I am working odd shifts and cannot routinely write. I will be addressing Juan Cole’s piece regarding the 10 so-called Benghazi myths. In the meantime, here’s my appearance on Geraldo last Saturday.
So, with that little warm up let me address Juan Cole’s recent piece citing ten “myths” surrounding Benghazi.
1. Republican senators keep saying that it should have been “easy” to find out what happened on September 11, 2012, by simply debriefing US personnel who had been there. John McCain, Ron Johnson and the others who make this charge are the most cynical and manipulative people in the world. The Benghazi US mission was very clearly an operation of the Central Intelligence Agency, and that is the reason that the Obama administration officials have never been able to speak frankly and publicly about it. McCain and the others know this very well, and they know that their public carping cannot be “simply” answered because the answers would endanger sources and methods. The consulate was amazingly well-guarded by some 40 CIA operatives, many of them ex-special forces, in a nearby safe house. These were viewed by consular officials as “the cavalry.” It is still not clear what Ambassador Chris Stevens and the CIA were doing in Benghazi, and unless we know that we can’t know why they were attacked. (They were not overseeing the shipping of weapons to Syria; the Syrian revolutionaries complain bitterly that the US *prevents* them from getting medium and heavy weapons).
Well Juan, you have not been paying attention. The reason some of the Syrian revolutionaries complain so bitterly is that the US role in supplying weapons and fighters has been clandestine. But clandestine in a way akin to Iran Contra. Rather than sign a Presidential Finding and brief Congress, the White House and Hillary opted to back a secret program outside of the traditional intelligence channels. It was funded by the Saudis and Qataris. With no US funds involved then there was no need to brief Congress. You, Juan, are missing the point. Congress has not been told the truth, even within the secret confines of the Intel Committees.
2. Republicans keep posturing that their questions about Benghazi are intended to bolster US security. In fact, they are harming it. Republican hearings in the House of Representative have disgracefully revealed the names of Libyans talking to the US consulate, thus endangering their lives and harming US efforts to understand the situation in the country, since who would risk talking to the embassy if they know about Darrell Issa’s big mouth?
Democracy is a bitch, ain’t it. I do not recall you raising an issue about the Obama Administration outing a Pakistani Doctor who helped us confirm Osama Bin Laden’s presence in Abottabad. You cannot name a single Libyan who is in jail or dead because of what the Republicans have done. You cannot say the same for the poor Doctor wasting away in a Pakistani prison.
3. The GOP figures keep saying that it was obvious that there was no demonstration at the Benghazi consulate against the so-called “film,” the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ that attacked the Prophet Muhammad. But in fact Libyan security officials repeatedly told wire services on September 12 that there was such a demonstration, and that the attack issued from those quarters. An American resident in Benghazi at that time confirms that there were such demonstrations that day. The secular-minded revolutionary militia that guarded the US consulate for the Libyan government kept the demonstrations far enough away from the consulate gates that they would not have shown up in security videos.
Nope. Not true. There was no demonstration. There was an organized attack. The CIA issued situation reports, starting the evening of 9-11 and continuing until the morning of the 12th. I am told by friends who have seen those reports that there is no mention of any demonstration. But you do not have to take the word of my anonymous sources. We have the testimony of the man who became acting Ambassador in Libya, Greg Hicks, who testified last week under oath. He was in contact both with Ambassador Stevens and his security officer and testified there was no demonstration. It was a terrorist attack. And with respect to your secular-minded militia? They bailed and ran away.
4. Benghazi, a city of over a million, is not dominated by “al-Qaeda,” contrary to what Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has repeatedly said or implied. The city had successful municipal elections in May, just before I got there. The number one vote-getter was a woman professor of statistics at the university. While political Islam is a force in Benghazi, only some relatively small groups are militant, and it has to compete with nationalist, tribal and regional ideological currents. In Libya’s parliamentary elections of July, 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood did very poorly and nationalists came to power. Women won 20% of the seats! The elected Speaker of Parliament, Muhammad Magarief, called for a secular constitution for Libya and a separation of religion and state.
Secular city, huh? You clearly are not paying attention to what is going on in Libya. US AFRICOM took steps this week to prepare for the evacuation of US personnel from all of Libya because of the rising threat of Islamic extremists. You really need to look at the news once in a while. Here’s what CNN reported the other day:
Several dozen combat-ready U.S. Marines stationed in southern Spain have been put on alert to potentially move into Libya and assist in the evacuation of American personnel if the unrest grows there in the coming days, a senior military official confirms to CNN.
The Marines have not yet moved from their base, but could be ordered to move closer to Libya so they could get there faster if a full evacuation is ordered.
A team of special operations forces also are on standby in Germany to assist, if needed.
The Marines in Spain are supposed to be ready to move within six hours of notification. By moving them closer, that time frame could be cut in half.
Your next point?
