Politics & Policy

Credulous and Tendentious on Benghazi

The New York Times has published a strange but unsurprising account of the attacks that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012 — strange in that it presents the explanations and testimony of terrorists involved in the attack without comment or context, and unsurprising because that account supports the narrative the Obama administration aggressively promoted for weeks after the massacre.

The first of the Grey Lady’s two key findings: “Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.” This means the Times reporter, David Kirkpatrick, has ignored the evidence that al-Qaeda-linked groups, such as the Egypt-based Jamal network, almost surely did have a role in the assault — as reported by the New York Times in October 2012. Such evidence has been uncovered by the American intelligence community, as attested to by Democratic and Republican representatives with knowledge of it.

The second finding: The massacre was partly a spontaneous event, and some of the Libyan attackers were angered by a YouTube video that Islamists across the Middle East cited as the inspiration for September 11’s violent demonstrations. This is remarkably thinly sourced — the account admits that “many [of those arriving at the U.S. compound] learned of the video for the first time,” and merely maintains that “Libyan witnesses . . . said they received lectures from the attackers about the evil of the film and the virtue of defending the prophet.” Even the Times didn’t manage to find witnesses who could support the Obama administration’s chronology. Susan Rice told us that a video-related demonstration gave rise to the attack; David Kirkpatrick and his Islamist sources say that those angered by the video arrived at a compound already overrun by attackers who had coordinated their assault.

The account is hard to believe on its face: Kirkpatrick pins the planned attack on Ahmed Abu Khattala, a local militia leader who granted him an interview. For his part, Khattala acknowledges his presence at the attacks but says he showed up late — and somehow “strolled coolly through” the raging firefight, Kirkpatrick reports. He heads the Benghazi branch of Ansar al-Sharia, a jihadist organization whose nearby franchise, in a town called Derna, is run by a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and associate of Osama bin Laden. The Derna group denies a role in Benghazi, but the groups share a propaganda outlet, and sources such as the Tunisian prime minister acknowledge there’s mounting evidence that the two groups are one, and connected to the al-Qaeda branch in North Africa. Khattala, like other Benghazi militiamen, gushes about his support for al-Qaeda’s worldwide efforts. Is it so hard to believe that, given the keen interest counterterrorism efforts take in the global network, he has been less than honest about his connection to it and its role in the Benghazi assault?

When Islamic terrorists who support the ideology and sport the heraldry of the global al-Qaeda network killed an American ambassador on the anniversary of 9/11, the Obama administration eagerly accepted their version of the story: that locally based protests had responded to offensive Western blasphemy.

As the Islamist threat grows, the Obama administration has continually, carefully claimed success in defeating “the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11” — Arabs based in Afghanistan and Pakistan and known as “core al-Qaeda.” But there is evidence, though it’s not dispositive, to suggest that the groups participating in the attack in Benghazi had connections to this group. In fact, core al-Qaeda, now led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged the group’s affiliate in Yemen to “do something” on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, and his brother led the attack in Cairo that preceded Benghazi.

In Benghazi, Islamist terrorist groups demonstrated, in a tragic and humiliating fashion, an ability to threaten the national-security interests of the United States. Rather than forthrightly address this failure, the administration has given credence to the idea that American deeds — words here, actually — are to blame for Islamist terrorism against the West. This claim is as poorly supported here as ever, but is convenient for this administration’s ideological leanings and political designs.

Ultimately, several other conclusions are undeniable: The Times report confirms that our representatives in Benghazi had laughably little security because of the administration’s naïve trust in Islamists, their inability to recognize the threat terrorist groups posed in Libya, and the efforts from the very top to keep the U.S. presence in the country low-profile. Those failures fall, first, at the feet of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. And the men who murdered Americans and humiliated our country have yet to pay any price for their crimes. That failure is ultimately traceable to her superior, President Barack Obama.

The president will never contest another election, so he may not have to answer for these failures. The Times has done its best to ensure that Clinton doesn’t have to, either.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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