Image: NATO airstrike targeting Tripoli, Libya
EPA, file
Smoke rises after a NATO airstrike targeting Tripoli, Libya, on June 7.
By
updated 11/11/2011 4:54:52 AM ET 2011-11-11T09:54:52

NATO officials are worried the organization may be investigated by the International Criminal Court after its prosecutor said allegations of crimes committed by NATO in Libya would be examined "impartially and independently," according to diplomats accredited to NATO headquarters.

The diplomats said action to pre-empt a war crimes investigation would likely include an immediate internal legal review of all incidents in which NATO bombing or other actions caused civilian casualties.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Slideshow: Conflict in Libya (on this page)

The alliance has always maintained that its operations in Libya were carried out strictly in keeping with a U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized member states "to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack" in the North African country.

NATO leaders have repeatedly hailed the precision with which the mission was carried out, citing the small number of civilian deaths caused by the bombing as evidence of its success.

Still, in a briefing to the Security Council on Nov. 2, International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said "there are allegations of crimes committed by NATO forces (and) these allegations will be examined impartially and independently."

Focus on Gadhafi regime
Moreno-Ocampo did not elaborate further on the accusations against NATO forces, or who was making them.

His office is currently focusing on crimes committed by members of the ousted Gadhafi regime and is waiting for a report by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry in Libya, due in March, before deciding whether to proceed with a formal investigation into alleged crimes by NATO.

NATO has said it was confident its actions were in compliance with international law. "In the event we receive a request for information, NATO is prepared to assist in any way it can," said an official who could not be identified under standing rules.

Slideshow: Moammar Gadhafi through the years (on this page)

Officials from the alliance say that between March and October NATO warplanes flew 26,000 sorties, including more than 9,600 strike missions, destroying more than 1,000 tanks, vehicles, and guns, as well as buildings claimed to have housed "command and control" centers.

These included facilities such as Moammar Gadhafi's heavily fortified compound in Tripoli, but also residential homes of his supporters — targets which could be considered outside the UN mandate.

NATO is already involved in a civil suit in Belgium that accuses the alliance of killing 13 civilians in the bombing of a residential compound near Libya's capital, Tripoli. Attorneys for the plaintiffs say that, although NATO and other international organizations enjoy diplomatic immunity in criminal cases, they fall under Belgian jurisdiction in civil suits.

The immunity applies only to those holding diplomatic status.

Friction?
The definition of war crimes, as described by international conventions on the laws of war, includes any destruction of civilian targets not justified by military necessity. It has been invoked in a number of trials dealing with a number of conflicts, including those in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

The possibility of an ICC probe is already causing friction within the alliance, officials said.

At a meeting last week of NATO ambassadors and their counterparts from partner countries, the Russian ambassador, Dmitry Rogozin, noted a number of airstrikes could be considered potential war crimes.

But envoys from some nations that participated in the bombing reacted angrily, describing the comment as "libel."

A French Rafale fighter-bomber is said to have bombed a convoy of vehicles fleeing Gadhafi's besieged hometown of Sirte last month, resulting in the capture and subsequent killing of the dictator by opposition forces.

Video: Gadhafi burial (on this page)

The incident is particularly controversial because during the siege — characterized by massive shelling of Sirte's downtown area by the former rebels — NATO warplanes never struck the attackers. Instead, they attacked a fleeing convoy of civilian vehicles.

Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, the Canadian who commanded the NATO operation, explained that commanders ordered the strikes because they believed the convoy would try to link up with other pockets of pro-Gadhafi resistance in the west.

While Moreno-Ocampo has said allegations of NATO crimes would be examined, that does not necessarily mean he will open a formal investigation.

Depending on the U.N. commission's findings, he could decide there is no need for further investigations or ask judges for authorization to open a formal probe.

He could also determine that there are proceedings at the national level that would negate the need for a case to be brought before the ICC, a court of last resort.

"We are not talking about any specific incident. We are saying, 'Yes, if there are allegations of crimes we will review that,'" Moreno-Ocampo told The Associated Press.

Pretext for regime change?
Currently, nearly 120 states are parties to the ICC. All European NATO members and Canada have accepted its jurisdiction.

Since NATO is not a signatory to the ICC treaty, it would appear likely that any violations of the conventions on the laws of war would require direct dealings between the court and its member states, and not with NATO as an institution.

Video: Libya declares independence (on this page)

The operation's critics — including Russia, China and the African Union — have argued that NATO misused the limited U.N. resolution as a pretext to promote regime change in Libya.

Its daily air raids were instrumental in enabling the ragtag rebel forces to advance on Tripoli and later capture the rest of the country.

The issue threatens to have far-reaching consequences for future U.N. interventions.

Russia and China have already vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have imposed sanctions on Syria for its violent crackdown on opposition demonstrators, arguing that NATO could again misuse a U.N. measure to justify months of air strikes.

