Political Football

Books-13Hours

It was about four years ago all this happened. The lead-up is by now familiar:

A trailer for a movie called Innocence of Muslims, described by Reuters as depicting the Islamic prophet, Muhammad “as a fool, a philanderer and a religious fake” and showed him having sex, was uploaded to YouTube in early July, 2012, and an Arabic-dubbed version uploaded to YouTube on September 4, 2012. NBC News described the trailer as depicting Muhammad “as a womanizer, a homosexual and a child abuser.” The film was supported by the U.S. pastor Terry Jones, who had previously angered Muslims by announcing plans to burn the Quran publicly. Reuters cited the broadcast of an excerpt of the trailer on Egyptian TV network Al-Nason September 8, on a show hosted by Sheikh Khalad Abdalla, as “the flashpoint for the unrest.” Prior to the 2011 revolution, Egyptian authorities periodically suspended al-Nas for “promoting religious or sectarian hatred.”

That Terry Jones is a controversial character is in no doubt—follow the above link. His trajectory through Christian advocacy is a trail of cultism, self-aggrandizement, and legal reverses. His announced plan to public burn a copy of the Quran, was troubling to many, including to me.

A sidebar here. People who know me have no doubt I have great disregard for so-called holy books. The Bible—yes, that includes the Jews, as well—is a horrid work of fiction, and the Quran, apparently the rantings of a seventh century desert illiterate, appears to be not a half-measure better. When I openly questioned the wisdom of burning copies of the Quran, I was challenged vigorously. Such desecration is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. My thinking was only slightly deeper. Yes, you do have the right to poke a stick at a hornet’s nest, but I would not advise it. I further pointed out that Terry Jones was the person poking the stick, but he was carefully positioned to not be one of those stung. His was a five-thousand-mile stick, and he was going to exercise his First Amendment right. And somebody else was going to die.

And it came to pass.

A train load of hype notwithstanding, the completed film appears to have been shown only once in its entirety, and then in a rented Hollywood theater to about ten people. In the mean time, movie trailers were posted to YouTube. And the shit hit the fan:

On September 11, 2012, a series of protests and violent attacks began in response to a YouTube trailer for a film called Innocence of Muslims, considered blasphemous by many Muslims. The reactions began at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cairo, Egypt, and quickly spread across the Muslim world to additional U.S. and other countries’ diplomatic missions and other locations, with issues beyond the offense at the movie trailer becoming subjects of protest. In Cairo a group scaled the embassy wall and tore down the American flag to replace it with a black Islamic flag.

On September 13, protests occurred at the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen, resulting in the deaths of four protesters and injuries to thirty-five protesters and guards. On September 14, the U.S. consulate in Chennai was attacked, resulting in injuries to twenty-five protesters. Protesters in Tunis, Tunisia, climbed the U.S. embassy walls and set trees on fire. At least four people were killed and forty-six injured during protests in Tunis on September 15. Further protests were held at U.S. diplomatic missions and other locations in the days following the initial attacks. Related protests and attacks resulted in numerous deaths and injuries across the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

All of this is not what this review is about. 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi is about the attack on two United States diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya, on 11 September 2012. The book was written by Mitchell Zuckoff in collaboration with CIA operatives and CIA contractors who participated in the events. Four Americans were killed by hostile action, including American Ambassador Chris Stevens, communications officer Sean Smith, Global Response Staff operative Tyrone Woods, and GRS operative Glen Doherty. By all accounts, a significant number of attackers were killed by American forces. Beyond the gripping drama behind the attack and the response of the defenders, what makes this a compelling read is the political firestorm ginned up by opponents to the Obama administration, particularly then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama’s presumptive successor.

The deaths of four Americans and the propaganda industry that sprang from the attack vastly overshadow the saga that lies at the base. In that respect, some of the human drama may get lost in my retelling. For this I apologize.

Before launching into the details, I will list a few take-aways. I do this because some readers may not be interested in following the story to the end. Here is what you will get reading the book:

