Imperial Massacres

by Alexander Cockburn, October 28, 2011

Denied post mortem imagery of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, the world now has at its disposal photographs of Muammar Qaddafi, dispatched with a bul­let to the head after being wounded by NATO’s ground troops outside Sirte. Did the terminal command, Finish Him Off, come via cell phone from the US State Department whose Secretary, Hillary Clinton, had earlier called for his death, or by dint of local initiative? At all events, since Qaddafi was a prisoner at the time of his exe­cution, it was a war crime and I trust that in the years of her retirement Mrs. Clinton will be detained amid some foreign vacation and handed a subpoena.

My friend and neighbor in Petrolia, Joe Paff, wrote a response to a dreadful story about Qaddafi’s killing on Yahoo’s site, commenting “This kind of gloating is bound to come back and bite your butt. Imagine how many people in the world would like to see Netanyahu or Obama dragged from their hiding holes and tortured. It will take about six months for everyone to regret the ‘new’ Libyan ‘democrats’.”

Yahoo’s initial electronic response was to write to Joe, “Oops! Try again.” So he checked “post” a second time. Yahoo then rewrote his comment, complete with misspellings, stripped of any mention of Netanyahu or Obama, and “posted” it, as “This is the kind of gloating that comes back and bites you on the butt. Just imagine how many peopel in the world would like to see Ameri­cans dragged through the streets and tortured to death.” As Joe wrote me, “Just another small episode in artificial intelligence and the present taboos.”

I suppose the first triumphalist imperial post mortem photo of such an execution in my lifetime I can recall is that of Che Guevara, killed on the CIA’s orders at La Higuera in Bolivia on October 9, 1967. Perhaps Che’s fin­est hour came with his leadership of the Cuban anti-imperial forces deployed in Africa, defeating South Afri­can and white mercenary forces in one of the greatest acts of revolutionary solidarity the world has ever seen.

Qaddafi, even in his latterday accomodationist phase, was always a bitter affront to Empire — a “devil” figure in a tradition stretching back to the Mahdi, whose men killed General Gordon in the Sudan in 1885. I remember fondly the leftists and Republicans who trekked to Trip­oli in the 1960s to appeal to Qaddafi for funds for their causes, some of them returning amply supplied with money and detailed counsel.

Dollar for dollar I doubt Qaddafi has a rival in any assessment of the amount of oil revenues in his domain actually distributed for benign social purposes. Derision is heaped on his Green Book, but in intention it can surely stand favorable comparison with kindred Western texts. Anyone labeled by Ronald Reagan “This mad dog of the Middle East” has an honored place in my personal pantheon.

Since we’re on the topic of imperial executions, let us not forget October 17, 1961. Last week saw the fifti­eth anniversary of the massacre in Paris of hundreds of Algerians by the French riot police. Called by the FLN, the Algerians had mustered from their neighborhoods and bidonvilles to central Paris in support of the Algerian war of liberation, then six years old. Algeria, remember, was, in formal terms, a French department.

Centering on the Charonne metro station, the French riot police attacked with lethal savagery, battering and shooting peaceful demonstrators to death and throwing their bodies into the Seine. Corpses were later dragged from the river as far downstream as Le Havre. These days the death count is reckoned as at least 300, some of the victims murdered in detention centers around Paris. The French Interior Minister of the time in De Gaulle’s government was Maurice Papon. In 1981 , the French weekly newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné published an arti­cle accusing Papon of having collaborated with the Germans during World War II. Papon was officially charged with crimes against humanity in 1983. His trial for overseeing the deportation of 1,690 Jews to a deten­tion camp in the Paris suburb of Drancy did not take place until 1997. Papon’s role in the massacre of October 17, 1961, and indeed details of the massacre itself — long suppressed in French public memory — surfaced during his trial.

In February 1962 there was a huge protest demonstra­tion about the October 17 massacre in Paris. Joe Paff and his wife Karen were recently in Paris, stay­ing in the 20th at a hotel owned by French Algerians. The owner pointed to a photo of himself in the vanguard of the demo, remembering how he was astonished at the number of photographers eager to take his picture. Only years later did he realize that the man with whom he had linked arms was Jean-Paul Sartre.

The massacre has now been reconstructed in a docu­mentary by Yasmina Adi, Ici on noie les Algériens, “Here one drowns Algerians,” words painted in red on the parapet of one of the bridges over the Seine.

5 Responses to Imperial Massacres

  1. Chuck Becker Reply

    October 30, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    Well, I have agree with your Petrolia friend, Joe Paff. No nation that starts with the spectacle of the deposed leader being beaten, according to some media stories sodomized with a baton, and summarily shot in the head … no nation that starts like that has much to look forward to in the immediate future.

    America, by comparison, was guilty of the passive sin of inheriting the the institution of chattel slavery of African established under British colonial rule. It took us the bloodiest war in our history, with piles of dead bodies, dead brother upon dead brother, to atone for that sin. Libya is screwed.

  2. Harvey Reading Reply

    October 31, 2011 at 11:45 am

    “Passive sin? That’s a stretch, even for an apologist and blame-shifter like you. Guess next you’ll be telling us those kindly U.S. slave owners were forced into their gruesome way of life.

  3. Dennis Scoles Reply

    October 31, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    This all sounds nice but Gaddafi got what he wanted, “to die in Libya.” To accuse Ms. Clinton of any wrong doing shows somebody is smoking some bad weed. The rest of the article simply rambles on about some sort of historical montage of events that is supposed to tie America to some kind of responsibility of which we had nothing to do with. Sure, he was probably killed while in captivity but by his own people whom he has tortured and murders in his 42 years. Some might even call it Karma or “what goes around, comes around.” Whatever. Like Saddam, Osama and the rest of that type of crowd, won’t find any honor in my pantheon!!

  4. Rick Weddle Reply

    January 30, 2016 at 7:22 am

    re: The mideast unpleasantnesses…

    Notice on whose ground these difficulties are historically imposed. See the odd coincidence of these ongoing, accelerating tragedies, taking place where there are vast petroleum resources, or routes for pipelines therefor.

    Get a clue about how this is being accomplished, and the growing pile of Consequences.

    Get a grip on reality, somewhere.

  5. Jim Updegraff Reply

    January 30, 2016 at 8:01 am

    The important thing is to keep the oil flowing – does any care about the affected people.?

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