It appears the crucial lost intelligence about what really happened in the tragic Benghazi attacks of Sept. 11, 2012, really has been hiding in plain sight all along — just like the attack’s suspected ringleader, who was finally snatched Sunday in a bloodless U.S. Special Operations military and FBI raid inside Libya.
Ever since the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others, locating, contacting and even interviewing the militant Islamic leader Ahmed Abu Khattala never seemed much of a problem. At least not for U.S. journalists. The local Benghazi contractor and Ansar al-Shariah militia leader usually showed up as promised, wearing his trademark blue overalls, for interviews with a number of Western television and print correspondents in the almost two years since President Obama famously vowed an all-out effort to identity and apprehend the leaders of the attacks on the U.S. consulate and nearby CIA compound.
So the puzzlement about why the best and brightest of America’s military and intelligence couldn’t do the same will be one of many that will be probed by a new Republican-inspired congressional inquiry into why the attackers attacked on that tragic night in Benghazi.
It was just weeks before America’s 2012 presidential election. And it has become one of Washington’s longest-running mysteries (real or feigned), as Republicans accuse Obama’s team of trying to cover up the true terrorist nature of the attacks so it wouldn’t tarnish the counter-terror creds of the commander-in-chief who got Osama bin Laden.
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But it now seems clear that it never should have been a mystery at all. For the key evidence about what really motivated the attackers was there all the time, hidden in plain, inside The New York Times, on Oct. 16, 2012. The article points out that the identity of the attackers and what motivated them was knowable on the day of the attack.
The New York Times article, by David D. Kirkpatrick, was played not as Page One news but was given a feature-esque label, “Memo from the Middle East,” and displayed on Page A6. Yet it revealed info gathered by an operative who was at the scene and actually talked to the attackers as they were attacking the consulate.
The operative was not a secret spy, but a New York Times journalist who simply interviewed and reported what others were saying. The attackers, the article reported, were members of Ansar al-Shariah.
“It was the Ansar al-Shariah people,” said Mohamed Bishari, a 20-year-old neighbor who watched the assault and described the brigade he saw leading the attack. “There was no protest or anything of that sort.”
The Times report added: “Most of the attackers made no effort to hide their faces or identities, and during the assault some acknowledged to a Libyan journalist working for The New York Times that they belonged to the group. And their attack drew a crowd, some of whom cheered them on, some of whom just gawked and some of whom later looted the compound.”
But here it can get confusing if readers fail to use common sense. For the Times reported that the militia fighters who had come armed to attack were indeed angered by a video that mocked Islam, was made in the United States and was airing via the Internet.
“The fighters said at the time that they were moved to act because of the video, which had first gained attention across the region after a protest in Egypt that day.”
But common sense makes clear this wasn’t just a mere protest that “began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to … this hateful video,” as U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice claimed on CBS News’ Face the Nation the Sunday after the attack. Her talking points were wrong, apparently deliberately understating reality at this politically inconvenient campaign moment. Those were organized terrorists who came armed to attack. Their leaders used the regional anger fomented by that anti-Muslim video to gin up motivation for the attack.
Shame on the Obama White House for not having the confidence in America’s voters to think we could hear the truth — then and even now — and still respect (see also: re-elect) the president who leveled with us.
And shame on the Republicans for politicizing the Benghazi tragedy ever since by distorting realities and exaggerating errors. They used Team Obama’s mistakes the way real evil-doers used a sick video half a world away — as a tool for manipulating and enflaming their true believers. They have made Benghazi just another weapon in their ongoing politics of hate, in the hopes that you’d fall for it.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.
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