Fighting's effect on Libya civilians remains murky - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Fighting's effect on Libya civilians remains murky

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Men gather at a mass funeral for people killed in Coalition bombings, officials said, in Tripoli, Libya, Thursday March 24, 2011. Men gather at a mass funeral for people killed in Coalition bombings, officials said, in Tripoli, Libya, Thursday March 24, 2011.

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Moammar Gadhafi's government accused U.S.-led forces of ignoring civilian casualties on Friday, showing journalists a Tripoli neighborhood that has come under attack for at least two nights. U.S. and British officials insisted civilians have been spared and retort that the Libyan leader has engineered his own atrocities.

At the heart of the dispute is the difficulty separating rhetoric and stage-management from the pain of people who may have lost family, homes and sometimes livelihoods. Or maybe not.

On Friday, Libyan officials took foreign journalists to Tripoli's Tajoura neighborhood, on the outskirts of the city. Two military bases on the way had clearly been hit, their buildings twisted and damaged. Black smoke still rose from one.

The small farm where the bus finally stops was a wreck: The windows were smashed in, the television toppled over. Plaster was everywhere on the floor, but the painted walls were intact. It's the home of Rajab Mohammed, who said the bomb hit at the base of the palm just outside. Next to the palm was a pit, the size of a large beach ball.

"There were bullets everywhere," said Mohammed, struggling to explain the source of bullet holes on the outside of the house.

A U.S. official said ships in the Mediterranean launched 15 more Tomahawk cruise missiles overnight, targeting garrisons near Tripoli. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

Airstrikes and missiles are unpredictable, and the Gadhafi government's efforts seem only to muddy the picture. Journalists are taken to the morgue, where bodies are hauled out without identification or circumstances of death.

The U.S. military said coalition jets flew about 150 sorties on Thursday, about 70 of them with American planes.

"I cannot be sure that there have been no civilian casualties. What I can be sure of is that we have been very, very precise and discriminate in our targeting," Army Gen. Carter Ham said late Thursday at a briefing at the Sigonella air base in Sicily.

"They don't talk about the thousands of Libyan citizens which they have killed, which we know it is very true. And I'm sorry if I'm a little emotional about this. The people who are killing civilians are the regime of this current government leader in Libya," Ham said.

On Friday, the British government went farther.

"In fact there are no confirmed civilian casualties so far from the coalition airstrikes, and missile strikes, in all the operations since Saturday. Civilian casualties are being caused solely by the Gadhafi regime," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

Libyan state television showed blackened and mangled bodies that it said were victims of airstrikes in Tripoli. Rebels have accused Gadhafi's forces of taking bodies from the morgue and pretending they were civilian casualties, an allegation bolstered by a U.S. intelligence report.

The report Monday said that a senior Gadhafi aide was told to take bodies from a morgue and place them at the scene of the bomb damage, to be displayed for visiting journalists. A senior U.S. defense official revealed the contents of the intelligence report on condition of anonymity because it was classified secret.

Human Rights Watch's London director Tom Porteus cautioned that even confirmed evidence of civilian deaths did not necessarily mean negligence or malice given the uncertainties of aerial bombardment.

"Just because you've got a civilian body killed in an airstrike, doesn't mean there's been a war crime or even a violation of international humanitarian law," he said. As for coalition officials, he said that they were "clearly bending over backward to say that they're bending over backward to avoid civilian casualties."

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Associated Press writers Raphael Satter in London and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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