The New York Times has published a new account of the deadly 9/11/12 terrorist attacks against two US compounds in Benghazi, Libya. Reporter David Kirkpatrick's sources, some of whom are anonymous, say there is little indication that international terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda were involved in the attack. Kirkpatrick's story also claims that the raids were not "meticulously planned," and were, in fact, touched off by an obscure YouTube video trailer that some say denigrated Islam. A snippet from the piece:
Then, on Sept. 8, a popular Islamist preacher lit the fuse by screening a clip of the video on the ultraconservative Egyptian satellite channel El Nas. American diplomats in Cairo raised the alarm in Washington about a growing backlash, including calls for a protest outside their embassy. No one mentioned it to the American diplomats in Libya. But Islamists in Benghazi were watching. Egyptian satellite networks like El Nas and El Rahma were widely available in Benghazi. “It is Friday morning viewing,” popular on the day of prayer, said one young Benghazi Islamist who turned up at the compound during the attack, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. By Sept. 9, a popular eastern Libyan Facebook page had denounced the film. On the morning of Sept. 11, even some secular political activists were posting calls online for a protest that Friday, three days away. Hussein Abu Hamida, the acting chief of Benghazi’s informal police force, saw the growing furor and feared new violence against Western interests.
Some on the Right are denouncing this version of events as historical revisionism designed to rehabilitate Hillary Clinton's reputation on the matter. Some of this criticism is warranted. The 'no Al Qaeda role' revelation reads like political parsing. The Islamist militia that carried out the attacks (Ansar al-Sharia) is widely viewed as an offshoot of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb. Whether AQ's central command ordered or approved the lethal ambush seems trivial in light of the facts: Extremist groups sacked the US consulate, assassinated our ambassador, and shelled a separate CIA enclave in the city over the course of many hours, murdering four Americans in total. Emails sent between the State Department and Libyan officials on September 12 acknowledged Ansar al-Sharia's role in the bloodshed. It was terrorism from the start. CNN has also reported that at least three members of Al Qaeda took part in the attacks. For what it's worth, Rep. Peter King is hammering the Times' story as "misleading," and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers has asserted that Benghazi was an "Al Qaeda-led event:"
In the same interview, Rogers also suggested there were attempts to connect between the assailants and the Al Qaeda senior leadership in Pakistan. "I can tell you we know the participants of the event were clearly Al Qaeda affiliates, had strong interest and desire to communicate with Al Qaeda core and others, in the process -- we believe before and after the event."
If the supposedly infamous 'Innocence of Muslims' online video played some role in galvanizing the raid by offering a thin "justification" to set the murders in motion, that's also a historical footnote. It also contradicts the sworn testimony of Gregory Hicks, Amb. Stevens' second in command in Libya at the time of the attack. Hicks called the online video a "non event" in Libya, adding that he personally informed Sec. Clinton that the melee was a coordinated terrorist attack within hours of the bloodshed beginning. In the aftermath of the killings, the Obama administration falsely claimed that the violence had spun out of "spontaneous protests" over the clip, a fable that Kirkpatrick's reporting also debunks. His sources describe the raid as a planned incident, enabled by the striking lack of security forces at the diplomatic compound. "There was even less security at the compound than usual," the story reads. Rep. Rogers -- who has access to reams of classified intelligence -- is also unambiguous in his conclusion: "[Benghazi] was a pre-planned, organized terrorist event."
Remember, Islamist violence against Western targets in Benghazi (including two smaller assaults on the scandalously under-protected US compound) had escalated in the months leading up to 9/11. The British had pulled their people out of the city, and American officials on the ground had begged for more security. Those requests were denied by Hillary Clinton's State Department. Whistleblower Eric Nordstrom testified that Sec. Clinton "absolutely" would have been aware of the situation. Then, as the administration debated which talking points to disseminate to the public in the wake of the murders, officials at State requested that references to terrorism red flags be scrubbed from the final version. Ed Morrissey writes that Kirkpatrick's investigation "doesn't even begin" to address "the larger and more important" mysteries surrounding the attacks. He lists a handful of outstanding questions that still, all these months later, demand serious answers:
1. The State Department was repeatedly warned about the chaos in Benghazi and the increasing aggressiveness of the Islamist militias and terror networks in the area after the US-prompted NATO mission decapitated the Qaddafi regime — including escalating demands for security from the US mission in Libya. Why did State ignore these demands?
2. Other Western nations bailed out of Benghazi because of increasing terrorism. Why did the US stay put when even the UK pulled out? Especially without increasing security?
3. The attack took place on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 in an area with active al-Qaeda affiliates, as well as terrorist networks with murkier alliances. Why wasn’t the US prepared to respond to an attack on its most vulnerable diplomatic outpost?
4. Where was Barack Obama and what was he doing after his 5 pm meeting with Leon Panetta at the beginning of the attack?
5. If the YouTube video was such an issue, why didn’t anyone in Benghazi or Tripoli know it, and why did the White House end up retracting that claim after a couple of weeks?
6. Who told the Accountability Review Board to ignore the actions of higher-ranking State Department officials such as Patrick Kennedy, who ignored the pleas for more security, and focus blame on lower-ranking career officials for the unpreparedness of State for the attack?
7. What was the CIA doing in Benghazi, and how did they miss the rise of Ansar al-Shariah? Kirkpatrick notes that no one seemed aware of its danger until after the attack.
That last question in especially interesting in light of accusations like this. I'll add just one more: How is it remotely acceptable that nearly 16 months after Islamists sacked a US consulate and murdered a sitting ambassador, zero people have been held accountable? A handful of State Department officials (at least one of whom appears to have been a total scapegoat) served time in the political penalty box, but were quietly reinstated a few months later. Two major figures in the cover-up were promoted. And none of the terrorists have been brought to justice, even though we identified and located several of the "suspects" months ago. The Washington Post reported earlier this month that US efforts to detain those responsible have "stalled."
UPDATE - The New York Times contradicts bipartisan Congressional assessments, as well as reporting from...the New York Times:
UPDATE II - Conservative journalist Lee Stranahan says calling the YouTube video "obscure" isn't accurate (I've altered the headline of this post):
Whether you believe the video was a factor in Benghazi or not, to call it obscure or say nobody knew about it is factually inaccurate.— Lee Stranahan (@Stranahan) December 30, 2013