Video: Clinton: Libya must be accountable for Gadhafi (on this page)

"If there were to be evidence that NATO is also involved in activities illegal under international law, something should be done about that," said Nicolas Beger, director of the Amnesty International European Institutions office. "Nobody should be allowed to commit war crimes, and nobody should be able to get away with it."

He also said there needed to be an impartial probe into Gadhafi's death.

"If he was captured alive and then killed, that's a war crime. That's clear."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Gadhafi burial

  1. Closed captioning of: Gadhafi burial

    >>> libyan officials say that the body of moammar gadhafi was buried in a secret location at dawn this morning. the interim government has promised an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death, a task that will certainly be a lot more difficult now. nbc's chief foreign correspondent, richard engel joins us now. they have to prove their bona fides . is it really a moot point?

    >> it is a nonstarter. this investigation isn't going to go anywhere. i think everyone knows by now how gadhafi died, that he was killed by the rebels after captured alive. there were many calls for investigations after the be libyan rebels were killing what they called mers naries. these were sub sa hair ran africans, black africans working in tripoli and other places. some were mer sin naries and some were not. i remember seeing mass graves dumped in the streets. i don't know if they were actual mercinaries. the new government has not investigated those allegations and seems unlikely they will investigate gadhafi 's death either or at least not investigating very going to be to create rule of law, a justice system , civil society , to say nothing of free and fair elections?

    >> oddly enough, on the ground, there is a degree of rule of law. there has not been looting on the street, markets are open. society functions as normal but there is not really a government. you have each city administering its own affairs. the people of misrata are very loyal to misrata. their role in the revolution and the same is true in zentan. there is not the kind of blood-letting and chaos that we saw in places like baghdad. what they are going to need to do now and starting now is to form a truly national government and hold elections and they say that is supposed to take place over the next eight months.

    >> richard, what about the inspiration to the dissidents in syria ? they are now asking for protection. there really was an immediate reaction after gadhafi was found and killed. this could inspire the revolt against bashir alassad.

    >> they started on the streets across syria , dissidents started chanting in favor of the rebels in libya. they were using some of the same slogans in syria that the rebels were using in libya. they said bashar, you are next. watch what happened to gadhafi . what's important to note is what has happened over the last few days is that diplomatic problems after the united states pulled out ambassador, robert ford , and the syrians did the same thing, effectively withdrawing their ambassador to washington for consultations. this is an escalation. ambassador ford was such a dynamic figure. he was seen as a hero on the ground to many in the opposition in syria . he went out personally, drove to the protests, drove to the funerals for some of the activists, didn't tell the syrian authorities where he was going, didn't ask their permission, which the syrian authorities have not been giving to foreign diplomates and just went. there is one famous picture when the ambassador arrived at a demonstration and the protesters came out and lifted up his car and were carrying flowers and olive branches and gave him a very warm welcome. his being pulled back is a blow for them.

    >> that's a blow. the administration has been saying, this is why we had him there, to be the link to the dissidents, telling conservatives and critics on the hill that they weren't accommodating the assad government, to the contrary. he was a real hero. they say they pulled him out because of threats, personal threats to his safety from the regime and that they are not withdrawing him, which would mean cutting relations.

    >> that there were specific threats to his safety. his convoy was attacked once. his residence was attacked. the embassy was attacked, mostly because of the ambassador's personal profile . not only did he go out and visit dissidents. he also kept posting messages in favor of the opposition on his facebook page. i would assume the embassy was getting specific threats regarding his safety.

    >> thank you so much, richard engel . a real hero.

    >> inspired a lot of people in syria and a lot of people said, that is what the united states should be doing, that he personally improved the image of the united states in syria much more than a lot of our efforts out of washington.

    >> indeed. thanks, richard. great to see you. thanks for being here.

