Last updates/edits April 27
Over the weekend, Libyan government forces withdrew from the strategic town of Misrata - or so they said. In the last weeks of the fierce two-month siege, Gaddafi's troops and armor moved into the city, among the civilians. Thus they enjoyed relative immunity from NATO's once omnipotent air attacks. Yet despite this, they proved unable to decisively re-take the city in time.
The last straw is not certain, but the decision to pull out coincided with the NATO decision to fly US drone air-strikes in Misrata. They left, in fact, on April 23, the same day as the first missile fired by a predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). It was claimed by NATO as hitting a rocket battery outside the city, and no other such attacks have been acknowledged in Misrata.
Despite the announced withdrawal from the city's safety, the NATO threat that waits outside the walls, and the new drone additions, shelling continued into the 24th and beyond. It's presumed, obviously, to be from Gaddafi's troops just hanging around out there. By reports, at least 20 more have been killed and perhaps 100 wounded in the last few days in these seemingly duplicitous attacks.
A New Horror: Carbonized in the Shelling
AFP reported on Monday, April 25, a whole new twist to civilian death in Misrata:
http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/nato-bombs-hit-kadhafi-office-rebels-advance-in-misrata-20110425-1dua9.html?skin=text-onlyIn the Mujamaa Tibi hospital, Mohamed al-Fajieh recounted the results of the night's fighting, describing unusually severe wounds and corpses reduced to little more than ashes. There were "completely charred corpses, some of them so badly burned that we aren't sure they are human bodies," he said. "This is the first time we've seen such burns."
According to figures provided by sources at hospitals across Misrata, around a dozen people were killed and at least 20 wounded in the latest fighting. Sources have said those caught up in the violence were all civilians - men, women and young children.
The Guardian posted a harrowing series of Twitter tweets to the same effect, at 10:24 am on the 25th. These had come in over the preceding hours from "the author and award-winning Sunday Times correspondent, Hala Jaber," sending on information called in to her from area hospitals.
#Misrata calling msg1: " Gaddafi toops bombing misurata heavly with rockets from the periphery of city," reported by doctor there. #Libyahttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/apr/25/libya-syria-middle-east-uprising-live
#Misrata calling msg2: doctor reporting "Family arrived -- carbonized babies, mother, father. They were in their car." #Libya
#Misrata calling msg3: Doctors in hospital shocked by the state of children & families brought in dead.The pictures are really awful. #Libya
#Misrata calling msg 4: "People asleep in homes when GF fired mortars randomly. Shababs unable 2 brinbg dead who are still burning." #Libya
#Misrata calling msg 5; "The head of a baby brought in without his torso. Carbonized family so badly burnt placed in a bag 2gether" #Libya
Indeed, people need to see these images. Considering the above, it sounds like this strange flaming death struck out all over town, with many victims all at once. It's bizarre. All that Jaber shows, however, is three photographs, of a single "carbonized family" of three, by the captions. Image links and captions:
1) Please be warned extremely graphic picture of family totally carbonized in tonight's shelling.
2) Extremely graphic please be warned, but I believe they must be seen. Father of family totally carbonized as did his child and wife.
3) Eight year old Abdulnoor Muftah Abdulnoor killed tonight in Misrata.
I asked Hala to clarify some details via e-mail, and she kindly responded. She says Little Abdelnoor is not a member of the same family, so any issues with him (like seeming to peek at the camera) are irrelevant to this study.
The father of the charred family, and no one else, is shown in both of the other photos. That is, there's only one victim of this new horror shown, with the family at large only described. She also tells me that the family in question could be of three to five members. I'm not sure if this ambiguity is from the state of the remains or from some unclear communication.
But the father, as given, looks like a victim of the fires of hell. His left arm is charred to the bone, and his right shoulder exploded out in a boiling mass. Parts of his head have caved in, it seems, and his torso looks like orange styrofoam covered with a thin black crust. By the man's leg position and general toasted rigidity, I don't believe he was seated at death. So if this was the family in the car, he must have been alive long enough to get out of the car and stand up.
What class of weapon could do this?
