The Libyan government faces international condemnation for a vicious assault on the growing uprising against the four-decade rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. On Monday, Libyan troops and pro-government mercenaries attacked a large demonstration in the capital of Tripoli. Armed forces hunted down protesters in the streets, while Libyan warplanes and helicopters fired on them from above. The violence comes amidst more signs that Gaddafi’s government is losing ground. On Monday, several Libyan officials broke with Gaddaffi, including the justice minister and the country’s delegation to the United Nations. For more, we are joined by Libyan American activist Abdulla Darrat. “It really shows what over the last 40 years has become a country dominated by the megalomania of this one human being, who cares more for his self and his power than he cares for anybody in Libya,” Darrat says. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: The Libyan government faces international condemnation for a vicious assault on the growing uprising against the four-decade rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. On Monday, Libyan troops and pro-government mercenaries attacked a huge demonstration in the capital of Tripoli. Armed forces hunted down protesters in the streets, while Libyan warplanes and helicopters fired on them from above. The death toll is unknown, but witnesses reported scores dead. Al Jazeera reports at least 61 people were killed in overnight clashes Sunday, following at least 300 people killed over the previous week. As many as 1,500 people may be missing in Libya since the start of demonstrations last week.
The violence comes amidst more signs that Gaddafi’s government is losing ground. On Monday, a number of Libyan officials broke with Gaddafi, including the justice minister and the country’s delegation to the United Nations. Libyan Deputy Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi condemned the attacks on protesters.
IBRAHIM DABBASHI: So, I think it is a one-man show. It is a kind of end of the game. And he’s trying to kill as much as he can from the Libyan people and try to destroy as much as he can from the Libyan country.
AMY GOODMAN: Libyan Deputy Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi. There are reports many top military officials and low-ranking soldiers have also joined with the uprising. Two Libyan fighter pilots have also defected to Malta, saying they flew there after refusing orders to bomb the protesters. The opposition now fully controls Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi, after seizing it over the weekend.
We go now to Washington, D.C., to Abdulla Darrat. He’s a Libyan American activist and co-founder of the website EnoughGaddafi.com.
Welcome to Democracy Now! What do you understand is happening? It’s very hard to get information out. Often the video we see is from people’s cell phones, posting them online. Abdulla, what do you know so far?
ABDULLA DARRAT: Well, what we can tell at the moment is that the regime is in the kind of throes of desperation, on its way out. But what we don’t know is how many people it’s planning to take down with it along the way. Unfortunately, over the last couple days, the violence has actually intensified in Tripoli as the regime attempts to use irrational violence with sporadic gunfire, gunships from helicopters and other forms of terrorism to keep people off the streets. They recognize that if the population of Tripoli gets out into the streets and, en masse, collects in some of its central squares, that Tripoli will fall and the regime will be done.
So what they have tried to do, attempted to do, is to scare people and to make sure that they do not leave their homes by bringing — intensifying the amount of mercenaries that are on the streets, by shooting almost at random throughout the neighborhoods in Tripoli, and also by spreading all types of misinformation. As you mentioned, Amy, at the moment it’s very difficult to confirm reports of anything on the ground. All we can really rely on at the moment are eyewitness accounts. However, we saw even on Al Jazeera yesterday what appeared to be the regime calling into Al Jazeera channels and spreading misinformation about the use of bombs from aircraft in attempts to, what I believe, scare the population and deter them from entering the streets and really taking Tripoli, which for the most part, as you mentioned, is really the regime’s last stronghold.
AMY GOODMAN: Abdulla Darrat, the information that mercenaries are being used, meaning that they have to supplement forces at home because they’re not willing to fire on fellow Libyans, is this correct?
ABDULLA DARRAT: That appears to be the case. I —
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the Human Rights — go ahead.
ABDULLA DARRAT: I mean, it appears to be the case that the mercenaries have been brought in as additional force. There are also a number of security battalions and other army forces that are also fighting with them. The army is not innocent of the violence. Although there are certain interests and certain factions within the army that have laid down their arms, we still do see a number of people within the army, within the security forces, who are also joining the fighting. The mercenaries seem to be an attempt really to, as I mentioned before, terrorize the population, as the regime really understands that what it comes down to is that these people who are entering the streets see the safety in numbers, know that — understand that if they come out en masse, the regime will be toppled.
