In Libya: Why the Benghazi Investigation Is Going Nowhere

Evidence is confusing, suspects are not in custody, and investigators into the case have vanished — or worse

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GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP / Getty Images

A Libyan man walks through the damaged U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 13, 2012, following the Sept. 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Four months after a brutal assault on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi killed the ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, politicians in Washington are still railing over how diplomats were left vulnerable to attack. Yet the political furor, which now threatens to hold up President Obama’s national-security nominations, stands in stark contrast to the response in Libya itself. There, Libyans say, the investigation is nonoperational, if not effectively dead, with witnesses too fearful to talk and key police officers targeted for violent retribution. “There is no Libyan investigation. No, no, no,” says Mohamed Buisier, a political activist in Benghazi, who returned home in 2011 after decades in the U.S. “There is not even a will to investigate anything. Even for us civilians, it is very dangerous if you talk about this subject.”

The growing sense that the culprits in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack might never be caught deepened this week, when Tunisian officials released the sole suspect in custody. Citing lack of evidence, they freed Ali al-Harzi, a Tunisian citizen, though he is still restricted from traveling outside the four governorates surrounding Tunis. Al-Harzi was arrested in Turkey shortly after the Benghazi attack and deported to his home country, finally agreeing last month to a three-hour interrogation by FBI agents in Tunis, according to his lawyer Anour Ouled Ali. “He denied everything,” Ali told TIME on Thursday by phone from Tunis. “He told the FBI he was not involved at all.”

(MORE: The Benghazi Attack’s Person of Continuing Interest)

Whoever knows differently is for now not talking. And in fact, they might be dead or missing. Last week masked men surrounded the car of Benghazi’s chief of criminal investigations, Captain Abdelsalam al-Mahdawi, while he stopped at a traffic light and abducted him; he has not been seen since. His kidnapping came less than two months after Benghazi’s police chief, Faraj el-Drissi, was murdered in his Benghazi home and just weeks after armed men attempted to break into a jail in order to free the suspects in custody for el-Drissi’s murder.

Beset by criminality and awash with weapons, Benghazi is a dangerous place, and police officers like al-Mahdawi and el-Drissi had full dockets. But both men had the attack on the U.S. compound in common. “Any person who touches this file is disappearing into thin air,” says Rami el-Obeidi, a former intelligence chief for the rebels’ National Transitional Council during the 2011 revolution, who has attempted to probe the attack on his own time but has faced the frustrations of confusing and missing evidence. “Who’s leading the investigation now? No one. What’s the progress? Nothing,” he said by phone. “Anyone who has had a hand in the investigation has been killed or abducted or threatened.”

The stymied investigation seems a far cry from the assurances from Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, immediately after the attack, that the culprits would be caught. A somber Obama told White House reporters the morning after the attack, “Make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.”

(MORE: The Motive and the Means: Did al-Qaeda Stage the Benghazi Attack?)

As the months have gone by, Libyans have come to doubt that will happen, believing that the attack was the work of armed militia too powerful for the weak central government in Tripoli to apprehend. In a phone interview on Wednesday, one Benghazi resident who did not want to be named told TIME that government security forces appeared to have decided not to stop the Sept. 11 attack while it was in progress. The resident said a colonel from the Ministry of Defense, a friend of his, had paid a social call to his home during the hours of the assault that night and had rebuffed pleas for help during the battle. “He began getting calls from people. One said it was war over there,” says the resident. “He said he had instructions not to interfere. Every time, he said it wasn’t serious.”

That reasoning seems unlikely to satisfy enraged Republicans in Washington, who have accused the Obama Administration of allowing fatal lapses in security for diplomats in Benghazi. On Tuesday, Senator Lindsey Graham told Fox News that the Senate should block the confirmation of John Brennan as the new CIA director “until our questions are answered” about “what transpired before, during and after the attack on our consulate.”

On the ground, however, Benghazi’s residents are slowly moving on and forgetting about the disastrous assault four months ago. The consulate building remains a burned-out ruin. And with al-Harzi out of jail in Tunisia, there is no suspect in custody for the attack. Buisier says the only thing that reminds people of the attack these days is the noise from above, apparently U.S. drones flying over eastern Libya’s main city as part of ramped-up security after the attack. Says he, “We wish they would be quieter.”

MORE: Did Obama Spin the Benghazi Attack?

15 comments
ryanbeat
ryanbeat

This is a HUGE cover-up! The question everyone is asking (but the media) is WHERE IN THE WORLD WAS PRES. OBAMA? And neither of these guys could explain who was actually in charge of the situation since neither Obama nor Sec. of State Clinton were on hand. What the heck was going on over at that embassy/consulate that no one wants to be attached to it?? If this were a Republican administration the media would be foaming at the mouth for answers! But, since the first black president CANNOT be allowed to look incompetent, we are stuck with the media machine desperately looking the other way in the face of a MASSIVE international scandal involving nothing less than a dead Ambassador and three other dead Americans.

It's racist NOT to investigate this administration!!

FrankBlank
FrankBlank

As usual, the neo-fascists focus on the wrong thing in pursuit of their only goal: the establishment of Oligarchy.  

1. Get the security program funded adequately. And since this was an "outpost" not an embassy, spell out a plan for the security of more and less important diplomatic sites.

