Top Ten Republican Myths on Libya

Reprint edn.; since they don’t change their talking points, why should we change our blog entries?

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).

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?

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.

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.

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.

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]:

“It appears that the simple rule Benghazi’s people thought of applying was based on other experiences in which the radical Islamists or militants in general managed to grow, prosper, and expand by seeking protection from the tribes, as happened in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen. But the civil movements which became very active [in Benghazi] after the fall of Al-Qadhafi’s regime were the ones that formed alliances this time with the tribes, the notables, wise men councils, and civil society figures against the militants. This is akin to the “Sahwat” in Iraq. The alliance managed to expel the brigades from the town and encouraged the nascent Libyan authorities to tighten their restrictions on all armed manifestations…

He adds that [a meeting by secular notables with the tribes] was also attended by representatives from the army chiefs-of-staff and the Interior Ministry as well as a number of members from the National Congress (parliament). “All civil society organizations also took part with us. Everybody consented to issuing the statement against the presence of the [fundamentalist] brigades and we distributed 3,000 copies. “

This was around September 3. After the attack on the US consulate, tens of thousands of people in Benghazi demonstrated against the violence and in favor of the US and Stevens. Then they attempted to sweep the fundamentalist militias from the city.

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.’

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.

9. Leaders of Ansar al-Sharia have denied that they directed their organization to attack the US consulate and have condemned the attack.

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. Likewise the same small cell was responsible for attacks on the office of the Red Cross and on a convoy of the British consulate, which injured a consular employ. Security isn’t all that great in Benghazi, though actually I suspect the criminal murder rate is much lower than in any major American city. I walked around freely in Benghazi in early June, and couldn’t have disguised my being a Westerner if I had wanted to, and nobody looked at me sideways. A pipe bomb and a shooting, neither of them fatal, did not stand out as dire in a city full of armed militias, most of them grateful to the US and Britain for their help in the revolution. You can understand why the Red Cross packed it in after a couple of attacks, but the US government is not the Red Cross.

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23 Responses

  1. I’m fascinated and disturbed by neocons like Sen Graham who feigns outrage at the lack of investigation into Benghazi, where four Americans lost their lives, but has no curiosity at all about the bogus intelligence that led to the needless invasion of Iraq, where over FOUR THOUSAND soldiers lost their lives and another 40,000 wounded.

    Let’s see some indignation from the warmongers about long lines at the VA for treatment or months of waiting, as pointed out by Jon Stewart, for soldiers applying for benefits, whose files are lost on a regular basis.

    • You beat me to it. Well said. I would have added the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed and maimed and those waiting to die from exposure to depleted uranium and unexploded cluster bomblets. Also the millions who were displaced, but they would all be regarded with indifference by our predominantly racist society. And, of course, our sociopathical or psychopathical government.

  2. One of the more bizarre statements I heard was from Dick “5 Deferments” Cheney who stated that ‘they’ were always ready on 9-11, at least the anniversaries.* It’s interesting that ‘they’ would be emphatically ready on the anniversaries while every other day would be less dangerous. For those of us who spent time overseas in uniform, EVERY day was a day to be ready, all political actions and consequences being local, right down to the individual persons’ survival.
    With the fluid – even gaseous – environments created by removing the old-line strongmen, it seems entirely possible that any day is a good day to make into a new anniversary, knowing that certain days – the acknowleged ‘anniversaries’ – would provide less potential for success, especially a day in honour of another date that caught the “Deserter” and “Draft-Dodger” in chiefs flatfooted. We cannot forget that the actions taken by these two ‘individuals’ made it quite attractive to activists around the World to attack Americans whenever and wherever the opportunities presented themselves.
    I hope the House committee sees Benghazi as only one aspect of administrations’ failures to secure overseas missions and delegations. We cannot forget that B43 had some gaps (for explanations) in his preparations, most notably on 11th September 2001, when the usual suspects were blamed for what became an urban renewal project for NYC. In total, B43 had no less than 13 “Benghazis” while he was supposedly making the World safe from terrorism.** As Bob Cesca writes, ‘Also, my list above doesn’t include the numerous and fatal attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad during the Iraq war — a war that was vocally supported by Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Fox News Channel.’ Another list provides some information on attacks on Americans during the B43 years, most of them in countries under control of governments friendly to the United States. We can count from 2001 to early 2009 to see the extent.^
    What we can see from this latest round of hearings is a Republican effort to damage the American political system by smearing Hillary Clinton firstly, a person who some believe to be the Presidential successor to Obama. Additionally, it can be seen as a means to whitewash or revise history in the Republicans’ favour by making an exaggerated issue of Benghazi while minimising the mistakes, misdeeds, missteps, misunderestimatings, and mish-mosh of American foreign policies between Januarys 2001 and 2009. It seems that they hope to pick the ripe fruit from the tree while ignoring how much has been left to rot.
    This is not to say that something like Benghazi is ‘acceptable.’ On the contrary, it is another example of American imperial overreach wherein any chance to bolster their standing among their own people will be taken by those opposed to American policies. As I write, American forces are preparing for evacuation efforts to begin, removing U.S. assets from Libya in case there is another convenient opportunity seen by national demonstrators to mount an attack, most likely because they can and will.*** As can be seen in any mob actions, disturbances will be caused with hopes of at least one of them seeming to be the voice of a reasonable people and, therefore, emerge as an alternative to the established leadership. And, so, is it hard to mistake the actions of unruly Libyans or Syrians with those of the Republicans?