5. Contrary to repeated assertions that it was obvious that terrorist groups were rampaging around in the city, members of the Benghazi municipal council told then US ambassador Chris Stevens that security in the city was improving in summer, 2012. In fact, one Senator John McCain said during a visit to Libya last February, ““We are very happy to be back here in Libya and to note the enormous progress and changes made in the past few months… We know that many challenges lie ahead… but we are encouraged by what we have seen.” Doesn’t sound to me like McCain was running around like Chicken Little warning that the sky was about to fall on US diplomats there. Want to know who else came along on that trip? Lindsey Graham, who likewise didn’t issue any dire warnings in its aftermath.
You can insist that the Sun revolves around the moon. But the sincerity of your belief does not make it reality. The intel reports provided to State Department, many in classified channels, pointed to a growing threat. Just because Lindsey Graham and John McCain were as blind as you does not make your position correct.
6. Contrary to the “Libya-is-riddled-with-al-Qaeda” meme of the GOP politicians, there is a strong civil society and tribal opposition to fundamentalist militias in Benghazi, of which Amb. Chris Stevens was well aware. Tripoli-based journalist Abd-al-Sattar Hatitah explained in the pages of the pan-Arab London daily al-Sharq al-Awsat [Sept. 30, 2012, trans. USG Open Source Center]:
Jesus Christ!! You really have chugged the koolaid on Arab spring. If things were so secular and moderate we would not be moving Marines into position to evacuate our folks from Libya. Wake up man!
7. Al-Qaeda is not for the most part even a “thing” in Libya. The only formal al-Qaeda affiliate in the region is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is not a Libyan but an Algerian organization. Just calling all Salafi groups “al-Qaeda” is propaganda. They have to swear fealty to Ayman al-Zawahiri (or in the past, Usama Bin Laden) to be al-Qaeda. The main al-Qaeda connection in Benghazi is to Abu Yahya al-Libi, who was killed in northern Pakistan by a US drone strike in June. Some of his close relatives in Benghazi may have been angry about this (depending on how well they liked him), but they are not known to form a formal al-Qaeda cell. There are also young men from Dirna in the Benghazi area, some of whom fought against the US in Iraq. Their numbers are not large and, again, they don’t have al-Zawahiri’s phone number on auto-dial. Sen. McCain was a big supporter of the US intervention in Libya and seems to have been all right with Abdul Hakim Belhadj being his ally, even though in the zeroes Belhadj would have been labeled ‘al-Qaeda.’
I agree with you that McCain and his ilk who backed the ironically named “Arab Spring” was blind to what was really going on in Libya. You are missing the point–radical Islamists that are ideologically and theologically in sync with what we conveniently label as Al Qaeda are flocking to Libya and taking control.
8. Ansar al-Sharia (Helpers of Islamic Law) is just an informal grouping of a few hundred hard line fundamentalists in Benghazi, and may be a code word to refer to several small organizations. There are no known operational links between Ansar al-Sharia and al-Qaeda. It is a local thing in Benghazi.
WRONG!! But to prove you wrong would require divulging specific intelligence. The conclusions drawn by the intelligence community on this point are not idle fantasies.
9. Leaders of Ansar al-Sharia have denied that they directed their organization to attack the US consulate and have condemned the attack.
DOUBLE WRONG! The identities and linkage on this point are backed up by significant evidence.
10. Lindsey Graham and others point to instances of political violence this past summer in Benghazi as obvious harbingers of the September 11 consulate attack. But it was a tiny fringe group, the Omar Abdel Rahman Brigades, that claimed responsibility for setting off a small pipe bomb in front of the gate of the US consulate last June. This is what the US statement said last June:
“There was an attack late last night on the United States office in Benghazi,” a US embassy official said, adding that only the gate was damaged and no one was hurt. The diplomat said a homemade bomb had been used in the attack on the office, set up after the 2011 uprising against Muammar Qadhafi and kept open to support the democratic transition “
You’d have to be a real scaredy cat to pack up and leave because of a thing like that, which is what Sen. Graham keeps saying should have been the response.
Look Juan, you are a typical academic. No real experience of having to actually protect people in a foreign environment. There were clear warning signs prior to the attacks on 9-11-2012. Those indicators alarmed the security professionals at the Embassy in Tripoli. Their requests for additional help were rejected. Investigators will prove conclusively that Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy is the one who pushed the decision to scale back security.
The bottomline from the events that we now know as the second 9-11 is that four Americans died because security had been scaled back prior to the attack and, when the attack came, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton opted to deal with the event as a political crisis that had to be contained rather than confront it as a terrorist attack on the United States. You may share Hillary’s view, i.e., “WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?”
It makes a huge difference that the President of the United States and the Secretary of State decide to do nothing of substance when faced with a coordinated, organized terrorist attack. That kind of leadership failure only makes more terrorism likely.