2. Celebrate the massive demonstrations of support for Chris Stevens by Libyans, who risked their lives to go out on the street holding up such signs as "Chris Stevens, Friend to the Libyan People."  The neo-fascist are always justifying their hatred for muslims by saying "where are the moderates? Why don't they speak up?"  In libya, they spoke, 

3. Explain to us ignorati how this current obsession of theirs fits in with their "jobs jobs jobs" rhetoric.  

DavidFarrar
DavidFarrar like.author.displayName 1 Like

This was a botch kidnapping attempt, everyone know this..an act of treason.

ex animo

davidfarrar

segesta65
segesta65 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

This is why you should always elect Republican presidents: because otherwise, the media won't do its job.

ShawnArscott
ShawnArscott like.author.displayName 1 Like

9/11 one 9/11 2 both official versions have more holes than swiss cheese and the beat goes on.

chalkholder
chalkholder like.author.displayName 1 Like

Who cares about that angle?  Smokescreen!  

What I want to know is why as Christoper Stevens assigned to that post?  What connection is there to his assignment and his sex orientation?  Why a homosexual, then particularly, why there?  What I want to know is the state dept's connection and involvement his Steven's sexual orientation?  Why no responses to man's pleas for security?  Why the industry-wide blackout of the news event/episode?  Meanwhile ... Benghazi's are uncomfortable and the news media has no questions.  Lean forward!  

j45ashton
j45ashton like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Here is why this is a non-starter.  No Republican will want to hear this and no Democrat politician will bring this up publicly.  But very respectfully, how much of what happened actually rests with Chris Stevens himself?  Tripoli is where the main embassy was.  Benghazi was more of an outpost.  In this era of Republicans screaming about deficits & spending, the outpost was not likely to get funded with extra security.  It was reported that Stevens had made prior commitments to visit Benghazi and that's why he went, but Benghazi was generally known to be a very dangerous area with militant groups all around.  Stevens was a good guy and must have been a very brave guy to want to live up to prior commitments in spite of the danger.  But that day and for many days to come it would have been better for Mr Stevens to have played it safe.  I don't think this is 20-20 hindsight.  According to what's been reported, security was weak in Benghazi & danger was all around.  For 4 years conservatives and Republicans have sought to make political hay out of anything that has happened.  And they continue to do so today.  If a sparrow dies on the White House lawn, they would have that Obama's fault.  What happened to Ambassador Stevens is a tragedy.  We all mourn for that good man.  Shame on the Republicans for trying use this tragedy for political gain.  They'll get no further with this than they did with the bogus lies they tried to spread about Fast & Furious.  Trumped up opportunities are all that Republicans have become known for in the last four years.  Trumped up opportunities & obstructionism.  What a negative, negative party they have become.  A party of negative whiners & complainers.  You can't watch a single clip of any Republican today without hearing nothing but whining & complaining.  Turn the camera on them, and it's as sure to happen as the rising of the sun.

mrxexon
mrxexon like.author.displayName 1 Like

Quite frankly, nobody really cares about this. And I'm speaking of the general population here. They have bigger worries of their own.

We were in a country that was hostile to us for decades. But we were also hostile to them. Kaddafi was the very first Arab to ask for the fair market value for their oil. Not the glass beads and trinkets and "favors" we were giving out prior to that. This really inflamed relations with Libya and they never recovered.

So now that we "helped" Kadaffi exit, did we realistically think we could just walk in there, set up a CIA spy post posing as an embassy, and think this was somehow going to work?

It was a mistake. It's still a mistake. Until a valid government is set up there, we should only maintain a consulate at the very most. This wasn't a diplomatic mission. This was an intelligence operation. Time for the government to fess up. But being what it is, they can never talk about it.


x

Dachman
Dachman like.author.displayName 1 Like

Makes you wonder what is going on when you hear that a colonel from the Ministry of Defense “He said he had instructions not to interfere. Every time, he said it wasn’t serious.”

There is more to this story that is definatley getting buried...

bcconfidential
bcconfidential like.author.displayName 1 Like

We have some people who could TALK, but won't.  President Obama and SOS Hillary Clinton.  They have stonewalled for four months.  Outrageous.

FrankBlank
FrankBlank

@bcconfidential  Anyone with half a brain can figure out what happened there.  Insufficient security in part because of insufficient funds in part because they were trying a sort of "people's diplomacy" without an adequate plan for a place so unstable and dangerous.  That a very weak Libyan security force isn't going to risk a forceful intervention or investigation is no surprise - especially if you happened to read the article.

BobA
BobA

You are so right about lack of funding for security frank.Or are you?Nobody has done a budget at State for years,kind of the same with Obama.State has a culinary outreach program that has plenty of money,so I would think they have money in hand.State refused the security that was asked for.They didn't say there was no money,they just ignored the requests.To bad mainstream media will NEVER tell the truth about this or fast and furious.And no,I couldn't care about color.It IS all about character,and Obama has none.

kamanayahoo
kamanayahoo

@bcconfidential The Greedy Oppurtunist Obstructionist Party (GOOP) will never cease their efforts to denigrate and belittle the first non-white person to assume the office of president.

PhadrasJohns
PhadrasJohns

@kamanayahoo @bcconfidential And Geroge Bush was not denigrated by the dems and their media puppets for eight years? You are blind. You are racist. You are an American by birth only. Four men are needlessly dead. This could have been stopped but wasn't. Why? But you can't concern yourself with the truth. Your like most of the left; everything is political and therefore truth is a variable.