What’s Happening in Libya: A Guide to the Best Coverage
The connection between an anti-Islam film that reportedly sparked this week’s protests in the Mideast and the attack that killed the American ambassador is unclear. Unnamed U.S. officials have told the New York Times and CNN that militants behind the attack may have instigated a protest against the film as a diversion or taken advantage of it as an opportunity.
In a U.S. embassy video uploaded to YouTube in May, Ambassador Stevens introduced himself to the Libyan people. He described his childhood in California and how he fell in love with North Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, and compared the challenges facing Libya to the American Civil War.
The International Herald Tribune published a tribute to Stevens from foreign correspondent Harvey Morris, which included passages from a “catch-up email”Stevens had written to family and friends in July.
Sean Smith, a foreign service officer stationed in Libya who was also killed, was an avid gamer whose death was first reported by his online friends. Yesterday, he wrote a message to an online gaming friend saying he hoped “we don’t die tonight.” He added, “We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.”
In 2006, during the height of the protests against the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, at least 10 people were killed in Benghazi during a large demonstration. The BBC reported at the time that the Italian consulate in Benghazi had been set on aflame and police had fired on demonstrators. Protesters were reportedly angry because an Italian minister had worn a t-shirt featuring the cartoons.
In June, Nicolas Pelham offered an overview of the state of Libya with a focus on outbreaks of tribal violence in the south of the country. The piece also profiles Benghazi, reporting that militias “rule in and around” the city amid a collapse of central authority.
In May, the magazine profiled former prisoners of the Qaddafi regime who are now in positions of power in Libya. Reporter Robert Worth summed up the state of the government: “Libya has no army. It has no government. These things exist on paper, but in practice, Libya has yet to recover from the long maelstrom of Qaddafi’s rule.”
Just last month, the State Department issued a travel warning against U.S. citizens visiting Libya. “The incidence of violent crime, especially carjacking and robbery, has become a serious problem,” the statement read. “In addition, political violence in the form of assassinations and vehicle bombs has increased in both Benghazi and Tripoli."
Libya Democracy Clashes with Fervor for Jihad, New York Times
A tale of two emergent political leaders in the new Libya – one, a former jihadi who has renounced violence and says he wants to promote Islamic values as a politician, and the other a militia leader who was held in Guantanamo for six years and has said he wants a Taliban-style Islamist state.
Qaddafi: King of Kings, The New Yorker
Last November, New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson chronicled the life of Libya’s deposed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and how his 42-year reign devastated the country’s civil and political culture, ending in “a void, a sense that his mania had left room in the country for nothing else.”
HISTORY OF U.S.-LIBYA RELATIONS
U.S.-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gaddafi’s Libya, Human Rights Watch
A new Human Rights Watch report includes interviews with 14 Libyans who had fled the country in the 1980s, most of them members of an anti-Qaddafi Islamist group. The Libyans interviewed said they were detained by the U.S., interrogated as terror suspects, and then sent back to Qaddafi’s Libya “at a time when Libya’s record on torture made clear they would face a serious risk of abuse.” One described being waterboarded by his American captors in Afghanistan.
Files Note Close C.I.A. Ties to Qaddafi Spy Unit, New York Times
Documents found in an abandoned office after Qaddafi’s fall documented what appeared to be regular communications between the CIA and Britain’s MI-6 and Libyan officials about terror suspects, and suggested that prisoners were rendered to Libya for questioning.
As U.S. Rebuilt Ties with Libya, Human Rights Concerns Took Back Seat, ProPublica
The U.S. began normalizing its relations with Libya in 2004, removing the country from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2006. Our explainer from last year covered how oil companies were among the proponents of more engagement with the regime. Evidence also continues to emerge that the U.S. and Qaddafi cooperated on some counterterror efforts, despite the Libyan government’s often inflammatory anti-Western public rhetoric.
Obama’s defense of U.S. role in Libya, MarketWatch
Last March, President Obama defended American involvement in the Libyan conflict, saying: “I firmly believe that when innocent people are being brutalized; when someone like Gadhafi threatens a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region; and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives—then it’s in our national interest to act. And it’s our responsibility. This is one of those times.”