Cluster bombs: the least of Libyan dictator Gaddafi’s crimes

Saturday’s newspapers carried reports that cluster bombs “banned by much of the world” were used by Libyan government forces against the embattled town of Misurata. The Libyan government denied those reports. If the reports are true, does the use of weapons “banned by much of the world” constitute a war crime?

It’s true that the international Convention on Cluster Munitions came into force on August 1, 2010, and bans ratifying nations from stockpiling, using, or transferring cluster munitions, which eject multiple smaller munitions. It’s also true that over 50 nations have ratified the Convention.

Unfortunately Libya is not among the ratifying countries. Neither is the United States, or Russia, or China, or India, or Pakistan, or Israel, all of which are believed to manufacture and maintain stocks of cluster munitions. The United States has actually used cluster bombs in Afghanistan beginning in 2001, in Iraq beginning in 2003, and according to the New York Times, in Yemen as recently as 2009.

So as the U.S. struggles to make the case for intervening militarily in Libya, but not in other places ruled by governments as bad as that of Libya (but without oil), we cannot accuse the Libyans of violating an international convention that neither they nor we ratified. And our hands are hardly clean given our use of munitions of all kinds against civilian populations during World War II and later wars.

How’s our war in Libya going, by the way? Anyone see light at the end of that tunnel yet?

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