WASHINGTON — Moments after a charter aircraft departed Libya with all remaining U.S. diplomats there Friday, the Obama administration shuttered the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and moved to freeze assets in the United States that belonged to leader Moammar Gadhafi, his family and his inner circle.
White House officials said President Barack Obama also canceled all military contacts with Libya and ordered a re-allocation of U.S. intelligence assets to focus on civilian deaths there and to track Libyan troop deployments and tank movements.
The administration had cited the risk to American lives for what had appeared to be its restrained reaction to events in Libya over the past week, even as evidence of government atrocities grew. But with virtually all Americans and other foreigners now gone, the United States moved quickly to ramp up the pressure on Gadhafi.
"It's clear that Colonel Gadhafi has lost the confidence of his people," said the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, in a briefing that was delayed to allow the plane to take off. "His legitimacy has been reduced to zero."
But Carney said the sanctions were not intended to help push Gadhafi from power, reiterating that the Libyan people must be the ones to decide whether he should go.
The Americans' efforts were joined by those of the international community. On a day of frenetic diplomatic activity, the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva condemned Gadhafi's bloody crackdown on demonstrators and ordered a war crimes investigation.
At U.N. headquarters in New York, European powers circulated a draft resolution, to be considered at an emergency Security Council meeting Saturday, that would impose international economic sanctions on Libya and specifically target Gadhafi, his sons and his close aides with a travel ban and asset freeze.
In a chilling briefing to the Security Council, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon cited reports that forces loyal to Gadhafi were shooting civilians as they left their homes and inside hospitals in Tripoli, and said that more than 1,000 people had been killed.
Libya's U.N. ambassador, Mohamed Shalgam, broke down in tears after he urged intervention to stop the bloodshed. Shalgam said that Gadhafi, his former friend and mentor, had given the Libyan people a grim choice: "Either I rule you or I kill you." He received hugs from some diplomats.