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?

Comments

As a conservative, I subscribed to Mother Jones and this publication at the beginning of the year to be informed of what was being said all across the political spectrum. I generally appreciate and respect what I have read in Mother Jones, which seems to be committed to careful reporting. This article, on the other hand, is a squeal of panic from someone who feels reality closing in and is desperate to evade it, as the Left so often is.

Can Waldman be one of the few in America above the fifth grade who does not realize that the CIA are civilians? Yes, I too am reading "The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth." Waldman has apparently read it and concluded that every CIA employee is really a soldier who is just being sneaky and not wearing a uniform. No, that doesn't follow.

If a terrorist organization attacks a card game, takes everyone's money, and goes out and spends it on nothing but booze and drugs, that is a crime. If they attack the same gathering, that may happen to include both policemen and civilians, and kill everyone in the name of a political cause, that is terrorism, a fact immediately obvious to everyone but Waldman. Waldman seems to think he is being very clever, the highest virtue to which many on the Left are capable of aspiring, but in fact, he is being desperately and pathetically lame.

The Right has a great deal to answer for, needless to say. Our egregiously stupid foray into Iraq cost lives in an amount that make Benghazi a drop in the bucket. No argument there. But Benghazi is a known incident where government employees knew a threat in advance, asked for additional protection, were refused, and then were either killed, as was to be expected, or lived to see their masters deny what had happened. Facts, as John Adams said, are stubborn things, and no amount of weaseling by Carney, stonewalling by Obama, or brazen insolence by the Hillz can change that. Sorry.

Seems to me that to argue that Waldman was seriously off base because he didn't include CIA in the category of "civilian" is an inappropriately petty complaint.

Most of us, when asked to think of the meaning of "civilian" think non-combatant, ordinary folks living ordinary lives and who do not threaten those by whom they are attacked. We also tend to think of women, children, and elders, as well as healthy young to middle-aged males. My guess is that most of those CIA operatives are males in their 20s-40s, obviously including ex-military. The two CIA contractors killed were ex-Seals, were they not?) Moreover, foreigners, particularly those suspicious of U.S. power, are inclined to think of the CIA as perhaps even more threatening than U.S. military because they are impervious to civilian control and specifically authorized to utilize dirty tricks. They are certainly NOT "non-combatants."

At any rate, in my humble opinion, Michael's definitional quibble is a red herring.

The argument about whether the attack was "in the name of a political cause" is more worth contemplating. HOWEVER, there's a fallacy in relying on that argument to dispute Walkman's analysis. The "civilian" and "political cause" criteria are BOTH required to call something "terrorism, " in Waldman's argument. If ONE is missing, then the word "terrorism" is not appropriate, he asserts. Now, is that true? What if something meets the "political" test, but not the "civilian" test -- what do you call THAT? Rebellion? Perceived patriotism?

What if foreign agents were set up in this country and a group of organized Tea Partiers attacked them because they perceived them as occupiers or as oppressors? Would we call that terrorism, or a battle in an inchoate but developing patriotic war?

Really, Michael, you raise an interesting issue, but I don't think you went far enough in questioning yourself. (I probably didn't either, but I'm not confidently claiming superiority here, as I think you are.)

BTW, Chris Stevens REJECTED two offers from the military for a good-sized military protective unit. Why? Perhaps because the CIA was operating covertly and didn't want military around to call attention to them. Perhaps because Stevens felt he couldn't operated effectively with such an obvious military presence, especially when the large CIA contingent was so visible. Perhaps for any number of reasons that neither you nor I can imagine because of our relative lack of experience in the field.

At any rate, please don't make dubious assertions when you've ignored important facts that inconveniently fail to support such assertions. A little humility improves the quality of analysis.

Actually, patriot451, Ambassador Stevens was constrained from taking up the offer of military security from General Ham (twice) for another good reason: The Tripoli embassy and the American military would have to petition the Libyan government, in shambles as it was at the time, to get permission to put American soldiers in place for protection, which could take months. That was an additional caveat to the one you pointed out, that the CIA was operating covertly.

This isn't directed to you, patriot451, but I have to say it: So many right-wingers who keep suggesting "why not more Marines?" seem to be ignorant of the primary function of a Marine presence at our embassies. They're responsible for the integrity and preservation (or destruction) of intelligence data, not protecting the diplomats and functionaries. I don't understand why RWers keep getting that wrong (could it be that their sources are bad?).

"If we're going to argue about language, at least we should understand what the words we're arguing about mean."

True. The problem with quoting 2656f(d) of Title 22 is that it is only one of many definitions of "terrorism" under federal law. There is no one, definitive, meaning of "terrorism," under federal law or otherwise. Section 2656f(d) is the provision that defines "terrorism" for the purposes of what the State Department should focus on in its annual report to Congress; it is not "the" legal definition of terrorism.

