With the New York Times piece on Benghazi out now, I thought I’d repost something I wrote several weeks ago.
As the controversy over Benghazi has dragged on, it’s been an article of faith for most critics of the Obama administration that the YouTube video trailer for the The Innocence of Muslims wasn’t a factor in the attack on the temporary mission on September 11th.
This is a mistake. There’s actually ample proof that the YouTube video was a factor in the attack.
However, the evidence that the The Innocence of Muslims trailer played a role in the deadly attack does nothing to get the Obama administration off the hook. In fact, the role that the video played in the tragedy actually makes the cover-up far worse.
What we know from the contemporaneous reporting from multiple sources on the ground in Benghazi is that people at the scene of the embassy attack brought up the Innonence of Muslims.
Take the statement of eyewitness Sofian Kadura in France 24 that was published the day after the attack:
We stayed there until the Islamists left, at around midnight. Usually, when any big incident happens in Benghazi, those who are members of brigades receive orders over our talkie walkies from a main call centre. We received no orders. In fact, there was a brigade just down the street, but they stayed away. I was very distraught. This is not what we fought the war for. While I think the video is insulting, and should never have been made, I don’t think violence is the solution.
Today, many people in Benghazi are just as angry as me, and dislike these Islamists. But we’re in a difficult spot, because criticising them can be interpreted as being “against” the Prophet. The Islamists I talked to last night belong to a brigade affiliated with the radical Islamist group Ansar Al-Sharia…
An article from Reuters reporter Hadeel Al-Shalchi was published on September 12th that mentions the video.
About a month after the attack, a skeptical Twitter user asked Al-Shalchi about her claim.
Jeryl Bier @SpeakWithAuthor
14 Oct 12
@hadeelalsh Your story on 9/12 gave many details about protest/demonstrations which now it appears didn’t happen.
@speakwithauthor story doesnt give “many” details on the protest. it reports what ppl told me they saw that day. all i met face to face
Jeryl Bier @SpeakWithAuthor
15 Oct 12
@hadeelalsh I was using “many” in a relative sense. I’ve not read any other eyewitness accounts, just vague references to a “protest.”
Al-Sahlichi’s story also correctly pointed out that it was a planned attack by Ansar Al Sharia. It even quote U.S. government officials:
U.S. government officials said the Benghazi attack may have been planned in advance and there were indications that members of a militant faction calling itself Ansar al Sharia – which translates as Supporters of Islamic Law – may have been involved.
They also said some reporting from the region suggested that members of Al-Qaeda’s north Africa-based affiliate, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, may have been involved.
“It bears the hallmarks of an organized attack,” one U.S. official said. However, some U.S. officials cautioned against assuming that the attacks were deliberately organized to coincide with the September 11 anniversary.
This shows part of the problem with assuming the video was ‘a lie’; it forced critics to toss out the baby with the bathwater. An article with great information like the one by Al-Sahlchi was treated as suspect.
The early reporting shows that the attacke was 1) carried out by Ansar Al Sharia 2) planned 3) related to the video. There’s no confusion, no contradiction. That only came later, after the Obama administration made it an either /or proposition.
THAT was the Obama / Clinton / Rice lie; that you had to choose between a planned attack OR the video as a factor.
Why did they choose that particular video?
I’ve argued that it’s a mistake for critics of Pres. Obama on Benghazi to dismiss the claim that the film The Innocence of Muslims was a motivator for the 9/11/12 attack. I’ve shown that multiple eyewitness accounts from the night of the attack clearly show people at the mission that night were both aware of the film and angry over it.
Benghazi critics have gotten so used to arguing strenuously that the video wasn’t a factor in the deadly attack that they’ve actually missed the possible significance of a major part of the story: the Egyptian Connection.
Anyone who’s studied reason and logic knows about the informal fallacy referred to as False Dichotomy or the Either-Or Fallacy. This is an argument that that presents a limited number of options and claims that they are the only choices.
The False Dichotomy issued in politics all the time and Pres. Obama is a certainly experienced with it. For example, in selling Obamacare to the American public, the President presented the false alternative of either 1) passing his massive proposal or 2) doing nothing. On the subject of immigration, the President and his allies–some Republican–use the same argument. They state a problem, then propose the false dichotomy of either passing some leviathan stack of new regulations or ‘doing nothing.’
