Benghazi Was Neither a Terrorist Attack Nor an Act of Terror

I am hereby declaring 99 Pinocchios on Barack Obama, all the people who work for him, everyone in the Republican party, and most everyone in the press who has reported on Benghazi.

This is about what has to be one of the most inane disagreements in the history of American politics, the argument about whether Obama called the Benghazi attack an "act of terror" or a "terrorist attack." Incredibly, people are still bickering over this. The other day Darrell Issa expressed his outrage that Obama had, in his diabolical attempt to cover up the incident, used the phrase "act of terror," which, let's be honest, is almost like saying, "Way to go, al Qaeda!", instead of using the far, far, far more condemnatory phrase "terrorist attack." It's like the difference between saying "steaming pile of bullshit" when you ought to say "steaming bullshit pile"—anyone who can't tell the difference between the two obviously can't be trusted to run the country. Then the ordinarily reasonable Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post's fact-checker, sternly judged Obama to be guilty of a Four Pinnochio whopper, because at his last press conference he said, "The day after it happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism," when in fact he didn't say "act of terrorism but just "act of terror." Facts? Checked.

But here's what nobody seems to get: Benghazi was not a terrorist act. Or an act of terror. Or an act of terrorism.

Before my Republican friends start getting red in the face, that doesn't mean it wasn't awful. Many awful things are not terrorism. Pearl Harbor wasn't terrorism. Jeffrey Dahmer's murders weren't terrorism. Adam Sandler's Jack and Jill wasn't terrorism. Terrorism is something quite specific: the intentional killing of civilians in order to achieve a political end. It's the "civilian" part that makes it terrorism and not something else. Perhaps some conservatives think that any violent action committed by Muslims is terrorism, but it isn't.

As it happens, there's a nice succinct definition of terrorism in U.S. law, section 2656f(d) of Title 22 of the United States Code, which reads, "the term 'terrorism' means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."

So why wasn't Benghazi terrorism? Because the people targeted weren't civilians. As The Wall Street Journal has reported, "The U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation, according to officials briefed on the intelligence. Of the more than 30 American officials evacuated from Benghazi following the deadly assault, only seven worked for the State Department. Nearly all the rest worked for the CIA, under diplomatic cover, which was a principal purpose of the consulate, these officials said." CIA officials are not civilians. That doesn't make their deaths any less tragic or painful for their families, but it's the truth. Nor is a CIA outpost a civilian target.

Of all the things you could say about Benghazi, why is this the one Republicans are so obsessed with? My guess is because they have so little else to work with. But they're being abetted by the Obama administration, which continues to play this game, because they've bought into the idea that if you call an attack "terrorism," that means you're really mad about it and you'll be tough and strong in your response, while if you call it something else you're not very mad and you'll be all wimpy about it.

So everybody gets Pinocchios. Can we move on now?

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