For example, section 2331(1) of Title 18 defines "international terrorism" as violent acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States (or would be if committed here), and which appear intended to intimidate or coerce a government (among other things). Under that definition, the Benghazi attack seems to qualify as "international terrorism." And there are other definitions for other purposes.

Many definitions of terrorism do require, as stated above, that the targets be civilians. But not all do. The key point is that the meaning of the word "terrorism" is disputed, and federal law does not resolve the dispute.

Good point.

However, I would suggest that, despite what the GOVERNMENT defines as terrorism, we, as citizens, have a perfect right to question such definition, particularly in cases where distinctions in terminology lead to vastly different ways of viewing government actions.

I think Walkman is correct to raise the question of how many negative repercussions stem from using the word "terrorim" too broadly. ESPECIALLY when the government, under both GWB and Obama, is all too willing to dispense with civil liberties, weaken the Rule of Law, and shred the Constitution whenever an emotionally loaded term like "terrorism" can be used to justify such actions.

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Sir:
Argue if you will whether or not this is an act of terror or not. (what difference does it make now! :-) ) A better plan would be to try to convince readers that this was a spontaneous response to a video. THAT was the story continually repeated by the administration. Simple question: was that story true or not?

No, as it turns out.....but there was surely plenty of reason to think so in the initial hours. Remember, there was NO video that could be seen in D.C. and our wonderful CIA, so expert in clandestine operations, wasn't on the scene at the compound where Chris Stevens died.

Admit it. Isn't the video a plausible explanation, in the absence of contradictory facts? Might there not be good CIA-type reasons for asserting that and NOT offering contradictory information, at least initially?

Why do right-wingers always think they KNOW all the answer right off the bat. Doesn't a responsible thinker identify missing information and significant questions BEFORE asserting that he/she has all the answers?

Why all the intellectual arrogance? (I'd suggest one explanation: a need to hurt Obama, hurt anyone who agrees with Obama, hurt the government, increase right-wing power, a need that overrides any sense of responsible citizenship.)

Concur completely with your assertion: "Doesn't a responsible thinker identify missing information and significant questions BEFORE asserting that he/she has all the answers?" Given that, do you think that premise was violated by jumping to the "video did it" conclusion without any basis in fact?

At what point are the Obamabots going to stop being so damn juvenile? If you listen to the speech he made it is obvious that the context in which he said "act of terror"was a broad and general use, not a specific statement about Benghazi. This is just common sense stuff. The bigger question I have for the President is, if this was an act of terror as you say, why did you continue to push the youtube video for 3 weeks? Anyone who cant see past the fact that this was all about the election and pushing politics is brainwashed beyond hope.

So what?

I'm sorry, but I don't see what the core issue here is.

I do see what the primary motivation here is. Republicans have been trying so, so hard to create a negative aura around the President. So we get a barrage of unconnected, illogical questions that don't actually lead to anything.

The fact remains that, if you look at all the actions that Obama has done to keep Americans safe, and compare them to all the actions that Bush did to keep Americans safe, Obama has done a much, much better job. Has it been perfect? No. But it's the height of hypocrisy to try to nail Obama for being President when one attack happened while insisting the Bush must be forgiven for ten times as many attacks.

But that's what today's Republican party is about.

If you had never heard any other government official hedging his bets in a fluid and serious situation, your comment might be a valid criticism.

If you HAVE heard such actions many times, and particularly from Republicans (as well as Dems), then you're just dishonestly playing "gotcha."

I'm sorry, but you're not being fair......and if your motives are positive and you THINK you're being fair....then I suggest that you're being foolish.

I'm truly surprised at the controversy over Benghazi is continuing to piss me off! When G.W. Bush was in office we've had 12 US Embassy attacked, costing nearly 53 American lives yet, NOT once had anyone disputed this? WTF! Furthermore, wasn't Darrel Issa one of those conservatives asked for budget cuts for the US Embassy security? This is further bullshit that's wasting tax payers money over what? The lost of 4 lives! It happened, we have to live with it, what about the cost of 53 American lives during G.W. Bush era? Has anyone made reference to cost there? Come on folks, lets move on and give all those Americans what they deserve, put it to rest and compensate the families.

depends on what the definition of "is" is. Gimme a break. Where was BO that night, and HRC? Why did they abandon those poor people. That is the question.

We know where "BO" was. Right in/near the Oval Office the day-night of the Benghazi attack (which was 3:40 PM in the afternoon Washington DC time, 9:40 PM Benghazi time).

http://thinkprogress.org/security/2013/05/08/1984551/mccain-photo-obama-benghazi/

As for where Hillary Clinton was "that night", so far no RWNJs have disproved her testimony before a Senate investigative committee January 22, 2013:

Clinton testified that on the day of the attack, before it happened, she had been at the State Department dealing with a different crisis that evolved from protests to a YouTube video that disparaged Mohammed.

