Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Remembering Chris Stevens - American Hero of the Libyan Revolution

                    Remembering Chris Stevens - American Hero of the Libyan Revolution 

Murder of an Idealist
For six hours on September 11, the American compounds in Benghazi, Libya, stood siege. When the attack was over, J. Christopher Stevens's body was pulled from the wreckage — the first U.S. ambassador killed by militants in over thirty years. Since then, his death has been politicized and the details of the attack distorted. Sean Flynn straightens out the story of Stevens's last days in Libya—and reveals the true believer we lost that day

By Sean Flynn
GQ December 2012

On the morning of September 11, when the American flag flew at half-mast above the U.S. mission in Benghazi, J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, had breakfast with a man named Habib Bubaker.

Stevens was in Benghazi for the first time since being sworn in last May, having spent all of the previous four months working out of the embassy in Tripoli. But when Bubaker had greeted him at the airport the previous morning, a Monday, Stevens had told him, "I'm very excited to be back."

Bubaker had known the ambassador for more than a year. He'd introduced himself in April 2011, two months into the Libyan revolution, when Stevens had been dispatched to Benghazi as the U.S. envoy to the rebel coalition. The United States had already chosen a side in the war, and Stevens was assigned to establish ties with the people who, it was assumed, would eventually govern the country. Bubaker ran an English school in the city, and he offered to be Stevens's translator. Stevens spoke Arabic, but the language of diplomacy being delicate and precise, he preferred English in his official meetings. And so Bubaker made introductions and accompanied him on business and was basically his local right-hand man during that spring and summer of war. They were also friends; Bubaker, in fact, refers to himself as "Chris Stevens's best friend." A lot of people do. Stevens was a man who made friends easily.

Stevens planned to stay in Benghazi for five days. He'd had meetings in the city on Monday, and he would have more outside the compound on Wednesday. On Thursday, perhaps the most important day of his visit, he planned to turn over the Benghazi mission to the Libyans. The compound would be rechristened "an American Space," and it would offer English lessons and Internet access and show films and stock a library. The United States would provide some computers, books, and the rest of the materials and support—but it would be owned and operated by locals. "An American Space," Stevens planned to say, "is a living example of the kind of partnership between our two countries which we hope to inspire."

Stevens had an affection for Benghazi—where the uprising against Muammar Qaddafi had begun—and the city for him, because Stevens had stood with its people during that uprising. During the revolution, he'd spent most of his time in the streets, talking, mingling, exploring. Nathan Tek, a young foreign-service officer who'd been at his side in 2011, remembers Stevens getting antsy if he was cooped up too long. "He wanted to experience the city as normally as possible," Tek says. "And he understood that security wasn't just big guys with guns and armored convoys. It was having friends, lots of friends, and having people treat you as a guest."

Which Benghazians generally did. Though considering the date, September 11—the eleventh anniversary of the attacks—and considering the Islamist militias loitering in Benghazi, Stevens had adjusted his routine. He'd brought two bodyguards with him from Tripoli, complementing the three security agents already in Benghazi. He skipped his habitual morning run outside the walls, and he'd scheduled all of his meetings on September 11 inside the compound. The Americans had created the mission in August 2011, after a bombing at the hotel they'd been using. They rented three villas, tore down garden walls dividing them, and encircled them into a single property, four low buildings set amid grapevines and guava trees. Stevens's colleagues teasingly called it "Château Christophe."

As a temporary mission—as opposed to a more formal consulate or embassy—the facility was less fortified than many U.S. outposts. Still, Château Christophe was not unprotected. The property was 300 yards deep and a hundred yards wide, which gave the buildings a significant setback from outside attacks. The wall surrounding it was nine feet high and topped with an additional three feet of concertina wire. There were steel drop bars at the gates to control vehicles coming in and concrete Jersey barriers both inside and out to prevent a ramming attack. Screens in the tactical-operations center monitored the security cameras mounted on the perimeter. In the main residence, a steel grate could be dropped and locked, turning half the building into a safe haven; within that, moreover, was a smaller room, even more isolated, with food and water and medical supplies and no exterior exposure.

Château Christophe was reasonably secure for the ambassador's business trip. Benghazi, on the other hand, was dodgier. The Libyan government had yet to stand up a proper police force, and violence had been intermittent all summer—some random and criminal, some targeted against Westerners. Indeed, Stevens sent a cable to Washington on September 11 recounting the locals' concerns about the lawlessness. Still, the city was calm when Stevens arrived, and he assumed it would remain so. "Believe me one thing," Bubaker says. "If Chris was afraid, he would not have been in Benghazi on September 11."

