribal connections in Libya are very significant. These are informal networks of allegiances that basically hold groups of people together. But we've seen that those tribes are actually working together today, and that's an example of a positive element that we, as Libyans, can use and utilize in the post-Quaddafi era. We've seen that in areas that have been "liberated" from Quaddafi in the east.
MAGARIAFThe protesters are very organized. They are protecting public offices and buildings. They are maintaining order. They're preventing people from looting. And, if anything, it's indicative of a fact that people feels so united, this renewed sense of solidarity and unity among Libyans that is unprecedented, and we should definitely take advantage of that.
REHMAsma Magariaf, she is a D.C.-based Libyan, human rights activist. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. And first to Sue in Rochester, N.Y. You're on the air.
SUEHi. Thank you very much. I think the guests should be certain that they say that they are expressing their own opinions because we don't know what is happening behind the scenes diplomatically. And I would also go back to Mr. Obama's speech in Cairo, which I think reset the -- and made very clear what the American's position was in the Middle East, specifically. And we don't see the American's flag being burned over there, and I think that is really one of the reasons. So there may be a lot more than they know that's going on behind the scenes diplomatically within the administration.
WRIGHTWell, look, I'm not sure there are many American flags in Libya to burn anyway. This is -- the interesting thing about all of these upheavals is that they are not, unlike the Iranian Revolution, for example, aimed at foreign policy issues, aimed at cutting off relations with the West or anti-American upheavals. This is very much everywhere about -- whether it's jobs or dignity or respect for free elections, this is about domestic issues. And on the issue of President Obama's Cairo speech, look, it was a good speech -- so was his speech in Indonesia and then in Turkey.
WRIGHTPresident Bush gave a very good speech in 2003 on democracy in which he named specifically Egypt and Saudi Arabia and then did nothing. The real challenge for every administration -- and this dates back 60 years -- has been to take their words beyond speeches and to do something on the ground. And this is where the United States has repeatedly floundered, in part, because we needed some of these countries strategically or economically, and we were unwilling to take actions that might lead to instability.
WRIGHTAnd it's only in the aftermath of Tunisia's uprising and Egypt's uprising that you began to see a position that solidified behind human rights issues, and that, now, President Obama has clearly taken the toughest position of any U.S. president on these issues. He still may have a ways to go in terms of dealing with the specifics of Libya. But in terms of standing on the right side of history, he has made that shift. And it's been echoed throughout the administration.
ABDURRAHMANSo the caller brought up Obama's speech. I've read Obama's address to the -- to the Egyptian people over and over again. And, in it, he affirmed the United States, and I'm quoting directly here, "commitment to governments that reflect the will of the people." He said that all people, American or non-American, want the same things, want to live in dignity, want employment, want education, want freedom, want democracy. He also called for less talk and bold action, the need to act boldly, but we're not seeing any of that now. So I'm wondering now if it was all just sort of hollow rhetoric. And, yes, the caller is right. There probably are things going on behind the scenes, and it's difficult to speculate about those things. But, regardless, we still have to call for action on the part of the U.S. government.
SCHENKERYeah, I think that the president got a little bit of bounce out of Cairo. But by and large, things went back to normal. And we did look at -- I think the administration looked at the interest and said, well, Mubarak's our guy. Even during the Cairo speech, he talked about democracy. He didn't talk about democracy in Egypt. So it -- I think it rang hollow to many people.
REHMSo, now, how are other countries in the region reacting to what's going on in Libya, Robin?
WRIGHTEvery single government in the Middle East is nervous and not just among the Arab countries. It's true of Iran, and, I think, it extends well beyond as well. There is a fundamental shift. The momentum today is on the side of the majority. What we're seeing transpire is not just the transfer from one man to a government, but from elites to the people.
REHMRobin Wright, she is journalist, author, foreign policy analyst at the United States Institute of Peace. Short break and right back for more of your calls, comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd here's a message on Facebook from David who says, "I'd like to hear guests discuss the possibility of a Libyan civil war and whether foreign invention on the anti-Quaddafi region Benghazi would be a possibility and who would intervene."
