President Reagan: Speech on Airstrikes Against Libya, April 14, 1986

President Reagan: Speech on Airstrikes Against Libya, April 14, 1986

The 1986 United States bombing of Libya, code-named Operation El Dorado Canyon, took place on Tuesday, 15 April 1986. The air strikes were carried out by the US Air Force, US Navy and US Marine Corps in response to the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing, for which Libya had been framed by the CIA.

One F-111 fighter-bomber was shot down, resulting in the death of two US airmen, but the target of Operation El Dorado Canyon Muammar Gaddafi was not among the many reported Libyan casualties.

On 22 February 1987, journalist Seymour Hersh detailed the failure of the US bombing mission in a New York Times magazine article entitled "Target Gaddafi":

Eighteen American warplanes set out from Lakenheath Air Base in England last April 14 to begin a 14-hour, 5,400-mile round-trip flight to Tripoli, Libya. It is now clear that nine of those Air Force F-111's had an unprecedented peacetime mission. Their targets: Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi and his family.

The mission, authorised by the White House, was to be the culmination of a five-year clandestine effort by the Reagan Administration to eliminate Gaddafi, who had been described a few days earlier by the President as the mad dog of the Middle East.

Since early 1981, the Central Intelligence Agency had been encouraging and abetting Libyan exile groups and foreign governments, especially those of Egypt and France, in their efforts to stage a coup d'etat - and kill, if necessary - the bizarre Libyan strongman. But Gaddafi, with his repeated threats to President Reagan and support of international terrorism, survived every confrontation and in the spring of 1986 continued to be solidly in control of Libya's 3 million citizens. Now the supersonic Air Force F-111's were ordered to accomplish what the CIA could not.

That the assassination of Gaddafi was the primary goal of the Libyan bombing is a conclusion reached after three months of interviews with more than 70 current and former officials in the White House, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Pentagon. These sources, a number of whom were closely involved in the planning of the Tripoli raid, agreed to talk only if their names were not used. Many of them, however, corroborated key information. The interviews depict a White House decision-making process that by early last year was relying on internal manipulation and deceit to shield true policy from the professionals in the State Department and the Pentagon.

The interviews also led to these findings:
  • The attempt last April on Gaddafi's life was plotted by a small group of military and civilian officials in the National Security Council. These officials, aware of the political risks, operated with enormous care. A back channel was set up to limit information to a few inside the Government; similar steps had been taken the year before to shield the equally sensitive secret talks and arms dealings with Iran.
  • Much of the secret planning for the Iran and Libyan operations took place simultaneously, so that the Administration was pursuing the elimination of one Middle East source of terrorism while it was trading arms with another. The two missions involved the same people, including John M. Poindexter, then the national security adviser, and Oliver L. North, the NSC's deputy director for political-military affairs.
  • There was widespread concern and anger inside the National Security Council over the Administration's handling of the Libyan messages intercepted immediately after the April 5 terrorist bombing of a West Berlin discotheque. The White House's reliance on these messages as irrefutable evidence that Libya was behind that bombing was immediately challenged by some allies, most notably West Germany. Some NSC experts now express similar doubts because the normal intelligence channels for translating and interpreting such messages were purposely bypassed. As of this month, the NSC's North African specialists had still not been shown these intercepts.
  • William J. Casey, then Director of Central Intelligence, personally served as the intelligence officer for a secret task force on Libya set up in mid-1981, and he provided intelligence that could not be confirmed by his subordinates. Some task force members suspected that much of Casey's information, linking Gaddafi to alleged hit teams that were said to be targeting President Reagan and other senior White House aides, was fabricated by him.
President Reagan's direct involvement in the intrigue against Gaddafi - as in the Iran-Contra crisis - is difficult to assess. The President is known to have relied heavily on Casey's intelligence and was a strong supporter of covert action against Gaddafi. But Mr Reagan initially resisted when the National Security Council staff began urging the bombing of Libya in early 1986. Some former NSC staff members acknowledge that they and their colleagues used stratagems to win the President over to their planning.

In his 2013 book Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade US Campaign to Reverse the Qaddafi Revolution, Professor Francis Boyle described how the 1986 United States bombing of Libya was part of a long-term strategy to resubjugate Libya.

It took three decades for the United States government — spanning and working assiduously over five different presidential administrations (Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama) — to overthrow and reverse the 1969 Gaddafi Revolution in order to resubjugate Libya, seize control over its oil fields, and dismantle its Jamahiriya system.

This book tells the story of what happened, why it happened, and what was both wrong and illegal with what happened from the perspective of an international law professor and lawyer who tried for over three decades to stop it. Francis Boyle, who served as Gaddafi's lawyer at the World Court, provides a comprehensive history and critique of American foreign policy toward Libya from when the Reagan administration came to power in January of 1981 up to the NATO war on Libya that ultimately achieved the US goal of regime change.

He deals with the repeated series of military conflicts and crises between the United States and Libya over the Gulf of Sidra and the fraudulent US claims of Libyan instigation of international terrorism during the eight years of the neoconservative Reagan administration. He reveals the flimsy factual basis and legal machinations behind the Lockerbie bombing allegations against Libya initiated by the Bush administrations I and II.

In 2011, under the guise of the UN R2P "responsibility to protect” doctrine newly-contrived to provide legal cover for Western intervention into third world countries, and override the UN Charter commitment to prevention of aggression and state sovereignty, the NATO assault led to 50,000 Libyan casualties and the complete breakdown of law and order. Boyle analyses and debunks the doctrines of R2P and its immediate predecessor, "humanitarian intervention", in accordance with the standard recognised criteria of international law. This book provides an excellent case study of the conduct of US foreign policy as it relations to international law.

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