The false dichotomy argument often has a hypnotic effect. People come to accept the narrow range of alternatives as the only alternatives. False dichotomies becomes a sort of mental prison; a way to control minds and thereby control the outcome of the argument. People must either learn to totally rejection this fallacy in all its forms or they become mindless zombies, ripe for dictatorship.
(See what I just did there? False dichotomy, baby.)
Okay, so maybe you won’t instantly become a mindless zombie. It’s still a good idea to understand logical fallacies, soas not to be fooled by them.
One false alternative in the Benghazi story is the choice that the assault on the mission was either 1) about a YouTube video or 2) a planned terrorist attack.
This false alternative of video vs. planned attack was largely created by the Obama administration. Almost immediately, they knew that Ansar Al Sharia was behind the attack. They also knew this information was impossible to completely bury. So they began a campaign of cover-up by confusion; deliberately smearing fact and fiction in order to run out the clock on the election.
There’s no inherit contradiction in the idea that the The Innocence of Muslims was a factor in the Benghazi attack and that the attack was pre-planned.
Try this simple mental exercise : was the protest at the Egyptian embassy that morning of September 11th, 2012 1) about the video or 2) pre-planned?
For anyone who knows even a little about that protest, it’s obvious that this is a false dichotomy. The Egypt protest was both pre-planned and related to the video.
This question about Egypt isn’t an idle one, by the way. It seems to directly relate to the attack on the Libyan mission that evening.
There are multiple reports that four Egyptian men were arrested by Libyans on the night of the mission attack.
There’s video from the night of the attack of men appear to be shouting “”Don’t shoot them. They were sent by Dr. Morsi.”
There’s what appears to be an internal Libyan government memo discussing the four Egyptian men who were arrested. This document mentions the video.
I’ll go over these different pieces of evidence in a moment but let’s tie them all together first with a speculative question: did Egypt’s then-President Mohammed Morsi send fighters to Libya to attack the U.S. mission because of anger over the film The Innocence of Muslims?
As I’ll also show, Morsi was very angry over the video.
Because I go through the evidence, let me make it clear what I’m saying and what I’m not saying. I think there’s evidence from a variety of sources that Morsi may have sent a small group to attack the mission in anger over the video. It’s also clear that at least some people on the ground the night of the attack were upset about the The Innocence of Muslims.
However, I’m not claiming that there weren’t other motives at work in the Benghazi attack.
I believe there were a number of motivations at play; some are known and some are speculative. For example, we know that Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called for revenge for the June death of Abu Yahya al-Libi. There’s also possible motivation related to the secret CIA mission in Benghazi, although because of that secrecy this is harder to prove at this point.
What was the real motivator behind the Benghazi attack? Beware of the false dichotomy.
There’s no reason to pick one pet theory and ignore evidence that doesn’t fit into that narrative. There’s no contradiction in the notion that some people attacking the compound did so in anger over the video while others were part of a long standing plan to send a terrorist message.
Part of this mis in motivations results from the loose cellular structure of the global jihadist movement. This applies to the fluid alliances that we see in the Syrian rebels, the present day affiliate organization of Al Qaeda and it dates back to the early days of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
As Lawrence Wright explains in his book The Looming Tower:
The government officially dissolved the Muslim Brothers in 1948, following the killing of the hated police chief Salim Zaki during a riot at the medical school of Cairo University; but by that time the Brothers had more than a million members and supporters— out of a total Egyptian population of 18 million. Although the Brotherhood was a mass movement, it was also intimately organized into cooperative “families”— cells that contained no more than five members each, giving it a spongy, clandestine quality that proved difficult to detect and impossible to eradicate.
Wright, Lawrence (2006-08-08). The Looming Tower (Vintage) (Kindle Locations 458-460). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
When the attacks occurred in September of 2012, there was confusing and evolving web of connections between the different brigades, militias and the tatters of an official Libyan government. In short, if you want to under Benghazi you need to drop Either-Or thinking.
There’s not a top down structure. Once you understand and accept the porous nature of the various people, factions and loose affiliations, it becomes easier to understand what actually happened and who was responsible.
