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No evidence of Libya Viagra rape claims. But war crimes? Plenty.

The stunning but unproven claim that Libya's Muammar Qaddafi gave Viagra to his forces and ordered them to rape obscures a series of war crimes by his forces.

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Reporters are often not as careful as they should be when repeating wild claims; think of the false claim that Saddam Hussein's troops were dumping babies out of incubators to die in occupied Kuwait in 1990. The story zoomed around the world and helped cement US support for the First Gulf War, only to be debunked two years later.

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Rovera expresses some frustration with how the mass-rape story has been handled – both by the believers and the skeptics. She says the rebels have not been total angels themselves, but on balance it's Qaddafi who has used illegal and ruthless means to hold on to power.

"While there are also abuses by the opposition forces, which also need to be addressed, it's important to put things in perspective," she says in a phone interview.

On balance, the overwhelming majority of provable crimes in the war in Libya have been carried out by Qaddafi forces. What crimes have been carried out by rebels don't seem to be part of a pattern, or a plan.

Patterns of war crimes

Rovera says that Qaddafi's forces have used indiscriminate fire on rebel areas including Benghazi, Misurata, Ajdabiyah, and in the Nafusa mountains in the west.

She has personally surveyed the aftermath of Grad rockets – an imprecise weapon considered indiscriminate – in Benghazi and Ajdabiyah. She says more recent reports from Misurata point to their use there as well.

These weapons "were used smack-dab in residential areas. In Misurata, the residents didn't have the option to leave," she says. "They've also been reported to have been used in a large scale in the Nafusa area. Thankfully there, a large proportion have been able to leave, but it's not exactly good that people should become refugees so as not to be killed by rockets."

She says antipersonnel mines laid at the eastern gate of Ajdabiyah by Qaddafi's forces were fortunately detonated when an electricity truck drove over them and the driver was unharmed.

She also says area weapons like mortars and 155mm artillery shells – not as inaccurate as Grads but still too imprecise to be used in residential areas – have been used widely. Rebel fighters have also used mortars, but appropriately and in front-line combat situations "as far as I know."

"There is no wiggle room" to justify Qaddafi's use of mortars and artillery shells in populated areas under international law, she says.

"All of those things are beyond the pale, and if you look at the widespread pattern, these were not used on one occasion," she says. "When you’re looking for war crimes and crimes against humanity, you’re looking for patterns, and if you look at the way that Misurata was pounded relentlessly for weeks, the pattern is well established."

There is plenty for Qaddafi to answer for. On balance, mass rape with Viagra doesn't appear to be on the list.

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