Monday, March 21, 2011

Helping or Bombing the Libyans? And who is defending people of Bahrain?

AS the first civilian casualties from NATO air strikes are reported from Libya, the 'coalition of the killing' (as a friend calls it) is uncertain or finding it difficult to agree a li(n)e about its aims, unable to count on the support it claims, and coming under open criticism.

Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox says the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his government are legitimate military targets, his Foreign Office colleague William Hague and US allies are more circumspect. and British commanders seem to have been caught unawares, having said that going after Gaddafi was not part of their remit from the UN. Chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, said Gaddafi was "absolutely not" a target. "It is not allowed under the UN resolution and it is not something I want to discuss any further," he told the BBC.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described the UN resolution as "defective and flawed," telling workers at a Russian ballistic missile factory. that "It allows everything. It resembles medieval calls for crusades."

President Dmitry Medvedev on the other hand blames the air strikes on Gaddafi's behaviour, and says though Russia abstained it did not use its veto because there was nothing wrong with the UN resolution. But Medvedev did call for restraint. Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Lukashevich regretted the attacks on Libya, which he said had gone well beyond the UN resolution, and brought civilian casualties.

Russian officials and media are concerned that NATO air strikes are going beyond what the UN called for. They are also saying that US overall command brings fears of a repeat of the Iraq war, when US commanders - who now say they were "duped" by fake intelligence - sought and accepted such reports because they wanted to go to war. Yet this time in the United States, polls show up to 65 per cent of the public against US intervention.

Important NATO members Germany and Turkey are both against the attack.

Most important, Arab League general secretary Amr Moussa, who is also a candidate for the Egyptian presidency took his distance from what the British and allied forces are doing. "What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians."

Libya's anti-Gaddafi rebels may have hoped for help from Tunisia and Egypt, but it now looks as though the only Arab participation the British government and its allies can count on will be from governments in the Gulf, and though there is talk of Qatari jets - hardly a major reinforcement - could be mostly financial.


What kind of "democracy" or progress do these states represent? As we have seen, Saudi forces entered Bahrain last week to help its ruler suppress his people. Opposition leaders were rounded up. People who were wounded or injured were afraid to go to the main hospital in Manama, the capital, which had been taken over by government forces.

And it's not hard to see why. Here's a report from Ben Farmer in the Sunday Telegraph, a conservative paper.

'Security forces burst into operating theatres, beat staff and searched from ward to ward for doctors according to the first detailed accounts of a violent government crackdown at the hospital in Manama. Opposition leaders in the small island kingdom described the attack by security troops as a "crime against humanity" and the United Nations said it seemed to have broken international laws.

Earlier, helicopter gunships went into action against the crowds in the square.

Within minutes the first casualties were ferried to the hospital as a pall of black smoke rose above the square and protesters camped near the hospital gates fled inside. But the tide of wounded was abruptly halted ended minutes later in what the medical worker said was a well-planned move by the government to isolate the hospital and prevent the wounded gaining entry.

"We still could hear the shooting, we could hear the helicopter gunships, we could smell the tear gas being wafted by the wind, but there was nobody coming in. Then we saw tanks had cordoned the hospital and we understood why."

While patients were not allowed in, staff were also not allowed out.

"We were sitting there, we knew our services were needed, but there was nothing we could do, we were sitting twiddling our thumbs.

"We knew there had been injuries and we knew the time when we can save lives was passing.

"We didn't know what happened to them, if they are out on the street, if they took them somewhere else or they finished them off."

Across the island small medical centres which are little more than GP's clinics were ringing Salmaniya for help saying they had been overwhelmed by those suffering injuries they could not treat.

Two senior consultants, a nurse and assistant asked permission to take an ambulance to one overwhelmed centre, but were stopped by Ministry of Interior police just outside the gates.

"They took them out, put then on their knees and started beating them up," said the worker, who witnessed the scene and said the victims suffered broken fingers.

"They humiliated them, insulted them. One of the doctors he wasn't beaten so harshly, because they wanted to extract information from him. They treat us as terrorists."

That night the staff and those protesters who had taken refuge, had little to eat. "The patients were not able to get anyone to feed them. There were so many problems there. There were no staff in the kitchen," said another worker at the hospital.

"There were not enough medical staff and they had to deal with emergencies only. One emergency doctor had not slept for four days."

Then, as staff subsisted on biscuits from vending machines and tried to sleep during the early hours, came the moment the had dreaded as the security forces began to storm the building.

"We all had the feeling they would come in," said the first hospital worker. "It was an army operation, a military operation and they strike, they cordon, besiege and then they invade."

But even though staff had foreseen the assault, they were still shocked by its ferocity when it came. Nobody was shot at. But soldiers with their faces covered and their weapons drawn quickly entered the hospital, calling by name for doctors who had outspokenly criticised the regime's use of force.

"All of them had their faces covered as if they were anti-terrorist commandoes. They had special forces written on their shoulders. Those who spoke had Bahraini accents."

Surgeons in operating theatres were stopped mid procedure and ordered to take off their masks. Once inside the soldiers took charge of wards and searched and questioned staff, though did not use their weapons. Cameras were confiscated and locked doors were knocked in.

At least one doctor, Ali Al-Ekri, was arrested for criticising conditions in the hospital.

With the military in full control, all but a skeleton staff were told to leave on Thursday evening. Colleagues had since told the medical worker that all the patients injured in protest clashes had been removed from the hospital on Friday - some from intensive care. It was unclear where they had been taken.

Many were so grievously wounded that Salmaniya - now half empty - was the only place in the kingdom which could treat them.

"There are some horrific injuries, some requiring intensive care," the hospital worker said. "We don't know where these people are now." He said he now feared for his safety for revealing details of the attack.

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