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Obama Urges Gadhafi to Step Down; International Criminal Court Launches Inquiry

March 3, 2011 at 6:10 PM EDT
President Obama issued his strongest statement yet on Libya, saying Moammar Gadhafi must step down and leave the country. James Mates, Jonathan Miller and Alex Thomson of Independent Television News report on the latest developments in Libya and a new investigation launched by the International Criminal Court.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama issued his strongest statement yet against Moammar Gadhafi.

At a White House news conference, the president said the Libyan dictator must step down from power and leave. He also said the U.S. is joining an international rescue effort and is ready to do more, if necessary.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have therefore approved the use of U.S. military aircraft to help move Egyptians who have fled to the Tunisian border to get back home to Egypt. I have authorized USAID to charter additional civilian aircraft to help people from other countries find their way home.

And we’re supporting the efforts of international organizations to evacuate people, as well.

Going forward, we will continue to send a clear message: The violence must stop. Moammar Gadhafi has lost legitimacy to lead, and he must leave. Those who perpetrate violence against the Libyan people will be held accountable.

There is a danger of stalemate that over time could be bloody. And that is something that is something that we’re obviously considering. So what I want to make sure of is that the United States has full capacity to act potentially rapidly if the situation deteriorated in such a way that you had a humanitarian crisis on our hands or a situation in which civilians were — defenseless civilians were finding themselves trapped and in grave danger.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president also said establishing a no-fly zone over Libya remains one of the options.

He spoke a day after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there had been a lot of loose talk about military action and counseled caution.

Today, Arizona Sen. John McCain took issue with that assessment at a Washington event with Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-Ariz.): Joe and I have both been accused of saber-rattling, et cetera. We are standing up for what Ronald Reagan stood for, what all of us stand for and believe in. And that is that people have God-given rights and not to live under a brutal dictator that’s willing to slaughter and massacre his own citizens in order to stay in power.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Libya, rebels rushed to shore up their defenses in a key oil port. Fighters and weapons spread across the city of Brega, a day after 14 people died in heavy fighting.

And crowds turned out at funerals in nearby Ajdabiya. We have a series of reports from Independent Television News correspondents.

First up, James Mates reporting from Benghazi on the situation in the east.

JAMES MATES: Yesterday morning, they had rushed from their homes to confront Col. Gadhafi’s forces.

(GUNFIRE)

JAMES MATES: Today, they were saluted as martyrs, volley after volley of gunfire. But not all the bodies they laid out ready for burial today were fighters. In one coffin was the body of Hassan Umran, who was 13.

Six more funerals, six more victims of Col. Gadhafi’s refusal to give up power. And, tragically here, no one believes that these will be the last. One of those who died in this battle was Khaled Taghdi, a Libyan who lived in exile in Manchester, the father of seven, who had returned to rescue a daughter from the fighting.

New pictures are now emerging of yesterday’s fighting, in which Gadhafi used at least three, possibly more, airstrikes against the rebels.

His son Saif said today airpower was used simply to frighten the defenders of Brega, but that doesn’t tally with the accounts of many of the men who fought here and drove back the troops loyal to the Gadhafi clan.

JEFFREY BROWN: An international airlift kicked into gear today in Tunisia, across from Libya’s western border.

Egyptian workers who fled Libya were being bused from a U.N. transit camp at a key border crossing to the airport at Djerba. Forty flights to Egypt were scheduled today.

Meanwhile, the U.S., U.N. and European Union donated more than $30 million to assist the exodus.

Alex Thomson has more on the situation from just inside Tunisia.

ALEX THOMSON: At the frontier itself, it’s quiet and orderly today. New Gadhafi flags fly over the Libyan checkpoint, the Red Crescent clearing up the rubbish now and considering this bizarre scene.

BENOIT CARPENTIER, Red Crescent Federation: Well, it’s a very kind of difficult situation, because we don’t have much information. We don’t have much information about on what’s — what’s next, because we don’t have information on what’s going on on the Libyan side.

ALEX THOMSON: These people are about to find out, drivers queuing up this morning to drive into Colonel Gadhafi’s Libya quite unconcerned.

But going away from Libya into Tunisia to get away home to Cairo, or wherever it may be, there are still not nearly enough buses, not nearly enough planes. People are getting away, but others, like Tong and his friends from Hanoi, are facing a long wait.

MAN: We have to go to Vietnam, but we have to wait, too many people here, you know?

ALEX THOMSON: There is food, water, cigarettes and plenty of all of them.

USMAAN LONE, Islamic Relief: It doesn’t seem that bad. I mean, the UNHCR said it was a humanitarian crisis, so we got a team together to get out here, to expect a crisis. But I think it’s just a logistics problem here. I can’t see an actual crisis.

ALEX THOMSON: The logistics problem: not enough buses or planes. And some, like these Bangladeshis, are getting fed up.

For the Egyptians or the Algerians, it’s a relatively short distance home, of course. But these Bangladesh men, they have been here, they say, five, six, seven days already. And they say that their government is doing nothing to help.

At Djerba Airport, some of the tens of thousands of Egyptians stranded here in recent days, British and French planes coming in to help them on their way, leaving others out in the camps dependent on organizations like Telecoms Sans Frontieres to make contact with home, tell people: I’m still alive.

The phone link’s vital, because for these people, it’s by no means certain how long they have still got to wait to get back home.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As the Libyan drama continued, there was word from the Netherlands today that Moammar Gadhafi is now under investigation by the International Criminal Court.

Jonathan Miller has that story.

JONATHAN MILLER: Just four days after the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to refer Colonel Gadhafi and his henchmen to the ICC, its prosecutor pledged that anyone found to have committed crimes against humanity in Libya would be held to account.

LUIS MORENO-OCAMPO, International Criminal Court: We’d like to use this opportunity to put them on notice. If forces under their command-and-control commit crimes, they could be criminally responsible.

JONATHAN MILLER: The prosecutor’s investigation will center on events in eight key towns and cities in the last two weeks of February. In Tripoli, he will investigate more than 300 alleged killings of protesters; in Benghazi, to the east, 257 killings; and in Zawiyah, west of the capital, 124 demonstrators allegedly gunned down.

He will also look into other alleged crimes in Misurata, Ajdabiya, Al Bayda and Derna. Today, the Libyan government dismissed the investigation as close to a joke, one minister telling an Arab TV channel that the court has no power over Libya.

That’s true. Libya is not a signatory, but if those now to be investigated are eventually indicted, Gadhafi and co. will spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulders.

JULIAN KNOWLES, international criminal lawyer: Libya is still very much an international pariah. And so the number of countries where they would be willing both to receive him and also where those countries don’t have relationships with the ICC are very few and far between.

JONATHAN MILLER: We understand that those in the prosecutor’s sights include three of Gadhafi’s sons: Saif al-Islam al-Gadhafi, regarded as spokesman of the regime; Khamis al-Gadhafi, commander of the 32nd Brigade, which attacked protesters in Benghazi and Tripoli; and Mutassim al-Gadhafi, an army colonel and national security adviser.

Other likely suspects: the head of Gadhafi’s personal security, the head of Libyan external security, the head of the regime’s security forces, and its foreign minister. All occupy positions with what’s known as command responsibility — in other words, they’re men who knew or should have known that the alleged crimes were being committed by forces under their command.

They risk indictment if the investigation shows they either ordered the attacks or failed to act to stop them.