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Return to Sorman: Anatomy of a NATO War Crime

Sorman, LIBYA — It was a warm early Monday morning along the Libyan coast on June 20, 2011.

At approximately 0200 GMT the next day in NATO Headquarters in Brussels, and 30 minutes later in its media center in Naples, staffers finished tabulating NATO’s 92nd day of aerial attacks on Libya and began to post the data on its website (www.nato.int).

Twenty four hours earlier, an Atlantic Alliance command unit, located approximately 30 miles off the Libyan coast, in a direct line with Malta, and NATO’s targeting unit had signed off on 49 bombing missions for June 20th, the last day of spring and the last day of NATO’s original UN bombing mandate.

The authority for NATO’s  bombing—which far exceeded  earlier casualty estimates, killing or wounding between 90,000-120,000 Libyans and foreigners, and the contributed to the displacement of more than two million Libyans and foreign workers—was claimed from the hastily adopted UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and UNSCR 1973. UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 gave NATO UN Chapter 7 authority to enforce a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace, initially for 90 days, which ironically ended the day before its bombing at Sorman.

The two UN Security  Council Resolutions were insisted upon by their main sponsors, France, the UK, Italy, and the US, who claimed  that “a limited  no-fly zone would  protect Libya’s civilian population from the wrath of the government of Libya’s leader, Muammar Kaddafi.” NATO requested and was granted two additional 90 days extensions to continue its Libyan mission which gave its air force until the end of 2011 to continue Operation Unified Protector.

It was early Monday morning, June 20, 2011.

Sorman, Libya.  A quiet and peaceful Libyan town, Sorman is located 45 miles west of Tripoli, near the Mediterranean coast, in the Zawiya District of the Tripolitania region in northwestern Libya. Many of the town’s children grew up exploring the 3rd Century truly magnificent Roman Ruins at nearby Sabratha. Some archaeologists consider Sabratha, located almost in direct line with Rome across the Mediterranean, and built on a high cliff above the sea, to be the most complete extant Roman architecture, with only a small part of this large Roman city having been excavated. This observer has visited Sabratha a few times since the mid-1980’s, and each visit presents more awe. Families from Sorman and nearby villages regularly visit and picnic there.

In the early hours of June 20, 2011, it was dark in Sorman except for some muted half-moon light. A few dim street lights and some partially illumined homes provided some light as residents began to rise and prepare for the Al Fajr (“Dawn”) prayers.

At the homestead of Khaled K. El-Hamedi, the 37 year old President of the International Organization for Peace, Care & Relief (IOPCR), one of Libya’s most active social service organizations everyone was asleep following a rambunctious birthday party for his three year old son. The Hamedi family members included Khaled’s three year old son Khweldi, five year old daughter Khaleda, his beautiful pregnant wife Safa, his aunt Najia, and his six year old niece Salam, among others.

At NATO’s Control and Command Center, the 49 bombing missions planned for early morning of June 20, included a target at Sorman, which would push the number of NATO reconnaissance sorties over Libya to 11,930. This number would become 26,500 by midnight on October 31, when NATO would end its air campaign. The days bombing sorties would also bring the tally of rocket and bombing targets to 4,521. This figure would increase to more than 11,781 by late fall, when NATO was instructed to end OUP (Operation Unified Protector).

NATO’s prepares to bomb Dorman’s “command and control center”

Before the bombs were fired at Khaled K. al-Hamedi compound, NATO staff conducted a six step process the first of which was surveillance using the MQ-9 Reaper UAV, which sometimes is also used to fire missiles.  Also above Sorman was the Predator drone with full-motion video. During June 19 and the early hours of June 20,  the drones  locked on the Hamedi  homestead target and relayed updated information to NATO’s command center.

The Hamedi home was not what NATO labels a “time-critical target” so there was plenty of time for its staff to transmit information about the site from unmanned reconnaissance aircraft to intelligence analysts. Almost certainly, according to a source at Jane’s Weekly, NATO UAV’s watched the Hamedi compound over a period of days and presumably observed part of the birthday party being held for three old Huweldi, the day before the order to bomb was issued.