Bubaker stayed through Stevens's meetings that morning. At three o'clock, they reviewed his schedule for Wednesday, which was stacked with appointments; Stevens told him they'd have to grab sandwiches for a quick lunch. Stevens's last meeting of the day, coffee with a Turkish diplomat, ended at eight thirty. Stevens walked his guest to the main gate, where there was a small barracks for four men from the 17th of February Martyrs Brigade, a friendly militia hired to provide security.

Seven hundred miles to the east, a mob surrounded the U.S. embassy in Cairo, ostensibly enraged by a third-rate video that depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer and a thug. But Benghazi was quiet, and the streets outside Château Christophe were empty.

Stevens returned to his room in the main residence. At nine forty, he heard a burst of gunfire. Such a racket is not unusual in the Arab night. "Most of the gunfire," Stevens used to tell his brother, "is celebratory." Stevens used to joke with Bubaker whenever they heard it. "So," he would say, "we have another wedding."

But in the tactical-operations center, the agent monitoring the screens saw armed men swarming through the main gate.
Stevens landed in Benghazi for the first time on April 5, 2011. He was smuggled in on a freighter that sailed from Malta, empty except for him, Nathan Tek, a small security detail, a USAID team, and a crew of mostly puzzled Greeks and Romanians. Later, Stevens would tell friends that other ways into the city had been considered—driving overland from Egypt, zipping ashore in a Zodiac with a Seal team launched from a submarine—but he didn't mind the boat ride or bunking in a tiny cabin with Tek, who was not even half his age. "He thought it was romantic," Tek says. "Like a nineteenth-century adventure."

Stevens had been an obvious choice for the mission. He was a veteran diplomat, twenty years in the foreign service, almost all of them in the Middle East and North Africa. A lanky Californian with gray hair and a smile made of teeth that seemed a half size too big for his mouth, he had a reputation for patience and calm and, as one colleague puts it, "incessant optimism." And he knew Libya: He'd been the deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Tripoli for two years, beginning in 2007, back when the United States was tepidly establishing relations with Qaddafi.

Tek is right, too: For Stevens, sailing on a ghost ship into a revolution really was an adventure. True, there was a good measure of altruism to what Stevens did for a living, which appears to be a family trait: His father, Jan, was a lawyer in the California attorney general's office who worked on water rights and public-land access and such; his brother, Tom, left a career as a civil litigator to prosecute federal white-collar crimes; his sisters, Anne and Hilary, are doctors. Like them, Stevens did want to make the world a better place. But he also thought his job was a terrific amount of fun. In fact, when he was posted to Libya under the Qaddafi regime, he told a foreign-service officer named S. Sita Sonty that she and her family should come, too. "This is gonna be awesome," he told her. "It'll be like the Wild, Wild West. We'll have a great adventure."

Stevens grew up in Northern California—Grass Valley, Marin County, Davis, then Piedmont, across the bay from San Francisco—and by the time he was a senior at UC Berkeley, he'd already lived overseas twice, spending a high school summer in Spain and a college semester in Italy. He was a history major, but he wandered the course catalog. "He took a class in logic, because why not? He took a class in Italian, because why not?" says Austin Tichenor, a high school friend and one of his college roommates. "He was the walking embodiment of a liberal-arts education."

Stevens decided when he was still at Berkeley that he wanted to join the foreign service. He took the test before he graduated but apparently failed; he told his roommates he thought he'd done pretty well on the written exam but flubbed the oral. "They asked me to compare and contrast how American democracy is like jazz," he'd said.

Instead of the foreign service, then, he joined the Peace Corps. (That time, he bluffed the oral: When a recruiter asked him almost offhandedly if he spoke French, he immediately answered, "Moi? Oui, of course." Then he hung up the phone and turned to his roommate: "Shit, I haven't taken French since high school.") He was sent to teach English for two years high in Morocco's Atlas Mountains, which are rugged and isolated and desolately beautiful. Stevens was captivated. More than twenty years later, in a video he recorded before his final return to Libya, he would remember that Peace Corps tour as the time when he "quickly grew to love this part of the world." Yet when his two years were up, he returned to California, got a law degree, and by 1990 was practicing international-trade law in the Washington office of a large and prestigious firm.

But his heart wasn't in it. He still wanted to be an overseas diplomat. "I don't think he fled the law," says Terry Calvani, who was a partner in the firm at the time. "I think it was, 'Gee, I really want to do this.' And my goodness, you oughta chase those things that are important to you."

So he did. He took the foreign-service exam again, passed, and in 1991 began his training. The following year, he was posted to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and every overseas assignment after that was in the part of the world that diplomats call, usually with affection, the Sandbox. He studied Arabic in Tunisia and did tours at the embassies in Cairo and Damascus, and at the U.S. mission in Jerusalem during the second intifada. Even when he rotated back to Washington, his jobs—Iran desk officer, staff assistant in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs—usually related to the Sandbox.