"During most of the day, prior to getting notice of the attack on our compound in Benghazi, we were very focused on the situation around our embassy in Cairo," Clinton said. "There were attempts to scale the wall, and we were in close contact with our counterparts in Cairo."

When the attack in Benghazi happened, about 4 p.m. Washington time, she called Libyan security officials "to get assistance as quickly as possible."

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/01/22/clinton-benghazi-hearing/1856741/

More details in the Wikipedia summary of Benghazi 9/11/12:

Diplomatic Security Service agents/Regional Security Officers informed their headquarters in Washington about the attack just as it was beginning at about 9:40 local time (3:40PM Eastern Time). By 4:30 Eastern (10:30 local time), Pentagon officials informed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the attack. The Pentagon ordered an unmanned aerial vehicle that was in the air conducting surveillance on militant camps to fly over Benghazi. The drone arrived at 5:11 (11:11 local time) and began providing a video feed to Washington. At 5:41 (11:41 local time), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned CIA Director David Petraeus to coordinate.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Benghazi_attack ("Reaction in the United States")
-----------------------------

I have a question for YOU. Why aren't you curious enough to get these easily searched-out facts yourself? Or do you just like to scatter troll questions all over the internet?

The thing about the Benghazibots is that they've been asking the same questions, over and over, for 8 months, and they still don't know the answers.

They don't know the answers because they don't care about the answers. When they hear an answer, it upsets them, so the brain freezes it out. And then they come back the next day, asking the same questions that have already been answered.

I have to think that these people are (at least) one of the following
a) utterly stupid
b) deranged
or
c) paid to be obtuse

This whole article is stupid. Let me see if I can straighten this out...
The attackers were Al Qaida. Al Qaida are terrorists. It is a terrorist attack.

Now, Mr. Waldman's attempt at Ass Covering for the Obama Machine does take a new tack. Quibbling over semantics. Bravo, nerd. Let me try this... The attack on the USS Cole was against a Naval ship. All navy. Still a terrorist attack. Why? Because the attackers were and are terrorists.

Seriously, this article is merely the latest in the Lefty Media's attempt at a giant, "Nothing to see here. Move along." It will not work. There is entirely too much happening right now, and all of it bad for the Obama presidency.

Sorry, FastEddie, but definitions don't work that way.

"The attackers were Al Qaida". Well, since any militant is called that these days, I won't quibble so much.

"Al Qaida are terrorists." So far so good.

"It is a terrorist attack." Again, no, it doesn't work that way.

You would have us work in a world of circular definitions. You say that the attack was terrorism since it was by Al Qaeda. But we call Al Qaeda terrorists because they perform acts of terrorism.

OK, now let's get to how definitions actually work. The definition of "terrorist" is "person who performs acts of terrorism". With that being the case, you cannot argue that something must be an act of terrorism because terrorists did it. You cannot have each definition depend on the other.

So, you have to look at the act directly and decide if that act is an act of terrorism. After all, if Al Qaeda order a pizza, that doesn't mean that ordering a pizza is an act of terrorism. So, the question is then whether this attack targeted civilians or not.

Are CIA employees "civilians"? Given how many people working for the CIA are engaged in paramilitary actions, I can see why they don't quite qualify for the description of "civilian".

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The biggest Pinocchio goes to writer Paul Waldman.
President Obama did not say, 'Act' of terror, rather 'Acts" of terror. Watch the video.
It makes a big difference when put in context of his speech. By saying 'Act' of terror he can later finesse his statement into possibly being about Benghazi. 'Acts' makes it more clear he was referring to other terrorism attacks over the past years.
"...when in fact he didn't say "act of terrorism but just "act of terror." Facts? Checked." -- Paul Walman.
Checked? It doesn't appear so.

I am aware that BO was in the white house at the time. In the large sense, rather than the geographical, what did the president do during that evening to get help to the people in bengazi and secure our diplomatic facility? Who did he speak with. We know he did not speak with the SecState after the initial notice of the crisis, he did not speak with the SecDef, or the Joint Chiefs, or chairman of the joint chiefs, after he directed the military to deploy forces at 4:00. Yet none were deployed. Why not? When did he change his mind? It is inconceivable that anyone countermanded the order of the Cmdr in Chief. So what happened to the force deployment and why did it take three weeks before we were again in control of the compound? No answers to these questions on Wiki. Or maybe we don't need to know the answers and I am just a troll? is that it?

Only an Obama democrat would not know what terrorism means-
1994, the United Nations General Assembly has condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism: "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.
Just like the description of a democrat is an ass you moron=term for a person with a mental age between 8 and 12, and a common insult for a person considered stupid!

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