The Obama administration took advantage of this confusion.
Here’s what a responsible United States politician would have done with the intelligence available to them about Benghazi. Within a day or two of the killing of four Americans, they would have gone on television said something like this to the American people:
“With the tragic death of four Americans in Benghazi, it’s time to explain how the threat from Al Qaeda has changed in recent years. While Osama Bin Laden has been killed, Al Qaeda itself is not dead, nor is it decimated. Like diseased cells changing to fight off medicine, the jihadist virus has adapted to our attempts to restrain it. That means that we, too, need to adapt in order to wipe out the number one threat to free people the world over: the medieval barbarism of the Islamists who intend to either impose Sharia on the world or kill and maim as many people as possible trying.”
Then this entirely fictional political would explain to the U.S. citizenry how Al Qaeda was trying to establish a Caliphate, how Islamists like Morsi were in power in Egypt, how Syrian rebels were dominated by jihadists and laid out a plan to defeat the enemy ideology.
Fantasy over. Back to reality. Obviously, this is a speech that President Barack Obama would never have delivered. Actually discussing the jihadi threat in stark terms doesn’t fit into Obama’s ideology. Even more depressing, it’s also not a speech that Obama’s 2008 rival Sen. John McCain ever would have given, either, for exactly the same reason.
So, instead what the American people got from the Obama administration and the equally in denial media was mealy mouthed quasi-explanations, half-truths and outright lies.
Just like on that awful night in Benghazi, no help was on the way. GOP politicians like Sen. McCain and even Sen. Marco Rubio had demonstrated what they’d do to a politician like Rep. Michele Bachmann who piped up about the Islamist threat. Just as they’d done when Bachmann asked questions about Hillary Clinton’s chief aid Huma Abedin, the Republican machine would crush, grind up and spit out anyone who pointed out uncomfortable facts.
And so, Obama covered-up Benghazi and all the self-immolating establishment Republicans had to counter this onslaught on reality were mealy mouthed quasi-explanations.
The vast majority of Americans had never heard of the film The Innocence of Muslims until the Obama administration began talking about it in the immediate aftermath of the Septmeber 11th, 2012 attacks on the United States embassy in Cairo, Egypt and the deadly assault on the temporary mission and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya. However, the movie was on the radar of both the Obama administration and of people in the Middle East in the days leading up to 9/11.
In order to retrace the history of the film’s real role in the Benghazi attack, I first went the route of seeing what was said and written about the film prior to 9/11.
This pre-attack information is crucial because the Obama administration went into spin mode so quickly; Hillary Clinton and the State Department issued an official statement just about six hours after the first gunshots were heard.
If nobody had been talking about the film prior to the Clinton statement at about 10:00pm Eastern time on September 11th, then that would be clear, convincing evidence of what many Benghazi critics appeared to suspect: that the ‘YouTube video’ story was concocted out of thin air by Obama and Clinton.
That’s not what I found.
Quite the opposite, as I looked at the timeline leading up to 9/11/12, it became increasingly clear that The Innocence of Muslims had, in fact, been a source of discussion, planned protests and was causing anger in both Egypt and Libya.
As I presented these findings about the film to my Twitter audience, some people remained skeptical or even openly hostile to the facts. Some suggested that perhaps the Obama administration itself was behind the video. There was no proof of this but some people were so locked into the idea that the video had absolutely nothing with the Beghazi attack that they weren’t open to evidence.
Some skeptics also suggested that controversial Florida paster Terry Jones–known for his Koran burnings protests–had been set up to be the fall guy for the Obama administration.
Because of my past reporting on stories like the Pigford black farmers scandal, I knew firsthand what the Obama team was capable of. In Pigford, President Barack Obama himself had helped set-up a racist reparation fraud scheme. This wasn’t a conspiracy theory; it was a fact and it was so apparent to anyone willing to actually look that my work with Andrew Breitbart on Pigford had even been validated by the New York Times.
So, while I was totally open to the idea to what the Obama administration might be capable of, just knowing that capability wasn’t actually proof of anything. To actually nail the story, I needed facts and everywhere I looked, the facts supporting the idea that Obama had either planted or made up the YouTube video’s connection to Benghazi.