It's curious that a kid from California who grew up knowing nothing about the Arab world would come to devote his career to the Middle East and North Africa—as opposed to, say, Asia or Scandinavia or even no particular place. A European woman named Henriette, who met Stevens in Jerusalem in 2003 and had a "fantastic, turbulent" on-and-off romance with him for nine years, tried to explain it to me.

"After we had become a couple," she said, "I asked Chris when was the first time he noticed me with interest. He told me that it was at the dinner party where we first met. He said that he had liked the way I smelled. Chris was a sensualist—he applied all his senses in experiencing the world. For people like us, the Middle East is tantalizing. The smell of coffee with cardamom, and of apple tobacco burning in water pipes; the color and touch of carpets and fabrics; the sounds of the muezzin call to prayers and the energy of crazy urban traffic and large desert landscapes. The warmth of its people and the sound of their music and language. If you combine that with analytical curiosity invested in understanding the long history of the region and the complex dynamics of its current politics, the Middle East is a place you can't resist. It is not only an intellectual endeavor—it makes you feel fully alive."

When Stevens and Nathan Tek docked in Benghazi in April 2011, they were greeted by the rebel deputy minister of foreign affairs. Over the next days and weeks and months, the two met with everyone they could: the leaders of the Transitional National Council (the rebel government), shopkeepers, teachers, doctors, militiamen back from the front. "It was like they all spoke from the same script," Tek says. "They were all saying the same things to me: They all wanted a new Libya that represented the aspirations of the people. In my mind, it truly was a popular revolution."

That was a critical message for Stevens to convey to his superiors. Stevens's job, which is every diplomat's job, was to provide reliable information and thorough analysis upon which Washington could formulate policy. Though the United States had already chosen a side in the revolution, opposing a sitting head of state is not undertaken lightly. (Qaddafi, despite being a vicious nut, had been marginally helpful in the so-called war on terror, and Libya has the largest proven oil and gas reserves in Africa.) Had the rebels been less credible—had they, for instance, been unstable butchers likely to plunge the country into bloody chaos for years on end—the calculus would have changed considerably.

"Chris was the single most important voice," says Jeffrey D. Feltman, who at the time was the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. "That didn't mean he was the only voice, and it didn't mean everything he said was acted on. But his was the single most important voice."

What made Stevens good at his job was his ability to get people to trust him. That is not something that can be faked: It is possible to manipulate people into confiding in you, of course, but it is not sustainable, especially for an outsider in a foreign land. "He understood," says Tek, "that you have to express empathy in a genuine way. And he defied the stereotype of an American diplomat who was equal parts arrogant and ignorant. He was honest and human.

"To me," Tek says, "he was the kind of diplomat I want to be. He wielded American influence through respect rather than intimidation and swagger."

In late August of 2011, Feltman, who was both Stevens's boss and friend, traveled to Benghazi for an update. One of their last meetings, on August 20, was with a high-ranking rebel minister Stevens had gotten to know well. The Americans wanted to know when the rebels would try to take Tripoli.

As they entered the El Fadeel Hotel, where the minister was waiting for them in a conference room, Stevens gave Feltman a sideways glance. "We've got time," he said quietly. "Let's just hang out for a while." Stevens liked to hang out. He liked to hang out in cafés and markets, in offices and living rooms. He wanted information—sometimes general, sometimes specific—but he rarely gathered it by asking pointed questions. He listened more than he spoke, and he paused often, leaving spaces for the other person to fill.

The minister, a former exile whom Qaddafi had sentenced to death in absentia, greeted them warmly. Tea was served. After some small talk, Stevens and Feltman listened as the minister gradually explained that the battle for Tripoli would begin in the neighborhood of Souq al-Jumaa. Other areas would rise up with weapons that had been smuggled into the city, and only then, after the people of Tripoli had claimed the revolution as their own, would rebel forces advance from the east.

The minister was very specific. Feltman wondered how much of what he'd said could be trusted.

"When is this going to happen?" Stevens asked.

"It's imminent," the Libyan said.

Stevens sipped his tea. "Well," he said after a moment, "what do you mean by imminent?"


"We hear that a lot," Stevens said softly. He sipped more tea and sat quietly. It was not an uncomfortable pause but more of a gentle, overlong rest. He had a gift for making silence seem inviting.

The minister spoke next. "This will all begin tonight."

This was astonishing information, assuming it was true: the timing, even the choreography, of an armed revolt in the capital city of a country ruled for more than forty years by a despot. Stevens and Feltman quickly sent an encrypted report of their meeting to Washington. But it was cautious; who knew what to trust in a war zone?

The sun set behind the walls of Château Christophe. Night fell over the grapevines and the guava trees and the guesthouses. Then, in the darkness, Feltman heard rapid blasts of rifle fire. The noise was incessant, celebratory.

