Friday, November 2, 2012

Documents indicate Libyan police may have been involved in planning Benghazi consulate attack

Writing in Foreign Policy, reporters maintain that six weeks after the attack on the compound where the U.S. ambassador was killed, there are still sensitive documents to be found that shed light on the attack.
The circumstances surrounding the attack on the Benghazi consulate and associated "safe house" are becoming more and more mind-boggling. An earlier Digital Journal article explores some of the issues with the White House response. Now, an article in Foreign Policy by Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa, raises even more troubling questions.
The reporters visited the fire-ravaged compound where Chris Stevens and another foreign service officer died on Sept. 11. When they visited on Oct. 26, they found that the compound still contained sensitive documents, including drafts of two letters that indicate that the compound was under "surveillance" by the Libyan police, and that the Libyan government had not met requests for additional security.
That these documents were still in the compound almost a month after the FBI searched the compound for evidence about the attack is astonishing. Surely the first thing that is done at a crime scene is to isolate the area and not let anyone in until everything is examined thoroughly and any significant items removed. How can one explain that reporters are allowed into the scene and find these items? No wonder there are all sorts of conspiracy theories about U.S. policy. Is it really possible that agents would overlook this evidence?
The reporters claim that they found Steven's personal copy of the Aug. 6, New Yorker, or remnants of it, lying on the bed in the safe room where Stevens spent his final hours. They also found several ash-covered documents in the Tactical Operations Center, that had been looted and was partially destroyed. Some of the documents are clearly marked as State Department correspondence.
Among the documents found were two draft letters unsigned but both dated Sept. 11, the day of the attack. One letter was addressed to Mohamed Obeidi, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office in Benghazi. Part of it reads:
"Finally, early this morning at 0643, September 11, 2012, one of our diligent guards made a troubling report. Near our main gate, a member of the police force was seen in the upper level of a building across from our compound. It is reported that this person was photographing the inside of the U.S. special mission and furthermore that this person was part of the police unit sent to protect the mission. The police car stationed where this event occurred was number 322."
The IT officer, Smith, who also was killed in the attack had also remarked earlier on Sept. 11 on a gaming forum:.
"Assuming we don't die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police' that guard the compound taking pictures."
The State Department would not comment directly on the documents found by the reporters because of an ongoing investigation. Mark Toner, a spokesperson said:
"An independent board is conducting a thorough review of the assault on our post in Benghazi. Once we have the board's comprehensive account of what happened, findings and recommendations, we can fully address these matters."
The documents also suggest that the Libyan authorities had been asked earlier on Sept. 9 for extra security because of the Ambassador's visit and claim that the Libyan authorities refused to provide the extra support. The document says in part:
"On Sunday, September 9, 2012, the U.S. mission requested additional police support at our compound for the duration of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens' visit. We requested daily, twenty-four hour police protection at the front and rear of the U.S. mission as well as a roving patrol. In addition we requested the services of a police explosive detection dog.
We were given assurances from the highest authorities in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that all due support would be provided for Ambassador Stevens' visit to Benghazi. However, we are saddened to report that we have only received an occasional police presence at our main gate. Many hours pass when we have no police support at all."
A second draft letter, as well as the first, requested an investigation into the police surveillance incident. The letter asked for the highest consideration of the issues raised and increased cooperation. The head of the Benghazi police Brigadier Hmeidah was fired a week after the attack. However, the chief refused to step down. According to his office manager, he is on sick leave right now. The new appointee to the job Salah Doghman said in an interview on Sept. 19 with Reuters:
"This is a mess ...When you go to the police headquarters, you will find there no police. The people in charge are not at their desks. They have refused to let me take up my job."
The reporters claim that the documents may have escaped FBI notice because of continued threats to U.S. personnel in Benghazi. Surely, the U.S. has the wherewithal to protect the area while a thorough search was carried out for documents. A Benghazi resident near the compound said that the FBI team spent only about three hours at the compound searching for evidence. This all looks, from my viewpoint, as incompetence on an almost unimaginable scale.

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