AMY GOODMAN: War crimes are being committed. What about the Human Rights Watch report?
ABDULLA DARRAT: Well, the Human Rights Watch report — and they’ve had — they’ve issued several over the last couple days and will probably continue to issue more. We’ve seen, as you mentioned, Amy, the use of mercenaries, and the mercenaries have been, for all intents and purposes, snipers, for the most part. They’ve been positioned on top of roof buildings and have been systematically picking off protesters one at a time. A lot of the images and videos that we’re seeing that are slowly trickling out of the country; as you know, the internet service is slow and inconsistent, so we’re not getting all of these images all at once. But what we are seeing is that those who have died in the recent violence have died often from gunshot wounds to the head, to the eye, to the ear. It’s sharpshooting.
Another kind of confirmed set of war crimes is that they have been using anti-aircraft weapons to shoot protesters, a 50-caliber machine gun, 50-caliber machine guns. There’s a video that recently came out that shows the shells from this. We’re also hearing reports, also confirmed by eyewitnesses, that security forces are going into hospitals and killing doctors and healthcare workers so that they do not care for the injured.
The violence is gruesome and staggering and really justifies to the eyes of the international community why this regime must be stopped and why it must end. It really shows what over the last 40 years has become a country dominated by the megalomania of this one human being, who cares more for his self and his power than he cares for anybody in Libya. He has an utter disrespect and complete, complete almost — it’s almost as if he despises the population. And that’s been apparent in his utter disregard for their lives, their safety, their interests.
AMY GOODMAN: What about what the U.S. and U.S. contractors can do, the news that General Dynamics signed a $165 million contract to arm the Libyan armed forces’ elite second brigade two years ago, or Halliburton, Shell, Raytheon, Dow Chemical? Do you think President Obama is doing enough?
ABDULLA DARRAT: Well, it took them a little — it took them a few days, I think, to finally make a statement yesterday. And unfortunately, I think that they were possibly waiting to see if the regime could actually quell the uprising or not, in the same type of opportunism that we saw in Egypt and Tunisia, where the State Department and the White House appear to only jump on the side of the protesters when they realize that the regime is on its way out. I think that’s completely unfortunate.
And beyond that, in Libya, what we have seen is an almost utter disregard for human life. This isn’t just a question of political interests, but people’s humanity. These are war crimes that are being committed, and the Obama administration must do more than just condemn the actions. They must rally the international community to intervene in other ways, to intervene possibly with peacekeepers, to allow medical equipment into the country, to perhaps create a no-fly zone over Libya so that more mercenary aircraft and other warships do not enter Libyan airspace. I mean, there’s a number of things that the international community must do immediately in order to ensure —
AMY GOODMAN: Abdulla Darrat, as we wrap up, your own website that I mentioned, "Enough Gaddafi," that you established two years ago to take on the brutality of the Gaddafi regime, was hacked two days ago by the government, by the Libyan government?
ABDULLA DARRAT: Yes, ma’am.
AMY GOODMAN: So it’s empty now?
ABDULLA DARRAT: Yes, yes. The website is currently down, but we hope we can get it up soon. I mean, we were only one victim amongst many who have been victimized online through Facebook or through their own websites over the last couple days, as the regime really tries to black out any information. I mean, they’ve really tried to seal off the whole country and systematically destroy the population while nobody watches. And I think finally word is getting out. People are learning of the atrocities inside the country, and I hope that the senselessness of the violence will compel people to act against this regime and finally bring it down.
AMY GOODMAN: Abdulla Darrat, I want to thank you for being with us, Libyan American activist, one of the co-founders of EnoughGaddafi.com, speaking to us from Washington, D.C.
ABDULLA DARRAT: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Al Jazeera reporting, "What we are witnessing today is unimaginable. Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead." Adel Mohamed Saleh said in a live broadcast, "Anyone who moves, even if they are in their car, they will hit you."
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. From the Middle East to the Midwest — when we come back, we go to Ohio and Madison, Wisconsin, where mass protests continue.