The problem was that facts were becoming hard to come by. The filmmaker behind The Innocence of Muslims was in jail. This development alone was chilling, since Hillary Clinton had told Benghazi victim Ty Wood’s father that she would get the filmmaker. And she had.
So, in my quest to find out what had actually happened, I interviewed Pastor Terry Jones. He filled in a number of details and confirmed some of what I’d read.
Jones told me he was contacted by Coptic Christian activist attorney Morris Sadek about the film ‘months before 9/11.’ Jones was also introduced to ‘Sam Bacile’, the producer of The Innocence of Muslims whose real name would later be revealed to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula .
This use of a pseudonym wasn’t foolish or an overabundance of caution. Criticizing Islam has been known to have deadly consequences. There were numerous well known examples, such as the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh after the release of his film Submission, which was critical of Islam’s treatment of women. Jones told me that he himself was marked for assassination and was number two on the Al Qaeda hit list.
Florida Pastor Terry Jones was already well known and hated by Middle Eastern Islamists when he was brought together with the The Innocence of Muslims filmmaker using the name Sam Bacile.
For months, Pastor Jones had been planning an event for September 11th, 2012 called International Judge Muhammad Day. In a video uploaded in January, 2012 Jones stands in front of a truck painted with the cartoon depiction of Muhammad that had been the justification for international protests and rioting in 2005 and 2006.
In the announcement video for International Judge Muhammad Day, Jones asked if Islam was “a religion of violence, a religion of oppression, a religion where everyone who is not a Muslim is a second-class citizen.”
After being contacted by Sadek and Bacille, Jones decided to include The Innocence of Muslims in his planned 9/11 International Judge Muhammad Day event. Bacille even offered to fly to Florida to screen the film for Jones.
The person who promoted the film The Innocence of Muslims to Egypt was Morris Sadek, close a week before September 11th.
On September 5th, Sadek posted a press release in Arabic about the film on the website of the National American Copy Assembly. The website includes information about International Judge Muhammad Day and says in red letters “If found guilty, Mohammad will be executed.”
The September 5th post includes links to both an Arabic and English version of the trailer for The Innocence of Muslims. Sedak also sent a press release out to dozens of journalists in Egypt about The Innocence of Muslims.
Production had started on The Innocence of Muslims in the summer of 2011. In June 2012, it played under the title The Innocence of Bin Laden at the Vine Theater in Hollywood to an audience of two people. In July, 2012 a 14-minute trailer was uploaded to YouTube under the name The Real Life of Muhammad and got almost no views.
On September 8th, 2012 The Innocence of Muslims would find its Middle Eastern audience.
The Al Nas TV Channel is an Islamist channel that airs on satellite and the internet. It even has a Facebook page. It takes its name from the last sura of the Qur’an, which asks Allah for protection from Satan.
One of the best known of Al Nas’s hosts was an Egyptian named Sheik Khaled Abdullah. On September 8th, Abdullah did a segment on The Innocence of Muslims. That segment was uploaded to YouTube on September 9th.
The segment is in Arabic but anyone can see that at about 2 minutes in, they run an extended clip from The Innocence of Muslims.
Abdullah is a harsh critics of Coptic Christians. In a piece in Time World on September 13, 2012 journalist Bobby Goush explained:
For Abdallah, the fact that a Copt was promoting an anti-Muhammad film endorsed by the Koran-burning pastor was too much. On his Sept. 8 show, he broadcast some of the clips, now dubbed in Arabic. In one scene that was aired, “Muhammad” declares a donkey the “first Muslim animal” and asks the creature if it likes the ladies. Abdallah’s show, complete with the offensive video, was also posted on YouTube, and it has attracted over 300,000 views.
Abdallah’s show was a dog whistle to the Salafists, a fundamentalist Islamic movement that makes up the second largest faction in the Egyptian parliament. For months, organized Salafist groups had been protesting in small numbers in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, calling for the release of Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik currently in a North Carolina prison, convicted for plotting a series of bombings and assassinations in the 1990s. They were joined on Sept. 11 by prominent leaders like Nader Bakar of the Salafist Nour Party and Mohammed al-Zawahiri, brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s longtime deputy and now head of al-Qaeda.
