The Obama administration has been “dishonest” about the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, according to 61 percent of respondents in a CNN/ORC poll released Monday. That’s remarkably high, considering how little mainstream media coverage there’s been of this scandal.
The next day, the administration announced the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, leader in Benghazi of an Islamist militia affiliated with al-Qaida which claimed credit for the attack.
In the 22 months since Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, journalists have had little difficulty locating Mr. Khattala. He “spent two leisurely hours on Thursday evening at a crowded luxury hotel, sipping a strawberry frappe on a patio and scoffing at the threats coming from the American and Libyan governments,” wrote David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times in October 2012.
“Ahmed Khattala didn’t look like a wanted man, sipping mango juice across the table from me in a Benghazi hotel,” said Elizabeth Palmer of CBS News.
CNN’s Arwa Damon interviewed Mr. Khattala in the coffee shop of a luxury hotel in Benghazi last July. Anthony Loyd of the Times of London interviewed him “over tea and biscuits” in his home last October. He also gave interviews to the AP, Reuters and Fox News.
Presumably, the CIA could have found Mr. Khattala, too. Why hadn’t he been arrested sooner? Why was he scarfed up now?
President Barack Obama was delighted to have something to talk about other than his swap of five Taliban leaders for a deserter, the VA scandal and the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq.
The administration plans to try Mr. Khattala in a civilian court. Treating him as a criminal defendant will cripple our ability to get intelligence from him, and — through “discovery” — give Mr. Khattala access to our intelligence, according to Andrew McCarthy, who prosecuted the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing.
His arrest also keeps Mr. Khattala from talking to reporters.
We don’t know what CIA operatives at the Benghazi annex were doing. We do know extraordinary measures have been taken to keep them from talking about it.
Mr. Obama secretly authorized the CIA to provide aid to rebels fighting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, Reuters reported in March 2011. After the dictator fell, the CIA used the annex to ship weapons to the rebels fighting in Syria, say multiple, varied sources.
This would be legal, assuming the requisite “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders had been notified. But since most of the arms fell into the hands of Islamists, it nevertheless was unwise.
Financing for and the actual shipment of these arms was routed through the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to give the United States plausible deniability, sources say.
Most of the weapons, presumably, were among those looted from Mr. Gadhafi’s armories. Of chief concern are shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, known by the acronym MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems), of which 15,000 are missing.
News accounts often refer to these as “Stinger-type” missiles, which is unfortunate, because differences between today’s U.S. Stinger, the Cadillac of MANPADS, and those in Mr. Gadhafi’s armories are more significant than differences between a 2014 Cadillac and a Model T.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Islamist group rampaging in Iraq, and the Taliban are said to have current-model Stingers. How did they get them?
ISIS may have acquired theirs when they overran former U.S. military bases in Iraq, speculated Lara Logan of CBS News. The Defense Department authorized sale of 681 Stinger missiles to Iraq last year. But these were for a truck-mounted air-defense system. Sale of the shoulder-fired version hasn’t been approved, according to the Defense Department. It would have been madness to do so. ISIS is said to have had Stingers before these bases were overrun.
The Stinger the Taliban used to shoot down a CH-47 helicopter in Afghanistan July 25, 2012, was part of a lot intended for anti-Gadhafi forces in Libya, writes Kenneth Timmerman in his book on Benghazi published last week.
If the Obama administration ended up supplying Stingers to Islamists, this would be the Iran-Contra scandal on steroids.
As head of a prominent anti-Gadhafi militia, Mr. Khattala may have been among recipients of CIA-supplied arms. He could tell us a lot about what went down. But he won’t be talking about it now.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1476).