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Revolutionary Justice in Benghazi

By Matthew Yglesias on March 24, 2011 at 9:59 am

"Revolutionary Justice in Benghazi"

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Interesting report from David Zucchino in the LA Times about revolutionary justice behind rebel-held lines in Libya:

For a month, gangs of young gunmen have roamed the city, rousting Libyan blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa from their homes and holding them for interrogation as suspected mercenaries or government spies. [...] “We know who they are,” said Abdelhafed Ghoga, the chief opposition spokesman. He called them “people with bloodstained hands” and “enemies of the revolution.” [...] One young man from Ghana bolted from the prisoners queue. He shouted in English at an American reporter: “I’m not a soldier! I work for a construction company in Benghazi! They took me from my house … ” [...] The Ghanaian was one of 25 detainees from Chad, Niger, Sudan, Mali and Ghana described by opposition officials as mercenaries, though several of them insisted they were laborers. The officials declined to say what would become of them. [...] One of the accused shown to journalists was Alfusainey Kambi, 53, a disheveled Gambian wearing a bloodstained sport shirt and military fatigue trousers. He said he had been dragged from his home and beaten by three armed men who he said also raped his wife. A dirty bandage covered a wound on his forehead.

Now who knows. Maybe Alfusainey Kambi really was a pro-Gaddafi mercenary fighter who just happens to have gotten beaten up after capture by rebel forces who decided to rape his wife. Or maybe rebel fighters just went on a kind of anti-foreigner pogrom randomly beating people up and raping their wives. Perhaps most plausibly of all, the very real issue of pro-Gaddafi mercenaries from other parts of Africa helped spark a broader anti-foreigner pogrom in which some innocent women are getting raped. As Mao Zedong observed long ago, a revolution is not a dinner party and these things happen. Then again, the Chinese revolution led to the deaths of tens of millions of people. But the American revolution in its violent stage also featured various acts of mob violence and injustice and it turned out more or less okay in the end.

The point is that there’s something a bit head in the sand about proclaiming this a simple “humanitarian” undertaking. Showing up with bags of rice in a famine zone is a humanitarian undertaking. Sending in some Marines to help guard the trucks full of bags of rice is a plausible military element of a humanitarian undertaking. What we’re doing is providing tactical air support to one faction in a civil war in order to help them prevail against a rival faction that has much more heavy military equipment. This may or may not produce some net humanitarian benefits in the end, but it’s hard for me to know how you’d make an accurate forecast about that one way or another.

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