MAGARIAFOh, well, to be honest with you, I think this uprising has really united many Libyans, as I said earlier. I've been watching videos on YouTube, and my friends, this morning, have been sending me videos their brothers are sending them from Tripoli, telling me, please post it on YouTube. And on these videos, there are these young men in Tripoli who are chanting on the streets last night and support -- in support of Benghazi and saying that Libya is one country. I think Quaddafi, for many decades and years, has attempted to play the card of regional division, and his sons, certainly, two days ago in his nationally televised speech, tried to intimidate people and use scare tactics and say that if you allow the uprising to continue, that the country will be thrown into civil war.
MAGARIAFAnd we're seeing that, actually, many Libyans feel united more than before and have been hearing about truckloads of protesters who are going to the west and trying to save people in Tripoli. So I have high hopes for Libyan people, and those regional divisions have only been created by Quaddafi and maintained by Quaddafi.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Cincinnati, Ohio, from a person who says, "As an African, I am appalled and ashamed to learn that most of these foreign mercenaries came from Sub-Saharan Africa." What -- which countries are these criminals from? Robin.
WRIGHTWe don't know, actually. But the interesting thing is we -- we always think of Quaddafi in terms of the Arab world when, in fact, he has been as much of a presence and nuisance in the African block. He had aspirations of, you know, leading the African world as well. He looks at both sides. And, clearly, because of the instability in Africa, it's much more effective to bring in people who may not have loyalties to the Arab world that others might. And so that's a dynamic that's not original with Quaddafi. The Bahrainis have brought in foreigners as well.
SCHENKERYeah, he was actually leader of the African Union. I mean, he was elected leader of Africa, as it were. So this comes as a little surprise. He's a leading patron of many of these countries in Africa, funding huge public relief projects, mosques, things of that nature, so he's got some resonance in many of these countries.
REHMAll right. To -- let's see -- Jennifer in Tampa, Fla. Good morning. You're on the air.
JENNIFERHi. I've been following the Facebook group of Libyan expats and their discussion of what's going on. A couple of days ago, by the way, they were talking about the mercenaries and asking the same question. And several of them said that the mercenaries were speaking French and they thought that they were from Chad, but I'm not sure about that. But that's what these expats were reporting. I had two questions for the panel. One was about the situation in Tripoli this morning.
JENNIFERWhat I'm hearing again from this group of expats who are getting information from their relatives in Libya is they're talking about kind of a clean-up campaign in Tripoli right now where Quaddafi's forces are trying to get the bodies off the street, trying to remove the graffiti, trying to wash away the blood because, supposedly, the BBC is coming in. And they want to prevent an -- they want to remove all the signs of violence that they can. I wanted to ask if the panel have heard anything about that.
JENNIFERAnd I also wanted to get back to the earlier discussion about genocide, which, as I understand, it is a specifically targeted campaign against a nationality, against an ethnic group, against a group that can be identified in this way. I think that it's very easy in the west for us to use that term about Libya. I mean, it refers to tribal things and things that we consider very ancient. But it seems to me that this conflict is actually much more of a political economic conflict, that it doesn't meet that criteria of genocide.
JENNIFERI certainly agree there's slaughter and bloodshed and horrid things, but I question the use of the term genocide.
REHMAll right. Thank you. Asma.
MAGARIAFWe can debate here the terminology, but, for sure, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, they've all come out saying that what is being committed here could constitute grounds for war crimes in Benghazi and in other cities. Now, why is he being -- why is he using these mercenaries? Because Quaddafi knows that, at some point, Libyan soldiers and forces will not turn against their own people because they will have -- they will face their brothers, their sons, their fathers on the streets. So he is buying the loyalty of these mercenaries, paying them $12,000 per person they kill -- per Libyan citizen they kill -- and unleashing them on these unarmed civilians.
MAGARIAFI have not heard any report about cleaning up the streets, but I wouldn't be surprised. CNN, yesterday, announced that they already got Ben Wedeman on the ground. I heard this morning The New York Times is sending somebody also. So a lot of reporters are going inside the country and trying to report back.
WRIGHTBut they're -- we have to be careful. They're not in Tripoli. They're in Eastern...
