Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ambassador Stevens Was Missing For More Than Five Hours

The State Department provided a special briefing to reporters late today on the attack of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his American colleagues dead. I was totally taken aback by how vulnerable to a terrorist attack our government left Stevens and the consulate employees on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which should have alone been cause for beefed up security. Check out this exchange between State Department officials and NPR's Tom Bowman on security measures that were in place at the time of the attack:

Bowman: Listen, there’ve been troubles in Benghazi for some time now. I understand the Consulate was attacked or bombed two, three months ago. The British have put out threat warnings about Benghazi. Was there any consideration before the attack yesterday of beefing up security there?

And the other thing is, the head of Diplomatic Security at the Consulate, as things started getting worse and worse there, the whole situation started going south, did he try to get a quick reaction force of some kind from the U.S.? Did he believe the Libyan forces were sufficient? Did he do anything to try to get more help?
Answer:   Well, again, I’m not going to get into the specifics of how we were postured in terms of security at our mission in Benghazi beyond what I said. So – because we don’t ever talk about the details of those kinds of things.

What I would say, though, is that we did, as we did in missions around the world, review the security there in the context of preparing for the anniversary of September 11th. And at that point, there was no information and there were no threat streams to indicate that we were insufficiently postured.
Did you catch that? "There was no information and there were no threat streams to indicate that we were insufficiently postured." Notice that the State Department official sidestepped altogether a quick reaction to assist Stevens and his colleagues once they came under attack. The fact is they were under attack for hours, the ambassador had been lost in the burning consulate and basically left for dead and his whereabouts remained unknown until the following morning when Libyan officials contacted U.S. officials and reported that his dead body had been dropped off at a local hospital. According to the officials, the embassy came under fire about 10:00 p.m. Libyan time. The officials could not answer a reporter's question about what, if any, protests had been taking place outside the consulate earlier in the evening before it came under fire. Ambassador Stevens was in the main building, which was set afire and to which the mob had gained access by 10:15 p.m. The State Department says Stevens and his three colleagues became separated amidst the smoke-filled building. The Regional Security Officer, who was with Stevens and the information officer, Sean Smith, in the main building left the building without the other two. Sometime later he returned with other security personnel and found Smith's dead body and pulled it from the burning building. They were unable to find Stevens.

In the meantime, about a couple of dozen other consular employees were safe-housed in a nearby annex located on the grounds of the main consular building. Before midnight, security personnel twice tried to gain entry into the burning main building to locate Stevens but were unsuccessful due to the heavy smoke and heavy enemy fire. Around midnight, the annex came under heavy fire and that's when two more American officials were killed and at least three more officials were injured. It wasn't until 2:00 a.m., four hours after the attack had begun, before Libyan security officials were able to help the Americans regain control of the consulate grounds. So four hours after the attack started, there was no emergency military team dispatched to aid the Americans under attack at the consulate. The State Department officials speculated that Stevens somehow managed to get out of the building alive and was taken to a local hospital. Apparently these stupid spokespersons don't think anyone saw the images on the Internet today of Stevens' dead body being paraded by his assailants. Here's the incredulous remarks made by the spokesman:

At about 8:30 p.m. our time here in Washington, so now 2 o'clock in the morning in Libya, Libyan security forces were able to assist us in regaining control of the situation. At some point in all of this – and frankly, we do not know when – we believe that Ambassador Stevens got out of the building and was taken to a hospital in Benghazi. We do not have any information what his condition was at that time. His body was later returned to U.S. personnel at the Benghazi airport.
Later that evening, we were able to bring our chartered aircraft from Tripoli into Benghazi to evacuate all of our Benghazi personnel back to Tripoli. This evacuation, which had to occur in a couple of planeloads, included all of our American Benghazi personnel, including the three wounded, and the remains of our fallen colleagues. They are now in the process – that same staff – of being evacuated to Germany. The staff that is well is going to stay in Europe on standby for a while while we assess the security situation in the coming period. The wounded will be treated in Germany, and the remains will come home, and we’ll advise you of when that will be as soon as we know.

Reporters questioned the State Department officials on how the security officials could have possibly lost track of Stevens. Here's the response:
I think in the accounting that I gave, I made clear that security personnel were endeavoring to get him out of the building when they got separated by the incredibly thick smoke and fire – if you’ve seen the pictures from the building you can have some sense of how awful the conditions were – and that they then turned right back around, got more help, and went back in to look for him. So this was really a quite – a heroic effort . . . I’d also like to underscore that it was Libyan security forces that stood with ours in defending our buildings. We also had some – one of the local militias who is friendly to the Embassy came to assist as well. And I think that really speaks to the relationship that we’ve built with Libya.
The Libyan security forces defended the building? It took them 15 minutes to give up control of the main building and lose sight of the most important official in the building, Ambassador Stevens. A skeptical reporter wanted to know if they actually knew that Steven was alive when he was taken from the building:

Frankly, we are not clear on the circumstances between the time that he got separated from his – from the rest of the group inside the burning building, to the time that we were notified that he was in a Benghazi hospital. And again, we were not able to see him until his body was returned to us at the airport . . . With regard to when we gained possession of Ambassador Stevens’ body, it was extremely late our time. I think it was already dawn in Libya, but I just don’t have a precise time for you . . . There are reports out there that I cannot confirm that he was brought to the hospital by Libyans who found him. Obviously, he had to get there somehow. No Americans were responsible for that. But again, I’m not in the position to confirm because we frankly don’t know how he got from where Americans last saw him. And again, we were told that he was at the hospital, but we didn’t see him there ourselves. I’m sorry if it’s frustrating.

In other words, our government had no idea of Stevens' whereabouts from about 10:15 p.m. until dawn the following morning. His body could have been paraded through the streets by the mobs for several hours for all the State Department knows. The officials refused to provide details on the security deployed at the consulate at the time of the attack other than to offer this vague description:

What I can tell you is that security in Benghazi included a local guard force outside of the compound on which we rely, which is similar to the way we are postured all over the world. We had a physical perimeter barrier, obviously. And then we had a robust American security presence inside the compound, including a strong component of regional security officers. But I’m not going to go any further than that on the specifics.
"A robust American security presence inside the compound?" Give me a break. The fact that the first two of the Americans killed was Ambassador Stevens and his information officer and only two of the remaining officials who were killed were able to get to the safe house in the annex indicates to me that the security forces gave up Stevens almost immediately to save their own lives. The U.S. government should be totally ashamed of letting down such a highly regarded career diplomat who had given so much to help improve conditions in Libya only to be killed and paraded out of the consulate by a mob of terrorists. And to think that President Barack Obama is continuing to campaign for re-election as if nothing happened and to actually have the audacity to question the judgment of Mitt Romney for daring to criticize his administration's pandering to the religious extremists responsible for the attacks on the embassies in Egypt and Libya before he condemns those responsible for this dastardly attack on our country. The man is totally shameless and completely incompetent to lead this nation.

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