NATO Rules of Engagement for  Operation United Protector, constitute a set of classified documents which present specific and detailed instructions about what is a legitimate target and who can approve the target, whether pre-planned or “on the fly” when a pilot happens upon a target of opportunity.

The Sorman attack on the Hamedi home was planned as part of what NATO calls its “Joint Air Tasking Cycle (JATC).  A target development team put the Hamedi home on the June 20th daily list of targets. The team used a report from NATO intelligence analysts who determined that retired officer Khaled al Huweldi, Hamedi, one of the original members of the Gadhafi led 1969 coup against King Idris in 1969, and a former member of the Al Fatah Revolution’s Revolutionary Command Council was living on the property.  His assassination had been ordered by NATO because they hoped to weaken the regime in some way even though the senior Hamedi was retired and had no decision making role in Libya.

On June 19, the day before the bombing attack on the Hamedi family at Sorman, NATO was obliged by its own regulations and by the international law of armed conflict to conduct a “potential for collateral damage review” of this mission.

There is no evidence that this was ever done.

A requested US Congressional NATO Liaison Office review of the Sorman bombing, initially requested from Libya on August 2, was completed in early September 2011 and found no documentary evidence or other indication that Bouchard or anyone in NATO’s Target Selection Unit, evaluated, discussed, or even considered the subject of potential civilian casualties at the Hamedi home in Sorman.

Following Bouchard’s green light to bomb the Hamedi home, the coordinates were fixed at 32°45′24″N 12°34′18″E. Specific aim points on the Hamedi property were chosen and eight bombs and missiles were readied and attached to the strike aircraft.

At Sorman, NATO used a variety of bombs and missiles including the “bunker busting” BLU-109 (Bomb Live Unit) which is designed to penetrate 18 feet of concrete. NATO also used the American MK series of 500 lb, (MK 81) 1000 lb, (MK-82) and the 2000 lb (MK-84) that Israel used so widely during its 2006 invasion of Lebanon. The MK series and the BLU-109 are reportedly being stockpiled in Israel in preparation for both countries anticipated next war in this region.

Following the infernal at Sorman, NATO denied responsibility, but the next day NATO admitted carrying out an air strike somewhere in Sorman while denying that there were civilian deaths, even as its drones filmed the scene close up. NATO’s media office in Naples issued a statement claiming, “A precision air strike was launched against a high-level command and control node in the Sorman area without collateral damage.”  NATO spokespersons also told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that “the facility was a legitimate military target and that all necessary precautions were taken before conducting the strike which minimized any potential risk of causing unnecessary casualties”.

The official NATO record of its bombing of Libya for June 20, 2011 reads as follows and remains unchanged:

Allied Joint Force Command  NAPLES, SHAPE, NATO HQ.

Over the past 24 hours, NATO has conducted the following activities associated with Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR:

Air Operations Sorties conducted 20 JUNE: 149

Strike sorties conducted 20 JUNE: 52

Key Hits

20 JUNE: In the vicinity of Tripoli: 1 Command & Control Node, 8 Surface-To-Air Missile Launchers,

1 Surface-To-Air Missile Transport Vehicle.  In the vicinity of Misratah: 3 Truck-Mounted Guns, 2 Self-

Propelled Anti-Aircraft Guns, 1 Tank. In the vicinity of Tarhunah: 1 Military Equipment Storage Facility. In the vicinity of Al-Khums: 1 Military Vehicle Storage Facility. In the vicinity of Zintan: 1 Rocket Launcher.

Oddly, NATO records for June 20th as well as subsequent reports of bombing attacks listed for June 20th and June 21st in its daily logs have never included the bombing attack on Sorman or the attack on the Al-Hamedi residence which indisputably killed 15 civilians.

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About the Author

Franklin Lamb

Franklin Lamb
Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (SSSP) in Shatila Camp (www.sssp-lb.com) and is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com.