Was Libya’s Death Toll a Dramatic Overstatement?

Rebel Claims of 50,000 Slain Faces Puzzling Lack of Dead People

The center of not just various rebel statements but the entire NATO war effort, the claims that Moammar Gadhafi had massacred tens of thousands of civilians in the course of the Libyan Civil War has been taken as a matter of fact. But with the war ending, people are starting to count the bodies. And starting to wonder where they all are.

The ruling council was claiming at least 50,000 had been killed just by Gadhafi forces, which wouldn’t include the people the rebels killed in fighting or whatever happened to all those black people that just disappeared when the rebels took over.

That’s a lot of people, and it certainly made the world stand up and take notice. The problem is that the morgues, hard at work tallying up the dead, are finding death tolls in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands. Bodies are missing, to be sure, but the Red Cross is reporting 1,000 missing, with 3,000 as the absolute most that are unaccounted for.

The rebels are now pinning their hopes on “mass graves” scattered across the country, but many of these have already been figured into the tolls by the Red Cross. The bodies in the mass graves number in the dozens, at best the hundreds.

Was the whole “genocide” a lie? Its too soon to say for sure, but the rebel government’s initially claim of 50,000 seems to be at the very least a dramatic overstatement, and even the more modest “25,000-30,000” their officials are reporting today shows a decided lack of evidence. In the end even 25,000 may be a factor of ten too many, and with the rebels’ own killings starting up in earnest they may find the bodycount from the Gadhafi regime’s reign of terror much easier to catch than anyone expected.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.