WRIGHT...Eastern Libya, which has been, as they say, you know, liberated. So no one that we know of, in terms of Western press, has managed to get into Tripoli. There's a big difference. They've actually driven from Egypt.
REHMAll right. And here's an e-mail from John, asking a question, I think, a great many people are wondering about. He says, "Now that we hear the brutal practices of their leader throughout all these years, how can it be that our government has supported this regime and our so-called news media have ignored it, keeping the American people in the dark all for oil?" David.
SCHENKERWell, I think it's hard to say that the United States government supported Quaddafi. I mean, you know, they killed American troops. We responded with retaliation during the Reagan administration. They blew up a plane. We levied multilateral sanctions against them that were really, I think, crippling. You know, we only made a deal with them in 2003. In any event, it's not us who are getting Libyan oil. It's Italy. It's Spain. Ten percent of the oil goes to China. So it's not really us. I think it's mostly the Europeans who have made this type of a deal.
REHMIt sounds as though you're creating very fine lines. Robin.
WRIGHTWell, look, the truth is we have made the deal with the devil. And we've done this over and over and over, and we have for 60 years in a lot of different places. We have done what is expedient, whether it's economically or strategically. We've been so scared in the aftermath of 9/11 that anybody who would cooperate with us on counterterrorism issues, we were prepared to look the other way when it came to basic human rights in their own countries. And that's a pattern that's been, again, repeated by Republicans and Democratic administrations throughout.
WRIGHTSo that's the real challenge for us right now is to figure out how do you deal with these brutal regimes at a time that historical forces are beginning to move in a different direction and still protect the kind of interests we all have to stabilize, economically, the price of oil shooting through the roof now because of just the fears of potential consequences. And that's where any administration is concerned, particularly given the economic recession. There are no great choices right now.
REHMAnd here's a request for clarification from Roger in Ann Arbor, Mich. He says, "In his televised speech, the son of Quaddafi distinguished among three groups involved in the protests and violence. They include protesters whose desire for democracy, he said, are legitimate and will be addressed, a second, an Islamist group, a third, criminals who were released from prison, given amnesty, who've taken weapons from the military and police stations. I'd like to know from your participants if this is accurate." Asma.
MAGARIAFWell, actually, he did not say that those protesters -- Saif Al Islam Gaddafi, in his speech, did not say that the protesters' claims were legitimate. He said those were innocent, naïve protesters who were trying to "imitate the revolution in Cairo and in Tunis," and that Libya is not Cairo or Tunis, and that they were being used. And, also, he said they were high on drugs and that they were drunk. You know, what he said, actually, in the minds of many Libyans, really shattered any doubt that they had remaining, that this person, Saif Al Islam, was capable of bringing change, prosperity, peace or justice to the country. It only reinforced the perceptions they had of him and his dad.
ABDURRAHMANWell, I would add additional groups that Saif Al Islam actually mentioned besides those. He also implicated foreign elements. He implicated the Arab world. He implicated Al Jazeera and the BBC, the Libyan people, drugs. He mentioned ecstasy specifically on one occasion. He basically implicated or blamed everybody in the world, except for the Gaddafi regime and the Gaddafi family. I mean, this was a last ditch, I think a desperate attempt. I believe that the warnings, the fear mongering, the warnings that Libya would be plunged into 40 years of civil war, that blood would flow -- that rivers of blood -- these were scare tactics.
ABDURRAHMANI believe that he was -- look, when Muammar Gaddafi addressed -- "addressed the Libyan people" -- excuse me -- "the Tunisian people" after Ben Ali fled from Tunis and said that there was nobody better than Ben Ali and criticized the Tunisian people, a lot of Libyans thought he was really addressing the Libyan people. When Saif Al Islam addressed the Libyan people, in my opinion, a lot of it was an address to the West. So talk of Islamist groups, Islamic emirates, statelets, separatist movements -- these aren't ideas that are circulating in Libya. It's playing up on fears on both sides.
REHMInteresting. To Arlington, Va. Muktar, (sp?) you're on the air.
MUKTARYes. Hi, Diane, thank you for taking my call.
