US Military Raid in Libya Fuels Growing Instability

October 8th, 2013 - by admin

Jason Ditz / & John Glazer / – 2013-10-08 00:51:50


US Raid Fuels Growing Instability in Libya
Jason Ditz /

(October 7, 2013) — Over the weekend, US ground troops marched into the Libyan capital city of Tripoli and carried off a captive Libyan citizen at gunpoint. No prior notice was given to the Libyan government.

This reflects the Obama Administration’s appetite for unilateral operations and military-run renditions, but inside Libya the much, much bigger concern is the increased instability and vulnerability of the post-Gadhafi state.

Having been installed in the wake of NATO’s war of regime change against Gadhafi, the new Libyan government has faced growing internal strife, and myriad problems, including months of fights with different factions over oil revenue that have ground materially the country’s whole economy to a halt.

The new Libyan military has suffered several internal defeats, deployed to send troops to break up tribal fighting and often routed by better armed tribal factions. They ability to control anything outside of a few major cities was already in serious doubt, and security even in those cities has been a huge problem.

Internal perceptions of the government were crumbling fast, and the US operation just underscores their impotence, and may well set the stage for the government’s collapse and new rounds of battles for autonomy in different Libyan provinces.

Kerry Insists Libya Raid Was ‘Legal,’ Warns Against Criticism
Jason Ditz /

(October 7, 2013) — Revelations continue to emerge on the weekend US raid of the Libyan capital city of Tripoli and the kidnapping of Abu Anas al-Liby, accused by the administration for a role in 1998 embassy bombings. The story doesn’t sound any better.

Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that the US raid was carried out without any prior notice to the Libyan government, which has expressed opposition to having a foreign military march in and haul off one of their citizens at gunpoint.

Kerry sought to defend the raid as “legal,” though the standard by which that would be the case is totally unclear, and Kerry’s defense basically began and ended with the word “legal,” instead warning preemptively against public criticism of the operation, saying “I think it’s important for people in the world not to sympathize with alleged terrorists.”

Though officials haven’t specifically said if the Somali operation involved consultation with the self-proclaimed Somali government, a unilateral operation in that case would theoretically be less controversial, since the area of operation is totally outside of that government’s control.

The same cannot be said about Tripoli, however, and if the current legal opinions of the administration are that they can use the military to invade foreign countries to carry out arrests at will, it may be a dramatic shift in traditional extradition polities.

‘Capture Missions’ and the Privileges of the World’s Policeman
John Glaser /

(October 7, 2013) — Many commentators are welcoming the news that President Obama ordered special operations forces into Somalia and Libya to “capture” suspected terrorists because at least he didn’t drone bomb them instead.

Granted, capturing suspects with the intention of trying them in federal courts (at least eventually) is a welcome step back from what has been Obama’s predominant tactic for handling terror suspects abroad — to bomb them secretly with remote-controlled planes. But Obama’s newfound love for capture missions has its own problems.

The JSOC mission in Somalia failed, as US troops retreated without nabbing the target. But in Libya, US troops grabbed Abu Anas al-Libi, accused of involvement in the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and put him on a US warship for interrogation.

The test case for this is Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame [1], a Somali who was caught in the Gulf of Aden back in 2011 and held on the USS Boxer and interrogated for two months without a access to a lawyer or being informed of his rights.

Writing in The New Republic at the time, Joseph Margulies, a professor of law and author of Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power, argued [2] Warasme’s detention was “illegal.”

Not so long ago, just as we would have been shocked at the thought of indefinite detention or trial by military commission, we would have been scandalized at the idea that a defendant could be interrogated for nearly three months before being indicted and brought to court. The former avoids a real trial altogether, while the latter makes the trial a sham. Both are illegal, and it is not evident to me which is worse.

There is another reason this capture-him-and-put-him-on-a-boat tactic Obama is adopting should be troubling: in order to buy into its legitimacy, one must accept America’s self-righteous declaration of itself as the policeman of the world and to bestow rights and privileges on the United States that no other nation possesses.

Administration officials and others have claimed al-Libi’s capture and detention is legal under the 2001 AUMF. “Assuming [al-Libi] has not since abandoned his role in al Qaeda, then, he is almost certainly covered by the AUMF,” writes [3] Marty Lederman, a former senior Justice Department official.

But the AUMF hardly grants the power to take police actions on any corner of the planet without regard to national sovereignty, especially when the target is wanted for crimes committed before 9/11 (thus inapplicable under the AUMF). As Margulies wrote, it’s “silly to suppose the AUMF and the laws of war are anything other than legal fig leaves in the current controversy.”

Robert Chesney over at Lawfare also argues [4] that the AUMF covers the capture and detention of al-Libi. But that’s difficult coming from him given that it was only back in May that he argued [5] while the AUMF is the most immediate official justification for the programs of indefinite detention and borderless drone strikes, the president has acquired so much unprecedented power since 9/11 that the AUMF isn’t even necessary anymore.

According to Chesney, “the current shadow war approach to counterterrorism doesn’t really require an armed-conflict predicate — or an AUMF, for that matter.” So, apparently the president holds inherent, unchecked power to roam the world with JSOC and drones.

For what it’s worth, former Bush lawyer Jack Goldsmith argues [6] “it would be an unprecedented expansion of Article II authority if the scope and scale of current military and paramilitary operations outside Afghanistan today were justified under Article II,” instead of the notoriously broad AUMF.

And finally, Obama isn’t really one to talk about the powers granted by the AUMF. In a speech in May, he said [7] he “look[s] forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.”

“This war, like all wars,” he said, “must end.” Right…on someone else’s watch, I guess.

“The al-Liby operation also signals that the ‘battlefield’ of the war on terror, as the United States sees it, is broadening,” writes [8] Shane Harris at Foreign Policy. A far cry from ending.

Beyond the legal justifications, I find it hard to believe the core argument for these kill-capture missions is anything more than “Because we’re America.” Libya called the mission a “kidnapping” and demanded clarification.

If some other country used force on US soil without Washington’s permission to capture a suspect, you can bet that would be the minimum of our reaction. This simple thought experiment renders the whole justification as a “might makes right” kind of thing — as opposed to a “legal” kind of thing.


[1] Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame:

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