  • The attacks on the diplomatic compound and then on the CIA annex were carried out by an organized band of combatants and in no way were associated with any protests over the Jones video.
  • Implications made that Secretary Clinton was complicit in the deaths of these Americans are only possible through wildest stretches of the imagination.
  • The American compounds in Benghazi were in obvious danger prior to the attacks. There was an over reliance on a local militia called the 17 February Martyrs Brigade, which turned out to be ineffective at best and absent at worst when needed. The only way to have secured the safety of the Americans in Benghazi at the time would have been to close both compounds and evacuate the Americans. This was not recognized by those in Benghazi and in Washington, including at the State Department and within the United States Military.
  • There were no demonstrations outside the diplomatic compound. The first indication of aggressive action came at 9:45 p.m. on 11 September when several dozen armed men entered through a pedestrian front entrance, firing AK-47 rifles. The responsibility of securing that gate, locking it, was with an organization called the Blue Mountain Libya Guards.
  • The first indication that an assault was in progress came when Diplomatic Security Agent Alec Henderson heard gunfire and stepped over to look at an array of security camera displays.
  • Any assertion that inadequate American military response is to blame for the deaths at the diplomatic compound is absurd. Within 20 minutes Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith were dead. DS Agent Scott Wickland herded Stevens and Smith into a safe room and secured the door. Attackers did not know they were in there but poured diesel fuel about and set the adjacent rooms aflame. As the secure room filled with fumes from the fire Wickland attempted to lead Stevens and Smith to safety through an open window. For reasons unknown, Stevens and Smith failed to follow his lead and did not reach the window. Repeated attempts to locate Stevens and Smith inside the building by Wickland and by others were unsuccessful. They were dead when finally discovered hours later.
  • The diplomatic compound was never able to mount a defense on its own. Those Americans at the compound with combat training were unprepared for the attack and were unable to arm up in time. After torching vehicles and looting what was available, many of the attackers withdrew.
  • The CIA annex was made immediately aware of the attack on the diplomatic compound, less than a mile away. The annex housed a cadre of highly-skilled combatants, but they were slow to respond. Their ultimate response encountered only a few remaining attackers at the compound. These GRS operatives were the first to draw blood when they encountered some attackers lingering at the compound and some attempting to renew the attack. The GRS operatives were able to locate the body of Sean Smith, but not that of Chris Stevens.
  • All American forces at the compound withdrew to the annex and prepared for an expected attack.
  • GRS forces from the United States Embassy in Tripoli, several hundred miles to the west, were dispatched by way of a chartered jet. They arrived in time to participate in the defense of the annex. Keep in mind, Libya is about the size of Alaska.
  • The American GRS forces, including a number of contract operatives, were successful in defending against the attack on the annex. Well-armed, experienced, and well-trained, they thunderously dominated the fight against the jihadist militia that attacked the annex. No attackers were able to penetrate the annex compound.
  • Until the very last the fight at the annex was ridiculously lopsided. Americans, possessing superior weapons and firing from secure positions, took a heavy toll on attackers advancing against the compound walls. At most the attackers were able to inflict only survivable wounds upon the defenders.
  • The only American fatalities at the annex occurred at the very end. The attackers fell back, and from a secluded location a few blocks away, they fired five mortar shells. The first two shells obtained the range of Building C in the compound, and the remaining three shells hit the roof, occupied by several Americans, who were directing fire at the attackers. Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed. This was as the sun was coming up on the morning of the 12th.
  • Libyan police and security forces drove away the remaining attackers, and the fight at the annex ended.
  • In short order on the 12th, all American diplomatic personnel were evacuated from Benghazi, abandoning the two compounds. In the meantime the body of Chris Stevens had been located by locals and taken to a Benghazi hospital. The bodies of the four Americans were flown out on a later flight. It had been 13 hours since the attack started.

My take: claims by such as Senator John McCain that American forces could have been rushed to the defense of the two compounds smack of empty-hat rhetoric. Further, any contention that Secretary Clinton withheld sending support are unfounded—to the knowledge of the author of the book and to the participants. For one, sending armed forces from place to place is not the job of the State Department, that’s what the Department of Defense does. It was the decision of commanders in the field and at higher levels in the DoD not to send combat troops to Libya.

For those who have not read the book or seen the movie, here are selected excerpts to put an edge to the narrative at this point:

Alec Henderson, the DS agent doing paperwork in the TOC, heard shots, too, along with an explosion. The DS agents were used to hearing gunfire and fireworks when the sun went down, but these sounded much closer than usual. Henderson stood from his desk and walked to the TOC window but saw only the sandbags stacked outside. As he returned to his desk, Henderson glanced at a large video monitor that simultaneously displayed a checkerboard of black-and-white images from roughly a dozen surveillance cameras scattered around the Compound. His focus narrowed to a square on the monitor that showed the feed from a camera pointed at the main driveway.

In a matter of seconds, the screen showed sixteen to twenty armed attackers rushing into the Compound through the front gate. At least two carried banners the size of twin bedsheets, one black and one white, both with Arabic writing.

Tearing himself away from the monitor, Henderson flipped the switch on the alarm system, which blared its warning siren from speakers throughout the Compound. A recorded voice repeatedly warned: “Duck and cover! Get away from the windows!” Henderson pressed the talk button on the public address mic and shouted: “Attention on Compound, attention on Compound! This is not a drill!” He released the button and the recorded voice and alarm resumed, sounding like a British police siren with its endlessly alternating “hi-lo” cadence.

Henderson grabbed his iPhone and called the nearby CIA Annex and the US Embassy in Tripoli. “Boss,” he told John Martinec, the chief DS agent in Tripoli, “we’re getting hit!”

Mitchell Zuckoff with the Annex Security Team. 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi (pp. 86-87). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

13Hours-01

From the book

After clearing the Cantina and the TOC, Rone returned to the villa. He helped Jack and the Team Leader with the frustrating effort to get deep enough inside to see if the ambassador might yet be located.