MUKTARWhat's happening in Libya is something that every decent person in the world supports, the demonstrators and the protesters. I have -- my concern is that the -- both sides of the conflict, the Quaddafi dictatorship and the protesters have been blaming foreigners, specifically Africans, without really specifying, you know, which country are they from or even showing any substantial evidence of that happening. I'm not disputing that it's happening. There probably are mercenaries.
MUKTARBut we have to remember that there are hundreds of thousands of African refugees in Benghazi and Tripoli, trying to make their way to Europe through Italy, through Libya. And many of them are from my country. I'm from Eritrea. And my feel -- that the xenophobia that is going to be created by statements, like, say, for Islam who blamed Africans as well as foreigners and Egyptians. And the protesters are blaming Africans who are, you know, killing...
MUKTAR(unintelligible) I feel that the -- both sides, or, you know, reasonable people have to come out and say most of the African refugees are as, you know, victims as everybody else has.
REHMAll right. Najla.
ABDURRAHMANWell, he brings up an important point. And David mentioned a few minutes ago that oil played an important role in sort of the weak response that Europe has had, and especially Italy has had, to what's happening in Libya. The other big issue besides oil coming out of Libya is immigration, as this is the problem of illegal immigration. So Gaddafi sort of has one face towards, you know, Africa that's, you know, very adoring and sort of champions the cause of Africa and wants to be "the king of kings of Africa."
ABDURRAHMANWhereas he turns to Europe and he says, I will stop the black (word?) or I will unleash the black (word?) from Africa. So he's really engaging in doublespeak. But he has actual deals with European countries, like Italy, to stop the immigration, and Italy has paid him a lot of money to do that. And so that's another important factor in this -- immigration and oil.
REHMNajla Abdurrahman. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David, you want to add to that?
SCHENKERYeah, you know, Italy paid, like, $40 billion of reparations to the occupation of Libya.
ABDURRAHMANI think it was a lot less than that. I think it was more like five.
MAGARIAFAnd it went directly to Quaddafi and his family, so I'm not sure if that really counts.
SCHENKERNo. Absolutely. Absolutely.
REHMSo the question remains. What do you want to see happen, Asma?
MAGARIAFWhat I would like to see happen is, I think, the international community needs to stand up...
REHMExcuse me. Apparently, Quaddafi is addressing state television now. Go right ahead.
MAGARIAFI think the international community needs to stand up against Quaddafi and stop giving him excuses and unifying under the platform of upholding democracy and humans rights and protecting human rights in countries worldwide, but now in Libya. People need to be allowed to say that, you know, we want to -- the right to self-determination. We want democracy in Libya. We don't want corruption. We don't want deterioration in health care system. And we want to have a stable and secure country so that we can have a stable and secure region as well. The interests of the Libyan people coincide hand in hand with the interests of the U.S., and we have to keep that in mind.
REHMAnd what do you hope to see the United Nations do?
ABDURRAHMANI mean, I hope that they'll act. The thing is, again, everybody saw Saif's speech. Everybody -- he promised to fight till the last bullet. Everybody saw the absurdity that was Gaddafi's address yesterday -- that we spoke about yesterday. When you see that level of delusion, of hubris, of just absolutely not caring what the rest of the world thinks of you, and you combine that with the -- just all the weapons, the military, the security forces. I mean, you're talking about a disaster here. If nobody acts, if nobody really does something, just -- more people are going to be slaughtered with impunity. He is going to fight to the death here.
SCHENKERYeah, this regime is appalling. I think the president -- President Obama should finally say, like he said with Mubarak, it's time to go. This cannot stand.
REHMApparently, he is speaking defiantly as we speak. Robin, what do you believe could happen?
WRIGHTWell, I think Quaddafi, one way or another, is likely to be finished, whether it's politically or physically. This is a man who has taken a stand. It's going to be very difficult to sustain. The momentum is on the side of the people. It could become long and drawn-out. It's unlikely that the international community is going to get involved militarily. It can take punitive measures, whether it's sanctions, cutting off oil purchases, a no-fly zone. There are a number of different options. But can anything be done quickly enough to assist or back, implicitly even, the Libyan people? It's really, at this stage as it was in Tunisia and Egypt, up to the people, more so than ever at any time in history.
REHMRobin Wright, David Schenker, Najla Abdurrahman and Asma Magariaf, thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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