There’s other evidence that Sheik Khaled Abdullah’s showing of The Innocence of Muslims clip was making Middle Eastern news prior to 9/11. An article posted on September 9th, 2012 by the website Noum7.com shows a photo of Pastor Terry Jones. The headline roughly translates “Expatriate Copts ignite sedition by producing film that is offensive to the Prophet . American politicians are attacking the Rev. Terry Jones and demanding criminal prosecution of the film ..”
At the bottom of the 9/9/12 website article is an image of what appears to be a print newspaper discussing the film, complete with still images.
The promotion of the film by Morris Sadek on September 5th led to the airing on Islamist TV station Al Nas on Septemebr 8th. The film was associated with Pastor Terry Jones in the Middle East media. And correctly associated, since Jones was planning to play the trailer at his 9/11 International Judge Muhammad Day event in Florida.
Almost nobody in the United States was paying attention to Jones’s event but the rumor quickly spread among Middle Eastern islamists that the The Innocence of Muslims would be opening in theaters nationwide.
Some people were paying attention to the Jones event, however : the Obama administration.
As the whirlwind of rumors and anger began to spread from Egypt outward, Jones was contacted by a number of U.S. government officials asking him not to promote the film.
Jones told me that high officials from the U.S. military and an Assistant Deputy of the State Department contacted him directly prior to September 11th urging him strongly to drop the film. He refused.
Let’s pause to consider this course of action by the Unites States government for a moment.
I’ve argued that American critics of the Obama administration on Benghazi have made a critical mistake by claiming the The Innocence of Muslims has nothing to do with the events in Benghazi.
The first reason it’s a mistake is that it’s simply not true. The conspiracy theories about Obama planting the video or making it up are false. As I’ve proven, the video had been promoted by anti-Islam activist Morris Sadek in the United States and then made famous by an Islamist TV station on September 8th.
However, there’s a been a consequence of the incorrect information that Benghazi critics have taken for granted: it’s actually hidden the Obama administration’s scandalous reaction to the video tape.
In other words, the truth about the YouTube video doesn’t exonerate President Barack Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in any way.
In fact, understanding the truth about the video shows exactly how the Obama / Clinton policy of conciliation caused worldwide rioting.
Many Benghazi critics, including candidate Mitt Romney, have said that the Obama administration appeared to show sympathy for the Islamists in their various statements about the ‘disgusting, reprehensible’ video.
This argument has ended up going nowhere, because it inevitably devolves into a debate over what the word “sympathy” means. And as I point out elsewhere, a Clintonian level of parsing is something both the Obama administration and most journalists love.
In all that kerfluffery, something objective has been lost.
The evidence shows that there was clearly a credible threat of violence prior to 9/11. Anger had been whipped up by an Islamist, anti-Coptic tv channel over the The Innocence of Muslims and an upcoming Terry Jones protest.
Please note I did not say the film caused the anger. That’s a common liberal formulation. Technically it’s an anthropomorphism; attributing human characteristics to an object. Guns cause violence. Videos cause Islamist riots. This formulation is used to hide the real culprit : the Islamist ideology that’s the actual animating cause.
The underlying facts are the same. There was a video. Word of it got out in the Middle East. Riots ensued.
However, the difference in the two formulations isn’t mere wordplay. It has policy consequences. In this case, life or death ones.
If the cause of the problem is the object, the correct policy is to get rid of the object. However, if the cause of the problem is people and how they use or respond to the object, then solution is to deal with the people.
The Obama administration clearly thought the problem with the video itself; the ‘digesting, reprehensible’ digital voodoo totem that they discussed endlessly.
It gets worse, though.
Look at the objective facts; what we know for certain the Obama administration did prior to 9/11. There’s a clear, credible threat in the view of the administration. Anger is spreading in the Middle East about the video. And what action does the Obama administration take?
Do they tighten security across the region? Do they issue a strongly worded statement that any protests that get out of hand will be met with a swift, severe response? Do they warn Middle Eastern leader that the United States won’t tolerate the same type barbaric response shown to the Danish cartoon or an episode of South Park?
There’s a credible threat prior to 9/11 and the Obama administration has a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a senior State Department officially call Terry Jones in Florida and ask him not to show the video.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is scandalous.