The battle of Tripoli had begun with the muezzins' call, and the first neighborhood to rise up was Souq al-Jumaa.
As dusk fell over the American mission in Benghazi on September 11, an information-management specialist named Sean Smith was logged into an elaborate role-playing game called Eve Online. He was 34 years old, a veteran of the air force and ten years in the foreign service, with a wife and two kids in the Netherlands. Smith was also one of the more prominent players in Eve. He went by the name vile_rat. "Assuming we don't die tonight," he typed to his co-players six minutes before eight. Dark humor—Smith had done tours in far more dangerous places than Benghazi. "We saw one of the 'police' that guard the compound taking pictures."

He probably meant one of the Libyans patrolling the perimeter. But there were nine other guards in the compound—five armed Americans and four Libyans from the 17th of February Martyrs Brigade, the same militia that had helped protect Stevens when he was stationed in Benghazi the first time.

Almost two hours later, at nine forty, vile_rat typed: "FUCK. gunfire." He logged off.
According to senior State Department officials, the agent in the tactical-operations center saw, on the screen monitoring the main gate, armed men swarming in. There were too many to count. He punched the alarm, grabbed the microphone for the loudspeakers. "Attack! Attack!" he yelled.

The other four security agents were in the main residence with Stevens and Smith. One of them hustled the ambassador and Smith into the back half of the building, dropped the metal grille, sealed them inside the safe haven. The other three sprinted for their own automatic weapons and body armor. The agent with Stevens and Smith radioed that they were secure in the safe haven.

The barracks at the front gate of the compound was in flames, and attackers were spreading through the property. They broke into the main residence, which was very dark. They tried the locks on the grille to the safe haven but couldn't break them. The security agent, quiet in the shadows, trained his M4 submachine gun on their silhouettes, ready to fire if they made it into the safe haven. They didn't. But they had jerricans of diesel fuel from the barracks. They doused the floor, the furniture, the puffy couches and overstuffed chairs, and set the place alight.

Oily smoke and the fumes of melting synthetics billowed through the residence, choking, poisoning the men trapped inside. Stevens, Smith, and the bodyguard moved into a bathroom, got to a window covered with a grate. The smoke was a black fog. The men were down on the floor, gasping for whatever air was left in the building. They decided to get outside, so they crawled to a bedroom where the window grille could be opened from the inside.

The agent, wheezing and half blind from the smoke, flopped out onto a patio bunkered with sandbags. He immediately came under fire: There were dozens of attackers flooding Château Christophe, firing wildly.

Neither Stevens nor Smith followed the agent out the window, so the agent climbed back in after them. He couldn't find either man. He went back out for a gulp of fresher air, then came back in again, out, in, out. He still couldn't find Stevens or Smith. His lungs and throat seared, the agent managed to pull himself up a ladder to the roof. He collapsed as he radioed the other guards.

The other four American security operatives could barely understand him. The attackers had broken inside Building B, the smaller residence at the compound, but they couldn't get to the agents barricaded in an interior room, and they hadn't been able to penetrate the operations center at all.

There wasn't a direct line of sight from either Building B or the operations center, but the agents could see a black cloud rising. They had to get to the safe room in the main residence. An agent in the operations center opened the door, lobbed a smoke grenade to cover him, then sprinted into Building B, joining the other two agents. The three of them got into an armored SUV parked outside and floored it to the main residence. Two of the agents held off the attackers while the third slipped inside. He searched for Stevens and Smith on his hands and knees until the smoke got too bad and he had to get outside for some air. He went back in, and when he was too incapacitated, another agent took his place. Then the third.

One of them found Smith and pulled him out. He was already dead from the smoke. But they still couldn't find Stevens.

Reinforcements arrived, six Americans from a quick-reaction force stationed in an annex about a mile away, accompanied by sixteen more men from the 17th of February Martyrs Brigade. They retrieved the lone agent from the operations center, who'd been on the phone calling for backup from the quick-reaction team and Tripoli. Then all the men regrouped at the main residence. The agent from the operations center clambered inside; a couple of the reinforcements did, too. None of them could find Stevens. Finally, the agent who'd made all the calls stripped off his T-shirt, soaked it in a swimming pool, wrapped it around his face, made one more sweep. Nothing.

The Americans and their Libyan allies tried to hold a perimeter around the residence, but, overwhelmed, they were forced to evacuate to the annex. The ambassador's security agents piled into an SUV with Smith's body.

The fleeing Americans took fire, close-range, coming out of the compound. Farther down the road, more armed men strafed the vehicle with automatic rifles. A hand grenade bounced off it; another rolled underneath. Two tires were blown out. The SUV was still rolling but slowed by traffic, so they jumped a median and drove down the wrong side of the road.

