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Libya: mercenaries fighting on both sides?

We've already noted claims that mercenaries recruited by an Israeli firm are fighting for the embattled regime of Moammar Qaddafi in Libya. Now a Reuters report of June 3 cites unnamed officials saying that "private contractors" are hiring mercenaries for the rebels. Although the officials asserted that no actual US government funds are involved, the report cites a classified "covert action finding" signed by Presiden Barack Obama earlier this year as authorizing the CIA to conduct a wide spectrum of operations in support of the rebels. From the report:

Contractors working with the Benghazi-based rebels may have come from or been recruited through private military companies in countries such as France and Britain, which are playing the most active front-line roles in the NATO campaign.

Last month, four French nationals who had been working in Libya for private security firm Secopex were freed after apparently being held in Benghazi for several days by rebel forces. A fifth member of the group, former paratrooper Pierre Marziali, was killed at the time of their capture.

While there were allegations that Secopex was working for Gaddafi’s government, the company issued a statement saying that to the contrary, it was in contact with rebels. Secopex said its personnel had been offering bodyguard services to businessmen and were trying to establish a corridor for safe passage between Benghazi and Cairo.

A representative of the Harbour Group, a Washington public relations firm that represents the rebels' National Transitional Council, said he had “no information” about private contractors working with Gaddafi’s opponents.

There is reason for skepticism about this report, even beyond the reliance on anonymous sources. If these Secopex guys were fighting for the rebels, why were they arrested by the rebel government? Why would there be confusion as to which side they are on? And given that the rebel movement in the east has such popular support that young and poorly trained volunteers are going into battle armed only with knives, why would mercenaries be needed? Well, most obviously, to bring in some guys that are well-trained and well-armed. But it also speaks to the probability that the imperial powers don't fully trust the rebels they are ostensibly backing. The imperative to control the political trajectory of the Arab Spring is, as we have argued, what is really driving the Libya intervention. The mercenaries might be there as much to police the rag-tag rebel army as to bring some military expertise to the fight against Qaddafi.

Meanwhile, the air-strikes on Qaddafi's rural retreat outside Tripoli (LAT, June 8) reveal more clearly than ever the de facto NATO aim of regime change—which is, for better or worse, far beyond the scope of the UN resolution that approved military action back in March. If the rebels ever really are installed in Tripoli, imperialism will hand them a political bill, and we will see if they agree to pay it by instating neoliberal policies that deliver Libya's labor and resources to international capital. We will also see how the Libyan people react—and therein lies the potential for things to get really interesting.

Read this as you will, but BBC News reports that International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo says there is evidence that Qaddafi ordered the rape of hundreds of women as a weapon of fear against rebel forces. He said he was looking at possible evidence that Qaddafi-loyalist forces had been given pharmaceuticals such as Viagra to enhance their sex drive. Last month, Moreno-Ocampo asked ICC judges to approve arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanussi.

We don't know what Moreno-Ocampo's evidence is, although there have certainly been credible claims of rape against Qaddafi's forces. The sooner this guy is out of the way, the sooner the political stage in Libya will be cleared for the moment of reckoning between a revolutionary movement and Western imperialism.

Soon, we hope.

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