Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Deep Benghazi

It's getting real now:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The State Department says it never concluded that an attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya was simply a protest gone awry, a statement that places the Obama administration's own foreign policy arm in sync with Republicans.

That extraordinary message, appearing to question the administration's initial description of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, came in a department briefing Tuesday - a day before a hearing on diplomatic security in Libya was to be held by the Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Okay, so if State "never concluded that an attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya was simply a protest gone awry," why the hell was Susan Rice saying this?

GREGORY:  The images as you well know are jarring to Americans watching all of this play out this week, and we’ll share the map of all of this turmoil with our viewers to show the scale of it across not just the Arab world, but the entire Islamic world and flashpoints as well.  In Egypt, of course, the protests outside the U.S. embassy there that Egyptian officials were slow to put down.  This weekend in Pakistan, protests as well there.  More anti-American rage.  Also protests against the drone strikes.  In Yemen, you also had arrests and some deaths outside of our U.S. embassy there.  How much longer can Americans expect to see these troubling images and these protests go forward?

MS. RICE:  Well, David, we can’t predict with any certainty.  But let’s remember what has transpired over the last several days.  This is a response to a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world.  Obviously, our view is that there is absolutely no excuse for violence and that-- what has happened is condemnable, but this is a-- a spontaneous reaction to a video, and it’s not dissimilar but, perhaps, on a slightly larger scale than what we have seen in the past with The Satanic Verses with the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.  Now, the United States has made very clear and the president has been very plain that our top priority is the protection of American personnel in our facilities and bringing to justice those who…

GREGORY:  All right. 
MS. RICE:  …attacked our facility in Benghazi.

GREGORY:  Well, let’s talk-- talk about-- well, you talked about this as spontaneous.  Can you say definitively that the attacks on-- on our consulate in Libya that killed ambassador Stevens and others there security personnel, that was spontaneous, was it a planned attack?  Was there a terrorist element to it?

MS. RICE:  Well, let us-- let me tell you the-- the best information we have at present.  First of all, there’s an FBI investigation which is ongoing.  And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired.  But putting together the best information that we have available to us today our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of-- of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.  What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding.  They came with heavy weapons which unfortunately are readily available in post revolutionary Libya.  And it escalated into a much more violent episode.  Obviously, that’s-- that’s our best judgment now.  We’ll await the results of the investigation.  And the president has been very clear--we’ll work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

Emphasis mine. I further understand that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

There are more than a few implications here. First of all, I'd love to know why Susan Rice went on television to say these things, which were absurd? If you don't think they were absurd, consider this report from McClatchy, which was filed three days before Susan Rice made her appearance on Meet the Press:

BENGHAZI, Libya — A Libyan security guard who said he was at the U.S. consulate here when it was attacked Tuesday night has provided new evidence that the assault on the compound that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, was a planned attack by armed Islamists and not the outgrowth of a protest over an online video that mocks Islam and its founder, the Prophet Muhammad.

The guard, interviewed Thursday in the hospital where he is being treated for five shrapnel wounds in one leg and two bullet wounds in the other, said that the consulate area was quiet – “there wasn’t a single ant outside,” he said – until about 9:35 p.m., when as many as 125 armed men descended on the compound from all directions.

The men lobbed grenades into the compound, wounding the guard and knocking him to the ground, then stormed through the facility’s main gate, shouting “God is great” and moving to one of the many villas that make up the consulate compound. He said there had been no warning that an attack was imminent.

“Wouldn’t you expect if there were protesters outside that the Americans would leave?” the guard said.
It's a fair question. I'm sure Darrell Issa will have a few other questions.

So riddle me this -- who the hell decided it would be a good idea to try to blame a terrorist attack on a video that had been out on YouTube for months? And now that a month has passed, why are we only now getting this story?

I will be very curious to see if Susan Rice will fall on her sword. I'll also be curious to see how, or if, Hillary Clinton explains what happened in the sequence of events that brought Susan Rice to the Sunday talk shows.


Brian said...

