WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will throw its weight behind a European effort to expel Libya from the U.N.'s top human rights body and name a special investigator to look into alleged atrocities committed by Moammar Gadhafi's regime, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will help coordinate the larger international strategy to stop the violence in Libya when she attends a meeting of that group, the U.N. Human Rights Council, in Geneva next week, the officials said.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the administration backs a European proposal for the 47-nation council to recommend Libya's expulsion. Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss administration planning, also said the U.S. would support efforts to establish a U.N.-led probe into "gross and systematic violations of human rights by the Libyan authorities."
Council members were debating the resolution Thursday in Geneva, ahead of an emergency session Friday. Kicking out Libya would require two-thirds approval of all the 192 countries in the United Nations.
"We support expelling Libya from the Human Rights Council," Crowley told reporters at the State Department. "The Libyan government has violated the rights of its people. Taking this step continues the increased isolation that the Libyan government is facing."
Hundreds are believed to have been killed in Libya in recent days and Gadhafi's regime appears to have lost control of large parts of the country.
The administration also warned of a Libyan crackdown on foreign journalists to stifle news of the regime's violent assaults on protesters.
In meetings with U.S. diplomats, Libyan officials said they would consider unregistered journalists as al-Qaida collaborators subject to immediate arrest, according to the State Department.
"Be advised, entering Libya to report on the events unfolding there is additionally hazardous with the government labeling unauthorized media as terrorist collaborators and claiming they will be arrested if caught," the department said in a notice to news organizations.
The Libyan officials told the U.S. diplomats that some journalists from CNN, BBC Arabic and Al Arabiya television would be allowed into the country to cover the situation. But the officials said journalists working independently and not in government-approved teams will be prosecuted on immigration charges, according to the department.
The warning comes as the Libyan government appears to have lost control of much of the eastern part of the nation, where some reporters are crossing the border from Egypt.
The violence continued Thursday as army units and militiamen loyal to Gadhafi struck back against rebellious Libyans in cities close to the capital, attacking a mosque where some were protesting against the government. Medical officials said 15 people were killed in the clashes.
In a rambling phone call to state TV, Gadhafi accused al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden of being behind the uprising.
As the world wearily watched the unpredictable Gadhafi and tried to pressure his government to stop the violence, the U.S. was forced to maintain a cautious tone because dozens of Americans remained stuck in the country.
Crowley said 167 Americans — 40 nonessential personnel and their family members, and 127 private U.S. citizens — are waiting to be evacuated by ferry from Libya, but it remained docked in the capital of Tripoli because of high seas. There are also 118 foreigners on board and the boat isn't expected to leave until Friday.
"These people have been on board the ship for now well over 24 hours," Crowley said. "I'm sure they're uncomfortable. They slept last night on the ship."
Crowley said the U.S. had security aboard the vessel and that Libyan security officials were securing the port area — a situation that was creating some unease since the safety of American citizens remained in some part dependent on Gadhafi's government. He sidestepped a reporter's question as to whether the U.S. was fearful of a hostage situation arising, and praised Libya for cooperating with the U.S. on the planned evacaution.
"It is very unstable," he said.
Crowley said the United States hasn't pursued any conversations with Gadhafi himself. But he said U.S. officials were discussing the situation with Libyan government counterparts at various levels and messages from the Libyan leaders were being passed. He declined to elaborate on their contents.