    * link to
    ** link to
    ^ link to
    *** link to

  3. I read somewhere that people that take extreme positions are not interested in the nuts and bolts of a situation.

  4. While I am of the opinion the the current Benghazi noise is political posturing, discredits Congress much more than the White House and should stop forthwith, this struck me as a sour note, “The Benghazi US mission was very clearly an operation of the Central Intelligence Agency.”

    The State Department, in the person of an Ambassador no less, was engaged in a CIA operation, and you don’t think that needs explanation? I do, and not in secrect meeting to a habdful of senators. The Church Committee was not done in secret.

  5. The GOPTea & Fox are beneath contempt with their unceasing conspiracy theories and scandal-making over Benghazi. And they’re hypocrites to boot. There were more attacks on U.S. Embassies under George W. Bush than under any other President—but I don’t remember hearing a peep out of the GOPTea about that, or about 9-11 that happened on G.W.Bush’s watch, or the Iraq War launched in the lie of WMDs.

    The GOP were silent while all that was going on but now they’re trying with all their might to make a big deal about Benghazi because they have nothing else to pin on potential future Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. It’s all sound and fury signifying nothing, which is the GOPTea M.O.

    FYI ~

    U.S. Embassy attacks by President:
    Carter-3, Reagan-3, Obama-2, GHWBush-1 and Clinton-1.

    U.S. Embassy attacks under George W. Bush, including 9-11:

    1. On September 11, 2001 —2,996 civilian deaths, including 19 hijackers.

    2. On January 22, 2002, Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami gunmen attacked the US consulate at Kolkata, killing 5 people.

    3. On June 14, 2002, an Al-Qaeda truck bomb detonated outside the US consulate at Karachi, killing 12.

    4. On October 12, 2002, the US consular office at Denpasar (Indonesia) was bombed by Jemaah Islamiyah as part of the Bali bombings.

    5. In 2002 again, 9 people were killed by bomb blast near US embassy in Lima (Peru). An attempt to disrupt forthcoming visit by President George W. Bush.

    6. On February 28, 2003, unknown gunmen attacked US embassy at Islamabad, killing 2 people.

    7. On June 30, 2004, a suicide bomber hailing from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan attacked US embassy at Tashkent, killing 2 people.

    8. On December 6, 2004, Al-Qaeda gunmen raided the diplomatic compound at Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), killing 9 Americans.

    9. On March 2, 2006, two people were killed when a car bomb exploded outside the US consulate in Karachi.

    10. On September 12, 2006, gunmen raided the US embassy at Damascus (Syria), killing 4 people.

    11. On January 12, 2007, a Greek revolutionary group fired an RPG at the US embassy at Greece. No damage done.

    12. On March 18, 2008, a mortar attack at the US Embassy at Sana’a (Yemen) killed 2 people.

    13. On July 9, 2008, an armed attack at the US consulate at Istanbul killed 6 people.

    14. On September 17, 2008, 16 people were killed when the US embassy at Sana’a (Yemen) was attacked.
    ~ Media Matters, International The News, Daily Kos, Mother Jones

    • “The GOP were silent while all that was going on but now they’re trying with all their might to make a big deal about Benghazi because they have nothing else to pin on potential future Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.”

