It is time to present the top prize for fraudulence in international reporting in 2013 — the annual Walter Duranty award. As Moscow bureau chief for the New York Times at the height of Joe Stalin’s reign of terror, Duranty not only reported the news, he invented it — earning the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and wining the sobriquet of “Stalin’s apologist.”
In the midst of a famine that caused millions of peasants to starve to death, he told American readers that Soviet granaries “were overflowing with grain” and that the cows were “plump and contented.” As Stalin’s favorite Western reporter, Duranty tooled around Moscow in a chauffeur-driven limousine and enjoyed the company of a succession of Russian mistresses. He was a key figure in persuading the Roosevelt administration to grant official recognition to the Soviet Union in 1933.
Now, once again, it is time for the editors and staff at the New York Times to start uncorking the champagne bottles.
In recognition of their work in denying the harsh reality of the terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi on the night of Sept. 11/12, 2012, the Walter Duranty prize for misleading nonsense in international reporting in 2013 goes to the New York Times Cairo bureau chief David Kirkpatrick and the entire Times editorial board. On Dec. 30, the board signed off on an editorial which described the Benghazi tragedy as “a gross intelligence failure” — but nothing worse than that. “In a rational world,” according to the Times editorial board, no one would abandon “common sense and good judgment” and attempt to “discredit President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who may run for president in 2016.” Said the Times editorial board:
An exhaustive investigation by The Times goes a long way toward resolving any nagging doubts about what precipitated the attack on the United States mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The report (“A Deadly Mix in Benghazi,” Dec. 28) by David Kirkpatrick, The Times’s Cairo bureau chief, and his team turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or another international terrorist group had any role in the assault, as Republicans have insisted without proof for more than a year. The report concluded that the attack was led by fighters who benefited directly from NATO’s air power and other support during the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and it was fueled, in large part, by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
So we are supposed to believe that Kirkpatrick and his team of local stringers and paid informants produced strong evidence that neither al Qaeda nor any other terrorist group played any role in attacking the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Still more amazingly, we are supposed to believe that people who attacked the consulate were actually our friends — our erstwhile, if somewhat excitable, buddies who benefited from the use of U.S. air power in toppling Qaddafi. All they really wanted to do was to protest an “American-made video denigrating Islam.” If you follow thislogic, the tragic outcome was really our own fault, because we as a country had been harboring someone in our midst who, in a low-budget video, dared to make fun of the raging cruelty and bigotry that is to be found in Islamic fundamentalism. Shame on us for not doing a better job of throttling free speech in our own country!
That lets everyone who is anyone off the hook for what happened that night in Benghazi. It exonerates Susan Rice for her infamous blame-it-on-the-video tour on Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16, 2012, and it blows kisses at those above her in the chain of command who told the same tale — namely, the blame-America-firsters Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Kirkpatrick was asked in a television interview how he could be so sure there was no involvement by al Qaeda or international terrorists. He replied: “I think honestly if you asked anybody in the U.S. intelligence business they would tell you the same thing.”
False. False. False.
No real evidence (even on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11) of a terrorist attack by a group known for its fondness of shocking anniversaries? Let’s see.
There is Exhibit A — which is hard to overlook: the corpses of Ambassador Stevens, his information officer Sean Smith, and former SEALs and American security guards Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Was that the work of friends of America, or real terrorists?
Then there is Exhibit B — the sworn testimony of then CIA director David Petraeus, along with the unequivocal statements of the two chairs of Congress’s intelligence oversight committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democrat, and Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan, a Republican.
Appearing on Face the Nation on December 2, 2012, Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, stated: “General Petraeus briefed us on the 13th (of September). There is a transcript. He said very clearly al Qaeda elements were involved.”
Appearing with her on the same television show, Rogers, who heads the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said: “(I) think Dianne said it well — that the intelligence was good. I mean, the threat stream was very clear leading up to that 9/11 event. And what happened even two days later in Tunisia. We had another al Qaeda event on the 13th, killed four people, Tunisians, who were protecting the U.S. embassy there.”
Exhibit C would be the riveting testimony provided by Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission In Libya, when he testified before Congress on May 8, 2013. Hicks said he had no doubt it was a terrorist attack the moment he heard the consulate was under siege — which was just a few minutes into the assault. He and others at the embassy in Tripoli saw Twitter feeds asserting that Ansar al Sharia (with the logo of a pair of AK-47s, a clenched fist, and an open Koran) was responsible for the attack. Hicks said that he believed that the lives of the two former SEALs could have been saved if the U.S. government had responded swiftly with a rescue mission. Woods and Doherty were killed by mortar fire about seven or eight hours after the initial assault. Hicks personally briefed Hillary Clinton and her team by phone on the night of the attack and said he was shocked when Susan Rice went on the Sunday shows a few days later and blamed the attack on the Internet video. “I was stunned,” Hicks said. “My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed.”
Lastly — Exhibit D, if you will — we have President Obama’s own words (helped out by Candy Crowley at a critical moment in the second presidential debate with Mitt Romney) that it was “an act of terror” and not just “a spontaneous response” to an Internet video. So the president himself has refuted the Times editorial board on this point.
But one should look at the administration’s handling of the events in Benghazi from a broader perspective.
There have been the numerous reports on Fox News and in various publications, including this one, which document the administration’s cavalier attitude toward protecting its diplomatic mission in Libya, and which also pose hugely important and still unanswered questions about why the president and the administration failed to mount any sort of a rescue mission.