They reached the annex. The men got into firing positions inside the walls and on the roof. For hours they took bursts of rifle fire and RPGs. In the early morning, more reinforcements arrived, Americans flown in from Tripoli. Still the attack continued. At about four o'clock, mortars fell from the dark sky. One landed on the roof. Two former Navy Seals, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, were killed, and a third man—one of Stevens's original bodyguards—was badly wounded.

The survivors decided to abandon the city. They organized a convoy of SUVs, secured a route to the airport from friendly militiamen, and finally escaped on two airplanes just after dawn.

The fire in the residence eventually died down. The attackers faded away. Libyans, maybe looters or maybe just curious men, managed to break into the safe haven, where they found Stevens. They pulled him out, carried him from the compound, loaded him into a car, raced to the hospital.

Doctors in the emergency room tried to revive him for forty-five minutes. Unable to identify the dead man on the gurney, they fished a cell phone from his pocket and began dialing numbers in the call history.
The attackers who overran the American mission in Benghazi were suspected to be, not surprisingly, Islamic militants. It is unlikely, though, that they had any idea who, exactly, they were poisoning with diesel smoke. If Chris Stevens had been the target, it would have been simpler to hit his convoy or grab him on his morning run or snatch him from a meeting. Also, a live American ambassador would have been a more valuable asset than a dead one.

But because Chris Stevens was killed fifty-six days before the presidential election, he became a political prop within hours of his death. Before dawn on September 12, Mitt Romney claimed him as a martyr to American weakness. Paul Ryan said the killing was emblematic of the Obama foreign policy, which "is unraveling literally before our eyes on our TV screens." Republican congressmen who'd happily cut the State Department's security budget ginned up hearings to figure out why there wasn't more security in Benghazi (and managed to out a CIA safe house in the process). Sean Hannity announced to his many millions of listeners that Stevens had been raped and his body dragged through the streets, a slur that was not only horribly cruel to Stevens's friends and family but plainly false. Six weeks after the fact, during the second presidential debate, Romney was frantically parsing whether Obama had declared Stevens's murder an "act of terror" and if he'd done so promptly enough. The Obama administration was criticized for initially suggesting that the attack began with a protest over that idiotic Internet video. But by mid-October, that still seemed a fair conclusion: The New York Times reported that locals said the invaders had indeed been Islamists enraged by the video.

Even the apparently important operational question—namely, was there enough security—seems irrelevant, because there can never be enough to prepare for every scenario. "The lethality and the number of armed people is unprecedented—there had been no attacks like that anywhere in Libya," a senior State Department official said. "In fact, it would be very, very hard to find an attack like that in recent diplomatic history."
And all of it missed, almost entirely, the point of Chris Stevens's career. Diplomats do not work effectively from behind fortress walls. The foreign service sends people all over the planet to gather information and represent American interests, yes, but also to make friends.

Ten days after the attack on Château Christophe, on what was to have been an American Space, 30,000 Benghazi civilians marched in the streets and drove the Islamist militias from their city. Thousands sent condolences to his family. And on a memorial website, scattered among the stories from old friends and colleagues, there are notes from ordinary Libyans who never even met the man. They say things like:

I feel ashamed that a man like this was killed by a bunch of low life, religious zealot cowards. This is a man that has done so much for Libya.

And: Amb Chris Stevens, all the Libyan people love you and will never forget your views toward us here in Libya.

And: We feel very sorry, please forgive us, we love you chris and your family also all american.

That was the point of Chris Stevens's work.

Sean Flynn is a GQ correspondent.

This is an apologist article on behalf of the State Department. The greatest irony about this article is that nearly two months since the terrorist attack, this article provides much more information about the attack than the State Department has provided the American people. Sugar coating this with pro-Obama bias as much as he can, Mr Flynn's article only highlights the inexcusable cover-up being perpetrated on the American people. With the election tomorrow, the American people should ajready know much, much, more.
Posted 11/5/2012 3:25:17pm  by boxingfan1

Ambassador Chris Stevens’ Sister Helping Carry On His Work
Friday, 15 Feb 2013
By Bill Hoffmann

The physician sister of slain U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens is helping carry out the work he started in Benghazi, the Seattle Times reports.

Anne Stevens, a specialist in autoimmune conditions in Seattle, at Seattle Children’s Hospital, is working to help Libya improve emergency care.

This week, three Libyan doctors visited Seattle and Boston spearheading a collaboration between Seattle Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Benghazi Medical Center, according to the Times.

And six Libyans will soon train as paramedics in Boston.

“They could use our help to gain peace, stability, and security,” Thomas Burke, an emergency physician who was in Benghazi the night Stevens was killed Sept. 11, told the newspaper.

Benghazi doctors, with the guidance of Stevens, Burke, and others, will be able to develop healthcare management skills.

