Jeana's World of Law

Jeana's World of Law

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What Happened in Benghazi?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today (Wednesday, January 23) took on Republican critics of her department's handling of the Benghazi incident.

Headlines since September 11, 2012, have been circulating regarding the situation, leaving many Americans wondering, "Where is Benghazi" and "What happened in Benghazi" and "Wait, didn't the September 11th attacks happen in 2001?"

Where is Benghazi?

Let's start with a geography lesson. Benghazi is the second largest city in Libya. Libya is located in Northern Africa, sandwiched between Algeria and Egypt. To it's north, is the Mediterranean Sea. Libya is included in the generalization of the 'Middle East.'

What has been happening in Benghazi?

Now a history lesson. In 1951, the United States supported the United Nations resolution that provided Libya its independence. Oil was discovered in 1959 and the country began to take advantage of this commodity. To make a long story short, in their attempt to make the oil industry as profitable as possible, the government (led by King Idris) replaced the federal system with a centralized one, causing problems in a country that was deeply divided along regional, ethnic and tribal lines.

This lead to Muammar Gaddafi's 1969 coup d'etat - the revolution he lead to overtake the King and government. Since then, the US-Libyan relations became increasingly strained when Gaddafi nationalized the oil companies. In 1972, the United States recalled its ambassador. Export controls on military and civil aircraft were imposed during the 1970s, and US embassy staff members were withdrawn from the after a mob attacked and set fire to the embassy in December 1979. The US Government designated Libya a "state sponsor of terrorism" on December 29, 1979.

Gaddafi led the country, and its oil exports, until February/March 2011, when anti-government protests broke out in Tunisia and Egypt, marking the start of the Arab Spring - and when the Libyan civil war occurred. At this point, the US had cut ties with Gaddafi. The US, along with several European and Arab nations, called for the UN to authorize military intervention in the conflict. In the end, Gaddafi lost (he died) and his opposition (National Transitional Council) won.

Shortly after the fall, on March 14, 2011, Hilary Clinton made first direct contact with the anti-Gaddafi opposition leader and then on July 15 recognized this as Libya's legitimate authority. The US then led an effort at the UN to repeal parts of UN Security Council Resolution 1970 in order to allow unfrozen Libyan assets to be transferred to the interim government. In October 2011, President Obama pledged to work with the new Libyan government as a partner, and said the US was "committed to the Libyan people". Up to this point, all seemed okay.

September 11, 2012

Now we can continue onto what happened on September 11, 2012. On this day, the American diplomatic mission at Benghazi was attacked by a heavily armed group. Four Americans were killed, including US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, and ten others were injured. Note: this attack was completely separate than the attacks on New York City on September 11, 2012. The groups behind the attacks were not associated with one another.

The 2012 attack was strongly condemned by the governments of Libya and the US, and an investigation into who the attackers were is ongoing. Obama went as far as to call it an 'Act of terror' (does that bring a certain Mitt Romney debate fail to mind?),

So where does Clinton fall into it all? 

Well, since the attacks she has repeatedly distanced herself from a direct role in specific situations. Critics of Clinton (mostly Conservative Republicans, go figure) challenged her on two things: 1) the lack of security at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, and 2) the erroneous account provided four days later by UN Ambassador Susan Rice that the attack grew spontaneously from a protest over an anti-Islam film produced in the United States.

So today, Wednesday January 23, Clinton testified and defended her handling of the attack and denied any effort to mislead people.

Clinton took responsibility for the failures that led to those deaths, citing a "personal" commitment to improving diplomatic security abroad. Although she accepted responsibility, she still defended the actions of herself and her department.

A Senate committee report said the State Department made a "grievous mistake" in keeping the Benghazi mission open despite inadequate security and increasingly alarming threat assessments in the weeks before the attack. She placed the incident as part of a long history of such violence as well as the result of regional instability since the Arab Spring in 2011.

In addition, Clinton acknowledged the "systemic breakdown" cited in a report by an Accountability Review Board she appointed and noted that she had accepted all 29 of its recommendations. She also said that her department was taking additional steps to increase security at US diplomatic facilities around the world.

The independent report from the review board said it did not find "that any individual U.S. government employee engaged in misconduct or willfully ignored his or her responsibilities" leading up to the attack. However, one State Department official resigned and three others were placed on administrative leave after the report was released in December 2012.

This is a particularly big deal for Clinton, who ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008 and was considering running again in 2016, as this may tarnish her chances.

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