On Fox News, Charles Woods, the father of slain former SEAL Tyrone Woods, said:
My question to the president would be this: Your Honor, I respect your office as president. But if this attack on American citizens, on American soil, happened 2,000 miles away from Washington, D.C. — say in Los Angeles or in Seattle — would you have waited for seven hours until the attack was over before you sent the first airplane? Would you have waited seven hours until the attack was over? Would you have waited a couple of days until you had all of the videos and all of the information before you responded in a responsible military way?
There is no attempt to answer those questions in Kirkpatrick’s 7,000-word reconstruction of the events of that terror-filled night in Benghazi. He has nothing to say about the administration’s unwillingness to send a rescue mission — and nothing to say about the strange absence of communication between the president and his military commanders throughout the course of the ordeal. “You’d think” — as one reader of an earlier article of mine said — “this guy (Obama) was average Joe on his bowling night, not my problem.”
Instead, Kirkpatrick stresses the “murkiness” of the situation in Benghazi which confronted Ambassador Stevens and the U.S. government as various militia groups vied for power and influence in post-Qaddafi Libya. In his words:
The investigation by The Times shows that the reality in Benghazi was different, and murkier . . . Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning.
He also writes of “the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment.”
Well, yes, but what else would he expect?
The dawning realization on his part of the “murkiness” of the Arab Street seems laughably similar to President Obama’s recent discovery that health insurance is, well, “complicated.” Does he expect the jihadi demimonde to operate with the logic and precision of a Swiss timepiece? Does he not wonder at the many glorious contradictions — such as the discovery, upon the termination of his life, that Osama bin Laden, the greatest of all of Islam’s holy warriors, had whiled away his time at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan watching pornographic movies?
That said, Kirkpatrick’s reporting turns up a number of striking details that don’t fit — or flatly contradict — his principal conclusions.
#1. One can sense the power and presence of al Qaeda throughout the entire article — despite all the assertions of al Qaeda’s non-involvement. Kirkpatrick identifies one Abu Khattala with the Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia as the probable ringleader of the assault. Abu Khattala apparently ordered the execution of Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes, who defected from the Qaddafi regime and became the main commander of the rebel movement until his death. Abu Khattala is fiercely opposed to free elections and the establishment of a democratic state. He wants nothing less than a full theocracy under the strictest Shariah law. In June of 2012, he was one of the militia leaders in Benghazi who joined a column of as many as 200 pickup trucks mounted with artillery that drove through downtown Benghazi under the black flags of al Qaeda. Though he denied any connection to al Qaeda in an interview with Kirkpatrick, he makes no secret of the fact that he is an al Qaeda supporter and sympathizer. What’s more, the Ansar al-Sharia leader in the nearby town of Derna, Libya, is a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and associate of bin Laden. Maybe it’s time — as Andrew C. McCarthy has suggested — for the Times to stop “nitpicking over which jihadists did what.”
#2. Did the “Innocence of Muslims” video really spark the assault? If you read Kirkpatrick’s article to the end, you would have to say no. Several dozen attackers with Kalashnikovs stormed the main gate at 9:42 p.m. on Sept. 11. They took control of the consulate. Sometime later, “scores, if not hundreds, of others (came) racing to the scene” — some with guns, others with cameras. It is at this point (in Kirkpatrick’s account) that the original attackers turned to lecturing the gathering mob about “the evil of the film and the virtue of defending the prophet.”
But leaving all that aside, isn’t it foolish to blame an obscure video for the fact that Muslim countries are filled with a great many people who feel hatred and contempt for Western values and institutions and who may jump at any opportunity to kill Americans, or applaud others who commit unspeakable acts of terror?
#3. It is shocking to read that the attackers encountered no initial resistance. The few guards who were present fell back and had to race back to their quarters to find weapons. There can be no gainsaying the fact that the Obama administration was derelict in its responsibility to provide adequate protection for its diplomatic mission. This happened under Hillary Clinton’s watch as secretary of state. What was she thinking in nixing earlier requests for tightened security from Christopher Stevens?
Then again, there is no more Pax Americana in today’s world. This is an administration with no desire to assert U.S. power and responsibility as a force for good outside our own borders. When the going gets tough, it won’t even lift a finger to save its own diplomats.
Postscript — Where they are now — Players in the Benghazi dramatis personae.
Barack Obama may have taken personal delight upon entering his second term in promoting UN ambassador Susan Rice to the position of national security adviser. Her elevation seemed a deliberate poke in the eye of those who saw (and still see) her round of Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16 as a mockery of the truth.
Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission who briefly succeeded the slain ambassador as the top U.S. diplomat in Libya, was demoted following his highly critical testimony before Congress regarding the administration’s actions. As “punishment” (so he has said), he was given a tongue-lashing by a top Hillary Clinton aide and a desk job back in Washington, D.C.
Abu Khattala remains at large in Libya. According to David Kirkpatrick, who seemed to have no trouble in finding him for an interview, the U.S. government formally asked the Libyan government to arrest him, but it refused — fearing for its own safety. The U.S. military prepared a plan to capture him on its own, pending presidential approval, but the administration held back, fearing a backlash that would undermine the Libyan government.
The “Innocence of Muslims” filmmaker Mark Bassely Youssef, also known as Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, spent almost a year in federal prison, charged with violating the terms of his probation after an unrelated earlier conviction and lying to federal authorities. Released on Aug. 14, 2013, he was moved to a halfway house at an undisclosed location to serve out the remainder of his term. That makes him the only person who has gone to prison for events connected with Benghazi.
And then there is Charles Woods —the father of the slain SEAL Tyrone Woods — who saw the president and Hillary Clinton on Sept. 14, 2012, when the bodies of the four Americans where returned to Andrews Air Force base.
Woods père was mightily offended when Hillary told him that she would make sure that the person who made video would be arrested and prosecuted. “She had to know she was not telling the truth,” Woods said.