Upon hearing that there had been an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans had been killed there and that this murderous assault had been carried out on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a rational mind might find it difficult to avoid formulating the working hypothesis that this had been a premeditated act of terror.
The Obama White House and State Department did resist that temptation.
On Sept. 12, the day after the attack, White House press secretary Jay Carney judiciously answered the obvious inquiry.
“Does the White House believe that the attack in Benghazi was planned and premeditated?” a reporter asked.
“It’s too early for us to make that judgment,” Carney said. “I know that this is being investigated, and we’re working with the Libyan government to investigate the incident. So I would not want to speculate on that at this time.”
The next day, Sept. 13, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland subtly pointed to a YouTube video as possibly creating a motivation for the attack.
A reporter asked Nuland “whether the Benghazi attack was purely spontaneous or was premeditated by militants.”
“Well, as we said yesterday when we were on background,” Nuland responded, “we are very cautious about drawing any conclusions with regard to who the perpetrators were, what their motivations were, whether it was premeditated, whether they had any external contacts, whether there was any link, until we have a chance to investigate along with the Libyans. So I know that’s going to be frustrating for you, but we really want to make sure that we do this right and we don’t jump to conclusions.
“That said,” Nuland continued, “obviously, there are plenty of people around the region citing this disgusting video as something that has been motivating. As (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) said this morning, while we as Americans, of course, respect free speech, respect free expression, there’s never an excuse for it to become violent.”
A Sept. 14 Associated Press story described the video in question as 14 minutes of clips from “the amateurish anti-Islam film ‘Innocence of Muslims,'” which “depict the prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman in an overtly mocking way.” The video had been posted on YouTube.
Carney brought up the video at the Sept. 14 White House press briefing.
The State Department personnel “were killed in Libya as a result of this unrest,” he said. What was the source of this unrest?
“It is in response not to United States policy, not to, obviously, the administration, not to the American people,” said Carney. “It is in response to a video, a film that we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting, that in no way justifies any violent reaction to it, but this is not a case of protests directed at the United States writ large or at U.S. policy. This is in response to a video that is offensive and — to Muslims.”
A reporter asked Carney: “At Benghazi?
“We certainly don’t know, we don’t know otherwise,” said Carney. “You know, we have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack. The unrest we’ve seen around the region has been in reaction to a video that Muslims, many Muslims, find offensive. And while the violence is reprehensible and unjustified, it is not a reaction to the 9/11 anniversary that we know of or to U.S. policy.”
The same day Carney said these things, a CNN correspondent was in Benghazi investigating.
“Three days after the attack, Arwa Damon, our correspondent on the ground, gained access to the mission, which was, you know, had been evacuated. And found while she was there a journal.” CNN Managing Editor Mark Whittaker explained 10 days later on his network. “And, of course, she didn’t know what it was. But then when she looked at it, it became clear that it was writings from Ambassador Stevens.”
Out of deference to Stevens’ family, CNN did not initially reveal it had discovered the journal.
But based on that document and other sources — “including one,” CNN’s Anderson Cooper reported Monday, “who had a detailed conversation with the ambassador which confirmed much of what we felt important in the journal” — CNN reported: “A source familiar with Ambassador Stevens’ thinking says that in the months before his death, he talked about being worried about what he called the never-ending security threats specifically in Benghazi. The source telling us that the ambassador specifically mentioned the rise in Islamic extremism, the growing al-Qaida presence in Libya, and said he was on an al-Qaida hit list.”
On Sunday, CNN’s Candy Crowley asked House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers if there was “any protest at all going on” at the Benghazi consulate at the time of the attack.
“I have seen no information that shows that there was a protest going on as you have seen around any other embassy at the time,” said Rogers. “It was clearly designed to be an attack.”
What did our government know and when? What did our government not know and why? These are unfortunate and familiar questions that Congress must investigate and answer now.