"The best information that we have..." and "I think..." are not the kinds of words one uses to lie. That's what you say when you've been asked to give your opinion and you don't have all the information that you are likely to have. They aren't definitive statements, and they aren't presented as such.

You see a scandal here because that is what you are inclined to see.

Anonymous said...

People died because of this "Scandal" and head should roll.

By the way Brian, lines like "the best information I have and I think" are often uttered by unwitting pawns in a larger game. The sad thing is that these unwitting pawns often are thrown up for sacfrice in the end.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

"They aren't definitive statements, and they aren't presented as such."

Another interpretation is that they are weasel words, used to create a certain impression while providing some plausible deniability. (I haven't been following this story closely, so I wouldn't venture a guess either way.)

Brian said...

No time for nuance, we've got political points to score!

Bike Bubba said...

Brian, gonna help you out here. Did Ms. Rice say this or not?

"This is a response to a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world. "

And as I've noted on your site, the idea that several hundred extremists just happened to show up with grenades and RPGs.....come on, does that pass the smell test?

Mr. D said...

Brian, here's a little nuance:

(Reuters) - A U.S. security officer twice asked his State Department superiors for more security agents for the American mission in Benghazi months before an attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, but he got no response.

The officer, Eric Nordstrom, who was based in Tripoli until about two months before the September attack, said a State Department official, Charlene Lamb, wanted to keep the number of U.S. security personnel in Benghazi "artificially low," according to a memo summarizing his comments to a congressional committee that was obtained by Reuters.

Nordstrom also argued for more U.S. security in Libya by citing a chronology of over 200 security incidents there from militia gunfights to bomb attacks between June 2011 and July 2012. Forty-eight of the incidents were in Benghazi.

Brian said...

When someone makes a factually incorrect statement (and that is clearly what Rice did), there are two possible explanations: 1) they are lying, which is to say, intentionally deceiving, or 2) they are passing along bad information because that's what they think they know.

I'm taking issue with characterizing Ms. Rice's statements as lies. The administration revised it's interpretation of events as new facts became available. That isn't what you do when your intent is to deceive. That's what you do when you are actually interested in getting to the bottom of things, rather than managing a narrative.

To insist that these were lies in the face of evidence to the contrary--in the very part of the statements highlighted--seems a rather blatant attempt to make political hay of the situation.

Whether the attacks were planned, spontaneous, or whatever is completely irrelevant to the question of whether the statement was a lie or merely factually incorrect. And the security concerns before the fact are a separate issue entirely.

Mr. D said...


You spend a lot of time with the second statement. How about the first one, the one that Bubba highlighted? To wit:

This is a response to a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

Not too many qualifiers on that statement, no? No "I thinks" or "the best information we have" on that statement at all.

Personally, I don't know if Rice went on MTP to lie or not. You'll note that I was very careful to not use the word lie, because I don't know. But I'm reasonably certain that what happened in Benghazi had a lot more to do with al-Qaida's usual modus operandi than it did with a YouTube video.

Perhaps Rice will walk that statement back. At this point, she really should.

To insist that these were lies in the face of evidence to the contrary--in the very part of the statements highlighted--seems a rather blatant attempt to make political hay of the situation.

Ya think? I've personally been watching Congressional committees making political hay since Sam Ervin was holding forth in 1973, and I've seen plenty of old film of Estes Kefauver, Joe McCarthy and a lot of others doing the same thing. Politicians make political hay -- it's what they do.

Bike Bubba said...

Brian, I think the long and short of it is that if indeed the evidence was ambiguous--and I'm not of the opinion that some of the critical facts were ambiguous at all--honest men owe it to the public to say "we don't know, we are investigating, we are very troubled by such and such evidence," instead of confidently asserting something that clearly wasn't true.

To use something that you and I do professionally, it's the difference between stating the null hypothesis when a credible alternate hypothesis has been tested, and doing the same when the alternate hypothesis has not been adequately tested. In the latter case, the responsible thing to do, especially with reporters who don't understand stats and hypotheses, is to say "I don't know."

State and the President clearly failed this basic test.