Tanto and D.B. helped Alec Henderson collect and destroy classified material from the TOC, while Tig remained posted outside at the carport. Henry the translator, who’d come onto the Compound in the Mercedes SUV driven by the Team Leader, remained out of sight, hunched low inside the vehicle.

The time was somewhere around 11: 00 p.m. Sean Smith was confirmed dead, apparently from smoke inhalation. Ambassador Chris Stevens was missing. The main villa and the militia barracks still burned. But the attackers apparently had left, perhaps retreating to nearby streets and homes to regroup. The Americans had regained at least temporary control of the Special Mission Compound. The sound of gunfire had all but ceased.

To the uninitiated, it might have been tempting to imagine that the lull in the action meant that the fighting was over. The operators harbored no such illusions. To a man, they believed that their night and their enemies were just getting started.

Mitchell Zuckoff with the Annex Security Team. 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi (pp. 166-167). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Standing alongside Oz on the tower, Tig turned sideways to the wall as he unloaded his assault rifle toward the attackers. During a volley of incoming rounds, Tig felt the wind get knocked from his lungs.

“Aw fuck, I think I got shot,” he told Oz.

Tig doubled over in pain and let loose a stream of curses. He snaked his right hand inside his shirt, beneath his vest and armor, but didn’t feel any blood or find any holes in his skin. He concluded that shrapnel must have punched him like a heavyweight, then bounced off his protective gear. Tig’s side ached but he wasn’t seriously injured, so he resumed shooting, answering muzzle flashes with rounds of his own. With his helmet back at Building C, Tig knew that he was lucky the shrapnel hadn’t reached him eighteen inches higher.

As Oz continued to engage, an incoming round hit the top of the wall directly in front of him. Stone fragments flew into his face just below his night-vision goggles. A stream of blood flowed from the bridge of his nose. Stunned, Oz composed himself and realized that he wasn’t shot or seriously hurt. He wiped away the blood and returned to the fight.

An enemy round hit an exterior floodlight to the right of their tower position, shredding the bulb in an explosion of glass.

Mitchell Zuckoff with the Annex Security Team. 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi (pp. 215-216). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

13Hours-02

From the book

On Building C, after the second explosion Oz dropped down below the lip of the parapet, to replace the spent magazine on his assault rifle. As they’d planned, Rone never hesitated. He remained upright and fully engaged, increasing his rate of fire to mask the temporary loss of Oz’s gun.

Rone gripped the black machine gun with his meaty hands, holding the butt hard against his shoulder. With a deafening growl, the weapon ingested belt-fed rounds and spewed them with deadly intent into Zombieland. Rone’s thick biceps flexed as he moved left and right. Bullets and white smoke poured from the barrel. Rone kept shooting as Oz reloaded, defending the men on the buildings and towers to his left, right, and rear, protecting the men and women below his feet inside Building C. Exposing himself to fire, Rone delivered on his promise to “unleash hate” on the enemy attackers who were trying to kill them.

Then another mortar exploded. Rone stopped firing.

After two near misses, the attackers had adjusted their aim with devastating results. The third explosion was a direct mortar hit on the roof of Building C, halfway between Rone and Oz in the northwest corner, and Dave Ubben in the northeast corner.

Mitchell Zuckoff with the Annex Security Team. 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi (pp. 259-260). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

And it’s all real-life combat, none of it is made up. “Rone” is Tyrone Woods, who was killed by the mortar shell. Glen Doherty had started the day in Tripoli, and he was in Benghazi just a few hours before he was killed.

My impulse to relate this review is driven by the firestorm swirling around the events of that day. Enemies of the administration, and particularly of Secretary Clinton, did not allow an egg timer to wind down before attempting to snag her with the consequences. Word I have is that $6.8 million has been spent by Congress attempting to skewer Clinton—to no avail. My ultimate driver, however, has been the steady dribble of bile-soaked rhetoric that continues to across my Facebook feed. Such as this.

Politics-ClintonBenghaziFacebook-01

There are a number of legitimate reasons a voter can use to not vote for Hillary Clinton. You can dislike what she has planned for her administration. You can dislike her for being an overbearing administrator, disregarding everybody’s ideas but her own. You can decide you prefer the vague positions staked out by Donald Trump to the hard realities you will likely face with Clinton. The Benghazi debacle was not Clinton’s finest hour nor that of the American government in general, but it nowhere approaches the callow insanity that imagined an excuse for a war costing thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars in debt, which FUBAR seems to have been largely forgiven by Clinton’s detractors.

Painful as it might be to her detractors, Clinton appears to be on the verge of an unprecedented victory while a nation watches a major political party self-destruct over such matters as the Benghazi witch hunt.

The book is a great read. Excerpts are from the Kindle edition. The movie is due for review as soon as I can get a copy. Keep reading. By then Clinton will likely be President.

I have made a number of assertions here, some which many readers will object to. Please respond, comment. I am prepared to defend my position with additional facts.

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  1. Pingback: Presidential | Skeptical Analysis

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