Photos: Libya's uprising against Gadhafi

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  1. People gathering in Benghazi, Libya in mid-February of 2011 as protest against the rule of Moammar Gadhafi grew, in part triggered by the arrest of human rights activist Fethi Tarbel. EDITOR'S NOTE: The content, date and location of this image could not be independently verified. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Buildings at the entrance to a security forces compound burn in Benghazi, Feb. 21, 2011. Libyan protesters celebrated in the streets of Benghazi, claiming control of the country's second largest city after bloody fighting, and anti-government unrest spread to the capital with clashes in Tripoli's main square for the first time. (Alaguri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi speaks on state television. Feb. 22, and signalled his defiance over a mounting revolt against his 41-year rule. (Libya TV via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Libyan U.N. ambassador Shalgham is embraced by Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. Ambassador after denouncing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for the first time during a Security Council meeting at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York on Feb. 25. Shalgam, a longtime friend and member of Gadhafi's inner circle, had previously refused to denounce Gadhafi. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Thousands of Libyans gather for the Muslim Friday prayers outside the courthouse in the eastern city of Benghazi on Feb. 25, 2011. Perhaps 8,000 people gathered for the midday prayers with a local imam, who delivered his sermon alongside the coffins of three men killed in the violent uprising that routed Gadhafi loyalists from Benghazi. (Gianluigi Guercia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rebels hold a young man at gunpoint, who they accuse of being a loyalist to Gadhafi, between the towns of Brega and Ras Lanuf, March 3, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pro-Gadhafi soldiers and supporters gather in Green Square in Tripoli, March 6, 2011. Thousands of Moammar Gadhafi's supporters poured into the streets of Tripoli, waving flags and firing their guns in the air in the Libyan leader's main stronghold, claiming overnight military successes. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rebel fighters jump away from shrapnel during heavy shelling by forces loyal to Gadhafi near Bin Jawad, March 6. Rebels in east Libya regrouped and advanced on Bin Jawad after Gadhafi forces ambushed rebel fighters and ejected them from the town earlier in the day. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Libyan rebel fighters take cover as a bomb dropped by an airforce fighter jet explodes near a checkpoint on the outskirts of the oil town of Ras Lanuf on March 7, 2011. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Libyan rebels fire rockets at government troops on the frontline. March 9, 2011 near Ras Lanuf. The rebels pushed back government troops westward towards Ben Jawat. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Libyan government soldiers aboard tanks at the west gate of the town Ajdabiyah March 16, 2011. Libya's army pounded an opposition-held city in the country's west and battled fighters trying to block its advance on a rebel bastion in the east amid flagging diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed. EDITOR'S NOTE: Picture taken on a government guided tour. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Libyan people in Benghazi celebrate after the United Nations Security Council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, March 18. Thousands of Libyans erupted in cheers as the news flashed on a giant screen in besieged Benghazi late March 17. After weeks of discussion, the UN Security Council banned flights in Libya's airspace and authorized "all necessary means" to implement the ban, triggering intervention by individual countries and organizations like NATO. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A picture combo shows a Libyan jet bomber crashing after being apparently shot down in Benghazi on March 19, 2011 as the Libyan rebel stronghold came under attack. Air strikes and sustained shelling of the city's south sent thick smoke into the sky. (Patrick Baz / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Residents of Benghazi flee the city along the road toward Tobruk, in an attempt to escape fighting in their city, March 19, 2011. Gaddafi's troops pushed into the outskirts of Benghazi, a city of 670,000 people, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt Western military intervention expected after a meeting of Western and Arab leaders in Paris. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Gadhafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A rebel fighter carries his weapon outside the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah, March 21, 2011. A wave of air strikes hit Gaddafi's troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of eastern Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help. (Finbarr O'reilly / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A Libyan rebel prays next to his gun on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, March 21, 2011. The international military intervention in Libya is likely to last "a while," a top French official said, echoing Moammar Gadhafi's warning of a long war ahead as rebels, energized by the strikes on their opponents. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Libyan rebels retreat as mortars from Gadhafi's forces are fired on them near the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya, March 22, 2011. Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A Libyan man is comforted by hospital staff as he reacts after identifying his killed brother in the morgue of the Jalaa hospital in Benghazi, March 22, 2011. His brother was killed earlier in fighting around the city of Ajdabiya. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Volunteer fighters training at a rebel army training camp in Benghazi, March 29, 2011. Pro-government forces intensified their attacks on Libyan rebels, driving them back over ground they had taken in recent days. The rebels had reached Nawfaliya, but pulled back to Bin Jawad. (Manu Brabo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Smoke billows as seven explosions were reported in the tightly-guarded residence of leader Moammar Gadhafi and military targets in the suburb of Tajura. Two explosions also rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli on March 29, 2011, as NATO-led coalition aircraft had been seen in the skies over the capital. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A Libyan rebel urges people to leave, as shelling from Gadhafi's forces started landing on the frontline outside of Bin Jawaad, 93 miles east of Sirte, March 29, 2011. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. General Abdel-Fattah Younis, former interior minister in the Gadhafi regime who defected in the early days of the uprising, is greeted by Libyan rebels at the front line near Brega, April 1, 2011. (Altaf Qadri / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Libyan men show the V-sign for victory as they stand on the deck of a Turkish ship arriving from Misrata to the port of Benghazi who were evacuated along with others the injured in the fighting between rebel and Gadhafi forces, April 03, 2011. The Turkish vessel took hundreds of people wounded in the Libyan uprising for treatment in Turkey from the two cities of Misrata and Benghazi. (Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A wounded prisoner from Gadhafi's forces is transported in the back of a pickup truck by rebels, on the way to a hospital for treatment, half way between Brega and Ajdabiya, April 9, 2011. Rebels say they took two prisoners after a clash with soldiers near Brega's university outside the government-controlled oil facilities, marking a noticeable advance by rebels. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. In this image taken from TV, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi makes a pubic appearance in Tripoli, April 14 2011. Gadhafi defiantly waved at his supporters while being driven around Tripoli while standing up through the sunroof of a car. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A rebel fighter celebrates as his comrades fire a rocket barrage toward the positions of government troops April 14, 2011, west of Ajdabiyah. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Gadhafi supporters hold copies of his portrait as they gather at the Bab Al Azizia compound in Tripoli, April 15, 2011. Rebels held much of eastern Libya by mid-April, while Gadhafi controlled the west, with the front line shifting back and forth in the middle. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Doctors work on a baby who suffered cuts from shrapnel that blasted through the window of his home during fighting in the besieged city of Misrata, April 18, 2011. Thousands of civilians are trapped in Misrata as fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels there. The Libyan government has come under international criticism for using heavy weapons and artillery in its assault on Misrata. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. MISRATA, LIBYA - APRIL 20: Libyan rebel fighters discuss how to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from the next room during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi April 20, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building that fought back instead of surrendering, firing on the rebels in the building and seriously wounding two of them during the standoff. Fighting continues between Libyan government forces that have surrounded the city and anti-government rebels ensconced there. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images) (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Libyan rebel fighters carry out a comrade wounded during an effort to dislodge some ensconced government loyalist troops who were firing on them from a building during house-to-house fighting on Tripoli Street in downtown Misrata April 20, 2011. Rebel forces assaulted the downtown positions of troops loyal to Gaddafi, briefly forcing them back over a key bridge and trapping several in a building where they fought back instead of surrendering. Two rebels were seriously wounded during the standoff. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Rebels tread carefully as they prepare to invade a house where soldiers from the pro-government forces had their base in the Zwabi area of Misrata on April 24, 2011. (Andre Liohn / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Libyans inspect damage and an unexploded missile at the Gadhafi family compound in a residential area of Tripoli, May 1, 2011. Gadhafi escaped a NATO missile strike in Tripoli that killed one of his sons and three young grandchildren. EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo taken on a government guided tour. (Darko Bandic / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Moammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, center, leaves the funeral of his brother Saif Al-Arab Gadhafi, who was killed during air strikes by coalition forces, at the El Hani cemetery in Tripoli, May 2, 2011. Crowds chanting Gadhafi's name gathered in Tripoli for the funeral of his son and three grandchildren. (Louafi Larbi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Fleeing migrants and Libyans are seen on board an International Organization of Migration ship leaving the port of Misrata on May 4, 2011, as Gadhafi forces continued to pound the city. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Libyan men watch as the main fuel depot in Libya's third largest city, Misrata, burns following a bombing by Gadhafi's forces on May 7, 2011. Libyan regime forces shelled fuel depots in Misrata and dropped mines into its harbor using helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem, rebels said as they braced for a ground assault. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Libyan rebels celebrate near the airport of Misrata on May 11, 2011 after capturing the city's strategic airport following a fierce battle with Moammar Gadhafi's troops -- their first significant advance in weeks. (Ricardo Garcia Vilanova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Women react after a protest against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on May 16, 2011. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced that he would seek arrest warrants against the leader of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Tripoli street in Misrata is seen from the terrace of a building used by Gadhafi’s snipers before the rebels took control of the area on May 22, 2011. The weeks-long siege of the city ended in mid-May and Tripoli Street was the site of the fiercest fighting in the battle and a turnin point in the war. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A rebel fighter gives water to a soldier loyal to Gadhafi after he was wounded and then captured near the front line, west of Misrata on May 23, 2011. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. An uncle, left, prays over the body of one and a half year-old Mohsen Ali al-Sheikh during a washing ritual during the funeral at his family's house in Misrata, May 27, 2011. The child was killed by a gunshot during clashes between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces earlier in the day. (Wissam Saleh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship which was transporting an estimated 850 refugees from Libya, approximately 22 miles north of the Tunisian islands of Kerkennah, June 4, 2011. At least 578 survived the sinking. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A photograph taken from a video by a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows Mutassem Gadhafi, son of Moammar Gadhafi, drinking water and smoking a cigarette following his capture and shortly before his death, in Sirte, Oct. 20, 2011. (- / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A photograph taken from mobile phone video of a National Transitional Council (NTC) fighter shows the capture of Moammar Gadhafi in Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. This image provided by the Libyan Youth Group on Nov. 19, 2011, shows Seif al-Islam Gadhafi after he was captured near the Niger border with Libya. Moammar Gadhafi's son, the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large, was captured as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya's southern desert. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: A photo said to show people gathering during recent days' unrest in Benghazi, Libya. The content, date and location of the image could not be independently verified.
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    Above: Slideshow (81) Conflict in Libya
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    Slideshow (34) Moammar Gadhafi through the years

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