Obama promised to bring “the folks” who did this to justice. And by that he meant that the FBI would, after a long delay, visit the compound, spend a few hours there, and then leave. Meanwhile the gunmen responsible are wandering the streets and throwing their weight around… because they have absolutely nothing to fear.
After more than two months, Libya’s investigation into the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi appears in limbo. Key security commanders and witnesses say they were never questioned. No suspects have been named, and gunmen seen participating in the assault walk freely in the eastern Libyan city.
Hanging over the probe is a fear of reprisals from extremist militiamen. Farag al-Fazani, a young commander of a Libyan security force commissioned to protect the U.S. post at the time of the Sept. 11 attack, says he sees militants he recognizes from that chaotic night.
They recognize him too.
“I get death threats by phone (saying) you are an infidel and spilling your blood is permitted,” said al-Fazani. “No one can protect me. I see them and they know me.”
But don’t worry. Team Big Bird is on the case.
The FBI, which sent a team to Tripoli immediately after the attack to work with Libyan investigators, has said nothing about its findings so far.
Let me sum up the FBI’s finding so far
1. The FBI has no jurisdiction in Libya and the Libyan authorities don’t want them there
2. The Libyan authorities have no interest or ability to do anything about the Islamist militias
3. The FBI is not supposed to acknowledge that its investigation is just there to shut up the parents of the dead and GOP Senators.
At United Nations headquarters in New York, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters, “You know the FBI and the State Department’s Accountability Review Board are conducting investigations as we speak. And they will look into all aspects of this heinous terrorist attack, to provide what will become the definitive accounting of what occurred.”
Yes and then the definitive findings, eight months later, will go into a binder. Many copies of it will be printed and handed out. And the conclusion will be exactly what we already know.
But Obama did put his faith into his new Libyan government to take care of all this.
“There is no serious investigation being undertaken by the Libyan authorities,” Rami el-Obeidi, the former intelligence chief for the Libyan rebels’ National Transitional Council, told TIME by phone on Wednesday. He says “the Libyan authorities are unwilling to conduct a proper investigation into the terrorist attack, as this would expose them to retaliation from extremist militias.”
The man named as the main suspect, Ahmed Abu Khattala, leader of the Islamist organization Ansar al-Shari‘a, has not been arrested, and in October, conducted interviews in a Benghazi hotel with the New York Times and Reuters. When a reporter from McClatchy Newspapers this week asked a militia commander in Benghazi why Khattala had not been arrested, he said if he arrested Khattala, “a member of his forces will get him out.”
Clearly we have every reason to be optimistic that “those folks” will be brought to justice.
From the Libyan side, there has been little sign of an investigation.
Numerous senior security officials in the city approached by The Associated Press knew nothing about the probe, and none said they had been questioned by investigators. The commander of Joint Operation Room who oversaw the security forces’ reaction during the attack said he sent a report to the ruling General National Congress but received no feedback and had not been contacted by investigators.
“We were surprised that we were not summoned. … Very strange,” said the commander, Abdel-Salam al-Barghathi. “At the very least, they should ask the commander of the operation room.”
“I don’t see anything on the ground” by way of investigation, he said.
Several witnesses reported seeing an Islamic militant commander, Ahmed Abu Khattala, help direct the attack. Abu Khattala denies involvement but admits he was at the scene to help rescue men trapped in the consulate. He has not been questioned by investigators, whether as a witness or a suspect.
“No one from Ansar al-Shariah has been summoned, or even told they are wanted,” Abu Khattala told The AP. Abu Khattala is a frequent visitor of Benghazi’s el-Fadheel hotel, which is owned by Adel Galgoul, the owner of a safe house to which staffers from the consulate were evacuated during the attack, only to be hit by mortars that led to two of the American deaths.
Al-Fazani, the protection force commander, said Ansar al-Shariah carried out the consulate attack, led by Abu Khattala. “They divided themselves into two groups, one stormed the place and the second gave protection and supply,” he said.
The investigation commission created by the National Congress to work with the FBI is largely based out of Tripoli, 400 miles (650 kilometers) away from Benghazi.
It has faced personnel problems. Initially it was led by a judge in Benghazi, but he stepped down after only two weeks, according to the head of the Benghazi Cassation court, Fatma al-Baraghathi, who appointed him.
He was replaced by a judge in Tripoli, but al-Baraghathi said it was not clear if he had started work. The commission also includes the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigation Division and Libyan intelligence.
Contacted by the AP, the judge who stepped down refused to give details. “I no longer have anything to do with this case and I have nothing to say about it,” said Salem Abdel-Atti.
Deputy Interior Minister Omar al-Khadrawi insisted the investigation was “going well” but could not say when it would be completed.
Speaking two weeks ago, ministry spokesman Ezz Eddin al-Fazani said the results would be released “soon.”
He and other Interior Ministry officials say they don’t even know how many people have been detained. Early on, top officials claimed they made anywhere from 6 to 40 arrests, but no one can say if anyone is still held. In any case, all of those detained were post-attack looters, not gunmen who stormed the compound, former prime minister Mustafa Abu-Shagour told The Associated Press.
Fawzi Wanis, head of the Supreme Security Committee, is convinced militiamen within the committee fed information to the consulate attackers. But “I don’t have the capability to carry out an internal investigation.”
But don’t worry, the Libyans have a theory that explains everything.
Al-Barghathi, for example, is convinced the United States wanted Stevens to be killed.
“They brought him here to get rid of him. We have information that he was about to convert to Islam,” said al-Barghathi. “Why else would he not have enough security?”
Him and Michael Jackson both.