      If the American people had higher moral and ethical standards, the hypocrites in this Benghazi charade would have more than enough to scuttle Hillary’s presumed run for the presidency. As Clinton’s partner (if not his Lady Macbeth) she was complicit in the “mistakes” for which he recently gave sort-of mea culpas she clearly should be tarnished goods. Then there are:

      1. Her gung-ho push for the illegal and immoral war on Iraq.
      2. Her acquiescence to the coup in Honduras that kicked out the democratically elected former president.
      3. Her presumed triple-A rating from the Israeli lobby.
      4. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

      So, what does it say about the rank-and-file Democrats that they are so willing to endorse her for president?

      • “If the American people had higher moral and ethical standards,…

        Come to think about it, if the American people had higher moral and ethical standards, the GOP would also be in deep trouble and we might get the third party we need.

  6. off topic

    humor magazine The Onion on the failure to attract a Muslim to jihad – he was too dumb

    as is well known, the FBI is successful in recruiting less dumb people and then making a dramatic capture as they plant the bombs that the FBI helped them make

    this is a laugh for the day

    link to

  7. I’m totally confused by all sides on this. Is it true that we have zero presence in Benghazi the past couple months? I see that the Syrian rebels got heavy machine guns capable of shooting down airplanes/helicopters from somewhere. Was it Libya? Security is now too bad in Tripoli for the US, British and French embassies. Is security for westerners ok anywhere in Libya right now? If not is it due to anti-ghaddafi militias or pro-ghadhafi militias? Thanks!

    • On your question about the rebels in Syria: several Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been providing weaponry to the Syrian resistance.

  8. No “al-Qaeda”, no easy Defense Bucks.

    It seems, the focus has shifted from the BLACK MAN
    in the WHITE HOUSE, to the WHITE WOMAN who works FOR
    that BLACK MAN in the WHITE HOUSE.

  9. I have heard that one reason for insufficient security at embassy and consulate locations was that the CIA were running serious “black ops” out of these locations, and they did not want a high security presence to draw attention to their activities. Is this true?

  10. “Leaders of Ansar Al-Sharia have denied that they directed their organization to attack the U.S. Consulate and have condemned the attack.”

    In fact, their has been substantial evidence of that group’s involvemnt in the attack.

    Not long after the attack New York Times correspondent David Kirkpatrick quoted a 20-year-old witness named Mohamed Bishari who gave his account that the attackers were members of Ansar Al-Sharia.

    Paul Schemm of the Associated Press reported on October 27, 2012 that between 125-150 gunmen sealed off the streets with trucks bearing to logo of Ansar Al-Sharia before commencing the operation.

    “Al-Qaeda is not for the most part not even a ‘thing” in Libya.”

    In reality, there have been concerns expressed about Al-Qaeda endangering U.S. interests in Libya.

    On September 14, 2012, CNN correspondent Arwa Damon discovered Ambassador Stevens diary at the unsecured site of the attack; that diary conveyed his worries of being on an Al-Qaeda “hit list”.

    CNN’s Paul Cruickshank, in a March 5, 2015 report, indicated that an intercepted phone call from Benghazi linked a senior Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb commander to the attack.

    The only thing clear about the attacks is that these were heavily armed individuals conducting a well-coordinated assault and that the Obama administration disseminated false information afterwards regarding the attack.

    My guess is that Al-Qaeda had some involvement in the incident but that it was carried out by Ansar Al-Sharia at the operational level. The Al-Libi drone killing may have been the motivation for al-Qaeda initiating the retaliation and the three-month timeline between that incident and the consular attacks support this.

    The concept of a joint operation between Al-Qaeda and another organization is not unprecedented. The Sinai hotel bombings targeting Israeli tourists that resulted in 60 deaths back in 2004 had been described by some as an Al-Qaeda operation that received logistical support by Hezbollah.

  11. As Prof. Cole points out: “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.”

    And if it were true that freeing the Libyan people from Qaddafi meant that everything would land in al-Qaeda’s lap not more than a year-and-a-half after his death, then why do Graham and McCain keep insisting we rush to intervene everywhere in the Middle East?

  12. Republican ‘skazkii’ would be a good title too. Should also include the moment in the early debriefings had to be halted because one of the Republican senators inadvertently divulged CIA involvement and Victoria Nuland got antsy, not wanting to be led down a garden path.

