Debate Club

Obama Administration Muddies the Waters Around Benghazi Details


Who killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on September 11, 2012? Nearly eight months later, the U.S. government has not officially named the specific terrorists responsible, let alone brought them to justice. No suspects are in American custody. Only a few suspects are reportedly held by foreign governments, which have not been entirely helpful. The feeble response to the first slaying of an American ambassador in decades is a scandal in its own right.

And then there is how the Obama administration explained the attack to the American people. While senior administration officials were quick to claim that the attack grew out of a protest to a YouTube trailer, State Department officials are on the record as saying they knew from the get-go that there never was any protest in Benghazi. Meanwhile, the administration and the U.S. intelligence community continue to offer a muddled narrative concerning the identities of the terrorists who overran an American diplomatic compound.

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On three occasions since March, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has offered an assessment of the Benghazi attack in written testimony submitted to Congress. Without directly fingering the terrorists responsible, Clapper has described the Benghazi attackers as belonging to "splinter groups," or "ad hoc coalitions," or as "individual terrorists who can conduct anti-US operations, even in the absence of official direction or guidance from leaders of established al-Qaida affiliates."

Clapper's description is not consistent with mainstream press reporting. At least three "established" al-Qaida affiliates have been tied to the Benghazi attack. Some of the Benghazi terrorists contacted al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb to boast of their work shortly after the U.S. mission was set ablaze. CNN has reported that a senior leader who has served al-Qaida since the early 1990s received one such congratulatory call. CNN has also reported that members of the assault team included terrorists tied to al-Qaida in Iraq and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Terrorists from the latter may have even been dispatched from Yemen to launch the attack. If true, then this directly contradicts Clapper's description.

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The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have correctly identified some of the terrorists as Egyptians who were trained in al-Qaida-linked camps in eastern Libya. Those camps were run by Muhammad Jamal al Kashef, a terrorist who served as a bodyguard for al-Qaida emir Ayman al Zawahiri in the 1990s and communicated with Zawahiri in the months leading up to September 2012.

Still other al-Qaida-linked groups have been directly implicated in the attack. The simplest explanation for the available evidence is that al-Qaida's international network killed four Americans on the night of September 11, 2012. But the Obama administration will not come right out and say that.

Thomas Joscelyn

About Thomas Joscelyn Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

State Department
Obama administration

Other Arguments

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A Partisan Blame-Game Does Nothing to Make Our Diplomats Safer

No – A Partisan Blame-Game Does Nothing to Make Our Diplomats Safer

Scott Lilly Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress

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Benghazi Is a Massive Failure of the Obama Administration

Yes – Benghazi Is a Massive Failure of the Obama Administration

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A Select Committee Could Ferret Out the Facts on Benghazi

Yes – A Select Committee Could Ferret Out the Facts on Benghazi

Frank Wolf Republican Representative from Virginia

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Benghazi Is Nothing But a Politicized Smear Campaign

No – Benghazi Is Nothing But a Politicized Smear Campaign

Zachary Pleat Senior Researcher at Media Matters

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