No Protest Ever Occurred in Benghazi

by Katrina Trinko

The initial explanation for the attack in Libya was that there had been protests at the consulate because of a video that offended some Muslims. It’s worth looking at again U.N. ambassador Susan Rice’s September 16 remarks on This Week:

But our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous — not a premeditated — response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.

We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to — or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in — in the wake of the revolution in Libya are — are quite common and accessible. And it then evolved from there.

We’ll wait to see exactly what the investigation finally confirms, but that’s the best information we have at present.

And now we know there was never any protest around the consulate over the video on September 11. It was an attack from the beginning, reports Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin:

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, two senior State Department officials gave a detailed accounting of the events that lead to the death of Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The officials said that prior to the massive attack on the Benghazi compound by dozens of militants carrying heavy weaponry, there was no unrest outside the walls of the compound and no protest that anyone inside the compound was aware of.

In fact, Stevens hosted a series of meetings on the compound throughout the day, ending with a meeting with a Turkish diplomat that began at 7:30 in the evening, and all was quiet in the area.

“The ambassador walked guests out at 8:30 or so; there was nobody on the street. Then at 9:40 they saw on the security cameras that there were armed men invading the compound,” a senior State Department official said. “Everything is calm at 8:30 pm, there is nothing unusual. There had been nothing unusual during the day outside.”

So why did the administration claim for days afterward that there was a video protest? On September 25, two full weeks after the attack, President Obama delivered a speech at the U.N. where he declared “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam” and talked about a “ a crude and disgusting video [that] sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.”

Tomorrow there is a congressional hearing on this attack. It’ll be interesting if anything further about the timeline comes out. It’s hard to believe that five days — or two weeks! — after the attack, there was any credible reason to believe there was a protest if there had never been one. 

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