My friend Aisha, a mother of five from a small village south of Tripoli, was in floods of tears as she told me how she had seen a rebel holding up a pair of blood-stained shorts following the destruction of three tanks and their accompanying infantry.
She feared that one of her sons, a 17-year-old Libyan army conscript called Khaled, may have been among those killed by missiles before victims’ bodies were cut to pieces by a mob and their clothes displayed as macabre trophies.
“They went to behead and mutilate – they have no mercy,” said Aisha, highlighting the extreme hatred that is perhaps unique to civil wars.
Whatever your views on the mission being carried out by UN-led forces, this sinister mix of hi-tech air strikes and base savagery should play no part in it.
It is for this principal reason that Turkish plans for a ceasefire cannot come soon enough.
Prime minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s suggestion that what started out as a wholly humanitarian effort is deteriorating into a “second Iraq” or “another Afghanistan” is entirely correct.
Cruise and Tomahawk missiles do not bring peace to a country any more than AK-47-wielding paramilitaries expressing vague affiliations to overseas governments. Atrocities have certainly been committed by Gaddafi’s army as it fights to put down the rebellion, but the killing on both sides is unremitting.
Rather than hitting forces directly threatening civilian populations – as they pledged to – western air forces, and particularly the French, are clearly shooting up grounded aircraft and isolated troops. Many are, like Khaled, young men from decent families whose hatred of the west will only be intensified by the killing.
Gaddafi’s soldiers are not an ideologically motivated elite in the mould of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard, they are largely made up of young Libyans carrying out orders.
Erdogan, like many in the Arab world, is horrified by the west once more leading an onslaught against an Muslim state without providing time to consider its long-term implications.
It is for this reason that he wants to involve Nato, the Arab League and the African Union in a settlement that will allow the democratic rights and liberties of the Libyan people to flourish, rather than their fighting abilities. Now that the feared siege of Benghazi is no longer a possibility, and the no-fly zone is established, a period of intense negotiation is long overdue .
In the short term, this may mean that Gaddafi has to play a part in this transition to open government, but this would be far preferable to the state of war.
Erdogan’s challenge to unilateral British, French and American military intervention may create divisions within Nato but an end to the killing cannot come a moment too soon.
Brian Whitaker: Negotiation would play into Gaddafi’s hands
Amid repeated claims that Libya could turn into another Iraq or Afghanistan, there are growing calls for a negotiated solution. Such talk at the moment serves no purpose, apart from throwing a lifeline to the Gaddafi family and helping them maintain their grip on the country, or at least some of it.
Calls for negotiation are predicated on the idea that the situation in Libya will reach a political/military impasse. It might do, but it hasn’t yet – so there is no need to start behaving as if it had.
A more likely scenario, though, is that the Gaddafi regime will implode suddenly and fairly soon – in a matter of weeks rather than months or years. We should at least wait to see if that is what happens. Hardly anyone in Libya seriously believes in the leader’s eccentric Green Book ideology, and most of those who currently support him can be expected to abandon him once they perceive that he is on the way out.
So the effect of negotiations at this stage would be to help the Gaddafis salvage something. That certainly seems to be the aim of the leader’s son, Saif al-Islam, who has reportedly been trying to interest the US, Britain and Italy in a “transition plan”. Not surprisingly, Saif’s plan envisages Saif taking over from his father for a period of two to three years, while Libya is transformed from a revolutionary jamahiriyya into a liberal democracy. In the meantime, all the Gaddafis – despite their crimes over the years – would be granted immunity from prosecution.
Regardless of what happens to Saif’s reported plan, these are the sort of demands that would inevitably arise on Gaddafi’s side if negotiations got under way – and there is no reason why anyone should agree to them or even consider them seriously.
Whether or not we agree with the decision by the UN security council to intervene militarily to protect civilians, Libyans – along with the people of Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and elsewhere – must be allowed as much scope as possible to determine their own future, with a minimum of foreign interference.
The curious part is that these calls for negotiations seem to be coming mainly from people who declare themselves opposed to intervention – at least the kind of intervention initiated by the security council.
What they don’t seem to realise is that negotiations at this stage, organised by outsiders, would be a far more blatant interference in Libya’s internal politics than anything the UN has approved.