February 15, 2013
By Tom Paulson 

Seattle sister of murdered US Ambassador assists on Libyan health initiative | 

Event: Three Libyan doctors visited Seattle to promote a new health initiative in Benghazi honoring the legacy of murdered US Ambassador Chris Stevens. Listen to KPLU’s interview with his sister, Seattle doctor Anne Stevens.

A group of Libyan physicians were in Seattle this week — despite the best efforts of the FBI to discourage them — to meet with Anne Stevens, a physician researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and others to foster an initiative aimed at building a new health care system in that ravaged country.

Stevens, a pediatric researcher, is sister of the late Chris Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya who was killed last September in the attack on the embassy quarters in Benghazi.

“After he was killed, we wondered why he’d been in Benghazi,” she said. “It was safe in Tripoli so why did he go there? We didn’t know.”

It turns out, Ambassador Stevens had been working with a physician from Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, Thomas Burke, to launch a project at the Benghazi Medical Center aimed at improving the poorly functioning health care system.

“This was one of the most neglected part of the country under Gaddafi,” Stevens said.

While there are many physicians, she said, there is not much of a health care system.

“They don’t have enough ambulances, anything like the 911 (emergency call) system or many of the most basic features of health care we take for granted here.”

Seattle, on the other hand, is relatively famous for its systems approach to health care having been a pioneer in promoting now routine life-savers such as Medic One and poison control.

“One of our ideas is to establish a basic poison control system which could evolve into a 911 system for Libya,” Stevens said. “The idea is to train physicians here and send them back to Benghazi to make these basic changes, with the eventual goal that these systems will spread throughout the country.”

This is a first for Stevens, who’s never before done work overseas and has largely focused on her laboratory speciality of auto-immune diseases. But when her brother was murdered in the attack on the U.S. embassy, the Stevens family began looking more closely into what he had been up to — and into what they could do to continue his legacy.

“After he was killed, Secretary Clintoncalled me up, at five in the morning, and the first thing she said was ‘Don’t worry, we are going to find out who did this and bring them to justice,’ ” Stevens said. “That’s not what Chris was about. That’s not what he would have wanted.”

What her brother would have wanted, she said, was to continue to work with Burke on the medical initiative in Benghazi. Once the Stevens family learned of it, they contacted Burke to find out how they could help it go forward. The gatherings in Seattle for this health initiative are about honoring Chris Stevens’ kind of diplomacy.

“It really is a new country, at a tipping point,” said Burke, who is chief of global health and human rights at Mass General and happened to be in Benghazi waiting to meet with Stevens when the attack took place. Most Americans probably have little knowledge of Libya, he said, and are unaware of just how traumatized the people are having lived under the terror regime of Gaddafi.

“These are remarkable people who have endured a lot, some of it because of our own government’s (on and off) support of Gaddafi,” Burke said. “With programs like this we have an opportunity to help them build a new, stable society.”

That’s what makes what happened earlier to the Libyan doctors when they arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport so mindless and infuriating, Burke said.

“The FBI was there waiting for them,” Burke said.

The federal agents wouldn’t allow Burke and his colleagues to talk with their guests. After they retrieved their bags, the three Libyan physicians say they were individually isolated and interrogated for hours. “At one point, we were told, one of the agents said ‘You killed our ambassador!‘”

Burke said he didn’t want to go into too many details about the incident because “there are some serious discussions going on now between the two countries as a result of this.”

Fortunately, he said, they were able to persuade the Libyan physicians not to return home (which is what, after the interrogations by the FBI, they wanted to do) and to push forward with this effort aimed at improving the health and welfare of the new Libya.

Today, Seattle residents have an opportunity to learn more about this initiative, the needs in Libya and the efforts to rebuild a nation. One of the Libyan physicians, who will be speaking at the UW event, will be Dr. Laila Bugaighis, assistant director general of Benghazi Medical Center. She intends to focus especially on the needs of women. Here are a few stories, from the Seattle Times and Boston Globe, on the project. Here’s a Globe and Mail story noting, disturbingly, that the Islamist militia that killed Stevens is back in Benghazi.

“My brother really believed in Libya’s future,” Stevens said. “I don’t think we knew how bold he was being, or how dangerous it was. But he was passionate about the country’s possibilities after the revolution. He was excited to be a part of history in the making…. We want to keep that going.”

Honoring my brother and former U.S. Ambassador, Chris Stevens
by Anne M. Stevens, MD, PhD

It was 5:30 in the morning on Sept. 12, 2012. I had just fallen asleep, having been up all night talking with foreign service officers in the State Department, first with news that the Benghazi Mission had been attacked and that my brother was missing, then hours later that he had not survived the night. I called my brother and sister, our parents, and my brother’s girlfriend.