    The other aspect too, some of the people involved in the incident and making bad decisions were likely republican as well, so cant pin all the tail on the democrats. There are alot of former Bush-Cheney people in the hierarchy at State. These incidents where information has to be changed and covered up brings out their special ‘skills’.

    What’s sad is that the real problems will be buried in this smoke and mirrors campaign covering for one or more party’s presidential ambitions.

    It’s disgraceful the level of in-bureaucracy retaliation that occurred, including how Stevens was treated. During the brief ‘matyr’ phase of Steven’s death, he was presented by State officials as a golden boy sent to Libya. Then as the situation took a dark turn, attempts were made to pin the tail on him since he couldnt defend himself being dead. That had to stop when his diary was found in the rubble and he had written even his own request for more security had been denied. An agency should not do that to their own.

    Then there was wrangling over stupid ‘talking points’ to include or exclude so the bureaucracy looked good, as if no one had died. On the plus side, the talking points made an impact lol and everyone is trying to talk about them.

    The CIA behaved shamefully too, throwing State under the bus, and I still do not understand who in the Defense department refused to send a rescue plane in. Why refuse your own countrymen??? How officials rise to the top in bureaucracies, and the promotion and firing processes should be reformed. These institutions are firing people for doing their jobs and promoting the most obsequious and overly ambitious who care only to protect their jobs and not about their country.

    We used to have far more expert professionals in government affairs and there used to be stronger collaboration across party lines. My uncle was a former head of the MFO agency, a democrat, hired by Bush senior’s representatives, and political affiliation was not an issue. You did your job. But the system has been too manipulated by current political interests and needs reform– badly. Of course, that is not so sexy a notion for the current hearing

  13. I believe that this kabuki about what happened is Libya is primarily focused on trashing the Hillary Clinton brand in light of her presidential aspirations. They are setting narratives in place that will be abused in future campaign activity.

    • Agree with you, Phychohistorian. The GOPTea are setting themselves up to trash Hillary Clinton. Benghazi is Whitewater redux for them.

  14. One question that goes un-asked: why was the US consulate guarded by CIA “operatives” and not uniformed US Marines like every US embassy? Uniformed military guards guarding a nation’s embassy wearing that nation’s uniform is a well accepted practice. Have we not violated diplomatic norms here? Perhaps this is the blowback!

    Would we object if the Russian embassy in Washington were guarded by a heavily armed KGB paramilitary force operating out of a “safe house”? Might we wonder what else this KGB secret army is up to?

    It seems that now that we have militarized the CIA we no longer have an intelligence agency.

    • My theory has been that the CIA runs everything the US does in Libya, and that they call the shots. Republicans are barking up the wrong tree. Benghazi is crawling with CIA operatives. They should have been the operational leaders that night. It took them 25 minutes to get to the mimi-consulate. It would take much longer to reach Benghazi from US military bases in Europe. And what could the US military possibly do? The real issue is if State is covering up for the CIA? And why?

    • Supposedly the post was to have been an unobtrusive one but there may be some contracting politics involved here too – would be interesting to see the correspendance – did the contractor they were using claim at any time they had things under control, if so could be a case of greed as well because the contractors make soo much money off this whole thing. The idea of contracting out the government to save money should be on the hot seat cause it’s a huge wasteful ripoff of the american taxpayer.

      It was claimed it was supposed to have been a secret post there but it sounds like it was a big open secret and the post was under surveillence. I am not sure who would claim that post could be a secret operation – hey it is libya lol. There is a history of government intelligence networks in country.

      There have been a couple of articles in the Post over some months, about the militarization of the CIA. It is bound to happen because the hiring processes emphasize jobs for recent veterans and thus there is a cultural aspect and Petreaus led it for a few years

    • Look at the Iranian hostage crisis and Lebanon in the 1980s.

      CIA personnel were held hostage. CIA agents can operate under embassy cover and diplomatic immunity when assigned to embassy or consular buildings. This is nothing new.

      Remember Operation Mongooose where the CIA trained and led anti-Castro exiles in paramilitary operations?

      The Central Intelligence Agency by law always must have one miltary/naval officer and one civilian intelligence officer hold the Director of Intelligence and Deputy Director position. Bobby Inman, as deputy director of the CIA, used to wear his admiral’s uniform.

      The CIA always has beeen a paramilitary as well as an intelligence organization.

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