WASHINGTON—The 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans might never have happened if the U.S. government hadn’t facilitated a flow of $500 million worth of weapons into the hands of al-Qaeda-linked rebels during Libya’s 2011 revolution, according to interim findings released this week by the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi.
“The deeper you get, the dirtier it gets,” said retired Navy Adm. Chuck Kubic, who appeared with commission members late Tuesday for a press conference at the National Press Club.
The Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi, comprised of former intelligence officers, military personnel, and national security experts, launched last year amid stalled investigations in numerous government agencies and at least a half-dozen congressional committees. Commission members said quite a few people contacted them to volunteer information and leads following last September’s all-day event at the Heritage Foundation.
One of those contacts led to Kubic, who was in Libya as a private businessman when the United States abruptly began bombings in March 2011. Kubic said the military intervention shocked Libyans and companies operating in the country, and he began receiving calls from people “wondering what was going on” and “how they could stop it.” He immediately began relaying messages between the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and Libyan intermediaries, who wanted a 72-hour ceasefire to negotiate the terms of dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s abdication. Qaddafi wanted two things before stepping down: Assurance that Libya wouldn't fall into the hands of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and legal protection for himself and his family.
But the United States wasn’t interested in negotiating. The eventual death toll from the conflict reached into the tens of thousands.
“We had a chance to avoid the entire revolution and do a peaceful transition of government,” Kubic told me after the press conference. “Here we have a leader who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize and he wasn’t willing to spend 72 hours to give peace a chance.”
Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on March 18, 2011, announced U.S. support for the Muslim Brotherhood-led Libyan Transitional National Council, which was fighting for Qaddafi’s ouster, even though militias under its control were dominated by known al-Qaeda militants. “The White House and senior congressional members deliberately and knowingly pursued a policy that provided material support to terrorist organizations in order to topple a ruler who had been working closely with the West actively to suppress al-Qaeda,” the report said, concluding that the United States effectively switched sides in the Global War on Terror.
According to the report, support for the Benghazi-based Transitional National Council meant facilitating a transfer of $1 billion in weapons from Qatar to Libyan rebels—financed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). But when the UAE went to collect on its loan, the report said, the Transitional National Council dropped a bombshell: Knowing NATO backing meant it would win regardless, it sold $500 million of the weapons to Qaddafi—its enemy—to raise cash.
Details of the deal revealed a direct line from the U.S.-backed rebels to Abu Salim Abu Khattala, who carried out orders to kill a Qaddafi regime defector with knowledge of the weapons diversion. Abu Khattala later led the fatal attack on Benghazi as the leader of Ansar al-Sharia. Although he still remains free more than 19 months later, he is under a sealed Justice Department indictment for his role in the 9/11 anniversary attack.
“Remember, these weapons that came into Benghazi were permitted to enter by our armed forces who were blockading the approaches from air and sea,” said Clare Lopez, a commission member and former CIA officer. “The intelligence community was part of that, the Department of State was part of that, and certainly that means that the top leadership of the United States, our national security leadership, and potentially Congress—if they were briefed on this.”
The commission believes top members of Congress did have prior knowledge about some of the operations, which is why none of them backed the formation of a Select Committee on Benghazi. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., has filed a bill that would create the special panel, but its 189 cosponsors aren’t enough to overcome the lack of support from House Speaker John Boehner. The commission renewed its call for a Select Committee with full subpoena power.
The commission also pushed back against the repeated claim that the United States didn’t have military assets in the region. Retired Navy Adm. James “Ace” Lyons, another commission member, said that’s not true, citing military personnel in Sicily, Italy, that could have made the one-hour flight in time to save former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, who were killed at a CIA facility almost eight hours after the initial attack at the U.S. diplomatic outpost.
“You have to be brain dead to think our military commanders, our combat commanders, were totally unaware of the deteriorating situation in eastern Libya,” said Lyons, the former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. “They had to be aware, and they would have pre-positioned forces.”
Lyons also claimed to have confirmation of a long-circulated rumor about the Benghazi attack: He said a confidential FBI informant told him the original plan had been to kidnap Ambassador Christopher Stevens to exchange him for the so-called “blind sheik,” Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is currently serving a life prison sentence for planning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and other terrorist acts.
The commission, sponsored by Accuracy in Media, vowed to continue its work and called on the media and members of the public with information to help answer remaining questions. The commission has filed 85 Freedom of Information Act requests with the FBI, CIA, State Department, and Defense Department.