Dozing off in a daze, my phone rang. “The Secretary would like to speak with you,” said an unidentified voice. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came on the line. She explained what happened, and I remember she said that justice would be done. This upset me. Chris was not focused on revenge. He wanted the Libyan people to have a free and democratic society. “I hope this will not prevent us from continuing to support the Libyan people, from moving ahead,” I said to her.

I had no idea at the time that I would help oversee one of those projects. But soon after that call, I learned that Chris had been working with Dr. Thomas Burke, an emergency physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. Thomas was in Benghazi the day that Chris and three other Americans were killed. His account of what happened was moving and informative, and I learned that Chris was working with him and leaders at Benghazi Medical Center to establish the country’s first modern emergency department and emergency care programs.

My brother hadn’t told me about this project, but the more I learned about it, the more sense it made. I knew that Chris saw what a fabulous country Libya could be, and he was trying to help make that happen by fostering and encouraging public-private collaborations. He could see history in the making from all sides of his work. And that’s why he was in Benghazi on that fateful day, instead of at his home base in much safer Tripoli.

My colleagues at Seattle Children’s said that they wanted to do something to honor Chris, and I brought them into the loop with my new friends at Mass General.

Helping Libya’s healthcare system

Benghazi has a modern medical center and plenty of doctors. But there are no ambulances, emergency medical technicians and no 911 system. There are no pediatric psychiatrists and no emergency medicine pediatricians. Benghazi has 25 fatal car crashes every day. Many of those accidents include children. Where do we start?

Thomas and his crew, including doctors from Libya, decided that for starters, we could bring doctors to the U.S. to provide training in poison control, and to train toxicologists. We could help establish a poison control call center, which could eventually provide a structure for a 911 system. There is currently no poison control center in all of the Middle East.

I return to Seattle today, having spent several days in Boston with Thomas, his colleague Dr. Stephen Bohan, and new friends from Libya, including Dr. Laila Bugaighis, assistant director general of Benghazi Medical Center. We have begun to discuss the ideas sketched out above, and we will now spend the next few days meeting with physicians and leaders at Seattle Children’s, Harborview and PATH.

It’s currently not safe for me to travel to Benghazi. But in the meantime, I look forward to establishing this partnership and project to honor Chris and to help advance some of the work he started.

I think about what happened to him a lot. I didn’t know how bold he was being at the time, with his travels to Benghazi, and I had no idea how dangerous it was for him. But I’m learning a lot. I’ve become, to my surprise, an unexpected diplomat. I think that he would like that.

Dr. Stevens studies auto-immune conditions including lupus, a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues, damaging joints, skin, blood vessels and organs.

Remembering Chris Stevens

The Stevens family has established the J. Christopher Stevens Fund, with an aim to promote intercultural understanding between Americans and the people of the Middle East. The fund will support educational programs, including student exchanges, libraries and the Peace Corps.

They have also established a site to remember and honor Chris. Donations to the fund are accepted on this site.

“Libyan Women: War and Beyond” lecture

Dr. Bugaighis will speak at Health Frontlines: Insights from Benghazi on Friday, February 15, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the University of Washington, Health Sciences Building, Room T-625. She and leaders from Benghazi Medical Center will report from the field on their experiences during the Libyan Revolution. This talk is open to the public. 

The lecture is sponsored by Seattle Children’s, Global WACh, Global Injury and Violence Prevention Initiative, Washington Global Health Alliance, UW Department of Global Health, The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the UW and the UW Center for Global Studies.

For media: 
Drs. Stevens, Bugaighis and Burke will be available for media interviews on Friday, Feb. 15, from 1 to 2 p.m. at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. If you’d like to attend, please contact us at (206) 987-4500 or at press@seattlechildrens.org.

Mass. General doctor spoke with Ambassador Stevens just before his death, pledges commitment to peace

By Chelsea Conaboy, Globe Staff

Dr. Thomas Burke, an emergency physician at Massachusetts General Hospital who oversees some of the hospital’s global health programs, was scheduled to meet with Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya the morning after he was killed in an attack.

Burke spoke with Globe reporter Bryan Bender and sent this account:

September 12, 2012
Perspective from Benghazi

Today is a tragic day for Americans and Libyans alike. All over the world our hearts ache for the loss of our US Ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and those that died at his side last evening. Our courageous Ambassador held a unique passion and hope for all of Libya but especially Benghazi. Our Ambassador was beloved by the people of Benghazi.
This is my second trip to Benghazi; the first one was in late May. My close colleague and friend, Dr. Stephen Bohan and I have been working with the leaders of the Benghazi Medical Center (BMC). BMC director general and hematologist, Dr. Fathi al Jehani, and chief medical officer and obstetrician /gynecologist (and human rights leader), Dr. Laila Bugaighis, are hoping that the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) can assist them with two critical areas of need; training in leadership and management skills, and establishment of the country’s first modern emergency department and pre-hospital care system. I can tell you first hand, the people of Benghazi are absolutely lovely -- kind, generous and curious. However, they are just barely emerging from 42 years of brutal rule.

