In March, President Barack Obama, along with other western leaders and mainstream western media outlets, claimed that intervention was necessary to prevent a bloodbath in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city. Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organisation, subsequently contradicted this appraisal of the situation. Alan J. Kuperman, political scientist and professor at the University of Texas, argued there was no evidence Gaddafi was targeting civilians. “Civilians are caught in the middle,” he said. “We didn’t stop a bloodbath but we are prolonging and perpetuating the suffering of civilians in Libya.” So who was right?
Right from the outset it was claimed that Gaddafi’s government was targeting residential neighbourhoods in Benghazi from the air. This created an atmosphere of panic and outrage and formed part of the pretext for NATO’s intervention. Strange that Russian intelligence satellites and investigations by independent observers later revealed no evidence of such attacks. Just different interpretations of the same facts?
As the insurrection got underway, British Foreign Secretary William Hague claimed that Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela. No apology for this unsubstantiated conjecture was forthcoming when cameras found the undaunted Libyan leader in the streets of Tripoli. Was this part of a campaign of confusion? Had Hague been attempting to persuade Gaddafi’s supporters that they had been abandoned and betrayed?
In April, western media was rife with stories alleging that Gaddafi was handing out Viagra to his troops in an apparent effort to promote rape as a weapon of war. Independent researchers sought to corroborate the claim but to no avail. They could find no evidence for it whatsoever. Donatella Rovera, a senior researcher for Amnesty International, said: “We have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped”. The accusation first surfaced after NATO had destroyed tanks advancing on Benghazi. Ms Rovera said that rebels in Benghazi had shown journalists packets of Viagra, claiming they came from the burned-out tanks. Strange that the packets were not charred. Truth or fabrication?
As the year wore on, the media reported that areas had been “captured” by the rebels, when in fact they appear to have been blitzed from the air by NATO rockets.
Then, on August 24, the BBC breakfast show purported to show footage of celebrations from a liberated Green Square in Tripoli. In fact it was footage of Anna Hazare supporters waving Indian flags. Just a mistake? Just a coincidence that the traditional Libyan flag and the Indian flag look vaguely similar?
They say truth is stranger than fiction. But it’s getting more and more difficult to know which is which. Is the history we’re witnessing real or fabricated? Or is it a bewildering tangle of the two?
It’s ironic: our screens now display images clearer than ever before, but the portrayal of events like the Libyan crisis has never been more blurred and distorted.