Carbonized in the shelling, he was. That never happened before, but now it's happened to him and quite a few other people. Why now all of a sudden? Right when Predator drone strikes had begun over Misrata? Because these little punks are known to carry a missile called hellfire (how apropos for the "Great Satan" to use against Muslims!), and those do just about this to people. Time magazine reporting on a US drone strike against al Qaeda organizers in Yemen:
He was not just any man, it seems. U.S. officials think he was Kamal Derwish, a Yemeni American cited in federal court papers as the ringleader of an alleged terrorist sleeper cell in Lackawanna, N.Y., outside Buffalo. The putative American in al-Harethi's entourage traveled under the name Ahmed Hijazi, an alias used by Derwish. A positive identification may be difficult: the 5-ft.-long Hellfire turned the six people in the car into a mass of carbonized body parts. "They never knew they were in our sights," a U.S. official said. "And I can assure you, they never knew what hit them."http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1003721,00.html
(This description also argues against the father being packed into a car with others at the time)
A highly critical (and probably slanted) report on UAV use gives a third-hand account that includes young "collateral damage":
The social worker recalled arriving at a home that was hit, in Miranshah, at about 9.00pm (May 2009)... The drone strike had killed three people. Their bodies, carbonized, were fully burned. They could only be identified by their legs and hands. One body was still on fire when he reached there. Then he learned that the charred and mutilated corpses were relatives of his who lived in his village, two men and a boy aged seven or eight. They couldn’t pick up the charred parts in one piece. Finding scraps of plastic they transported the body parts away from the site. Three to four others joined in to help cover the bodies in plastic and carry them to the morgue. But these volunteers and nearby onlookers were attacked by another drone strike, 15 minutes after the initial one. Six more people died. One of them was the brother of the man killed in the initial strike.http://www.for.org.uk/files/drones-conv-killing.pdf
Here, if Hala Jaber's description is true, we have what might be our first family or families and possibly others, charred by hellfire in Libya on day three of the robot war there. People scoffed when Deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim called the drone decision a "dirty game" and said it would "be another crime against humanity."
On the Other Hand...
I have the feeling there's something else strange going on here that will be playing out in the next couple of days. The father's posture is strange - his whole left side is burnt to a crisp, yet his left arm is reaching for his right shoulder, rather than protecting his face. That exploded mess over there could be consistent with a previous injury he was concerned with at death, only to be torched later on, causing it to boil out like that. I'm not an expert in these things, but I can see a case to be made that he was dead before being carbonized.
There are many other victims reported, and the sheer number of such cases - probably more than a dozen going by the reports - is strange given the single UAV strike acknowledged. There might well have been other strikes not admitted, but public perceptions and civilian casualties are well-known factors from UAV usage in Taliban country. One would expect the coalition to begin this campaign with at least as much care as usual. I find it hard to visualize dozens of strikes killing whole families and others unless that's what they were aiming for.
These numbers and the purely civilian makeup, including children (the smaller briquettes), suggest someone intent on framing the drones had perhaps gotten their own hellfre missiles, or equivalent, and blasted some innocents. Or managed to identify a target that would be struck by them, and stuffed it with civilian corpses.
The Gaddafi regime has already been accused of this in this war, and it is the obvious beneficiaries of such a ruse. Even if the world media refused to buy the trick (they would refuse), the Libyan people might, and might then move to end this war, at least in the west, with an enraged human wave on Misrata ... or something like that.
But conversely yet again, the outside world (with their fighter jets and such) will be buying something else. And it will be perhaps the gravest allegation yet - Gaddafi is carbonizing families just to give the West a black eye. The very fact that the trick wouldn't work on us, and could only backfire, might suggest that someone is framing them to seem to be framing the coalition. That would never be widely believed, and admittedly, it is convoluted, and requires a sophistication of thought the rebels haven't shown much of yet. But it does fit with the pattern I've seen of Tripoli being framed for horrific things, in this war and before.
We need facts here, now more than ever. Solid, non-tweeted, facts about when and where and how these people died. Somehow I doubt we'll get them.
Update April 27: Below I will link to any articles discussing this curious turn. So far, I seem to be at least two steps ahead of the crowd, and no one else I can find has put it together yet.