BMC is an extraordinarily impressive structure, built some 30 years ago with the intention of becoming a world class 1,000-bed medical center. In keeping with Gadhafi’s policy of controlling Eastern Libya by severely restricting resources, BMC was only able to first open in 2009. BMC was never to have an ER but instead was to focus its expertise and efforts on becoming the referral center for the eastern half of the country.

All this changed in February of 2011. On Feb. 15, peaceful demonstrations on the steps of the Benghazi courthouse marked the beginning of the revolution. Violence erupted on the 16th and Dr. Jehani immediately ordered his staff to open an ER. Within 20 minutes an ER was born. In the days that followed the BMC staff worked tirelessly, responding to a mounting human slaughter. On the 20th, Mehdi Ziu, a Libyan petroleum engineer, drove his car filled with explosives into the fortress walls of Gadhafi’s forces, giving his own life to tip the struggle in favor of the people; and thus end Gadhafi’s brutal rule over Benghazi.

Just a few minutes ago I sat with Dr. Naseralla Elsaadi, a gentle and endlessly patient 42-year old surgeon. Tears quietly ran down his cheeks. Ambassador Chris Stevens was supposed to have been sitting with us. Naseralla is chief of the patchwork ER and has been up all night caring for the sick and injured and has 25 patients to still round on. He said, “It is fine to write about me and use my name because I am from the most powerful tribe in Eastern Libya. They will protect me.” He handed me 4 pages stapled together, the first being the medical note on the attempt to save the Ambassador’s life, and the latter three sheets, copies of the ambassador’s flat line heart rhythm. I put my hand on Naseralla’s shoulder and he reached up, taking my hand in his. “This is terrible not just for the Americans and Libyans but for all humanity. My wife and children just called me crying. Everyone in the hospital and everyone in Benghazi are angry with those people (the radical extremists) and we weep. Islam is peaceful. It is our duty to care for our guests.” He looked down and his shoulders dropped with obvious despair. “We work so hard for peace.” I asked him to not give up. I told him that most Americans don’t know the true story of the Libyan people, but that he can count on Americans not giving up. While still holding my hand I locked onto his eyes, “if we work together on a unified commitment to peace, and together build bridges, a brighter future will emerge.”

Eight weeks ago the world bore witness to the first democratic elections in Libya’s history. Although Libya’s new Prime Minister will be named today, the moment in history is overshadowed by the loss of Ambassador Stevens and those that died at his side. There remains much to be done in this remarkably complex region of the world; however, the Libyan people are free for the first time in many decades. The nation, although fragile, does have great potential. We must not give up our collective commitment to securing a safe, free, and peaceful Libya. The world will be a better place for us all.

Dr. Thomas Burke
Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com.

Remembering Chris Stevens





Remembering Ambassador Christopher Stevens
Posted: 10/29/2012
Justice, Minnesota Supreme Court

Ambassador Christopher Stevens was a conscientious, well-informed and engaging diplomat who served our country exceptionally well. He earned the right to be called a hero. His status as a hero involves much more than the circumstances of his tragic death last month in Benghazi. Significantly, Stevens' heroic status stems from his exceptional good works on behalf of our country and the personal risks that he knowingly took when performing his duties. Fluent in both Arabic and French, the Ambassador had an uncanny ability to translate for other cultures the ideals, principles and beliefs that underlie our form of constitutional democracy.

The exceptional characteristics and works rendered by Ambassador Stevens, and the risks he took in service to our country, stand in stark contrast to the recent attempts to exploit the Ambassador's death for political purposes. For those who knew and admired Ambassador Stevens, these efforts are inappropriate and disheartening, even borderline offensive. The time has come for those who knew the Ambassador and understand his legacy to speak out and plea that these efforts stop.

I was initially reluctant to speak out publicly because my feelings on this tragedy are personal, and I believed that silence was the best course out of deference to and respect for the late Ambassador's family. Having lost a daughter several years ago, I am all too familiar with the pain and sorrow that comes with the loss of a child. But the recent willingness of the Ambassador's parents to speak up has prompted me to write my own concurrence to their plea that the political exploitation of their son's death end.

I met Ambassador Stevens last June when I was in Libya and Tunisia to promote the concept of the rule of law and fair elections in Libya, and to participate in a Tunisian symposium on the drafting of constitutions. The program was sponsored by the Rule of Law Initiative of the American BarAssociation. My efforts in Libya focused on assisting lawyers and civil society advocates who were working to ensure that that country's July elections would be as open and fair as possible. The visit was my latest in a series of trips abroad focusing on the rule of law and America's special form of constitutional democracy.

My foreign visits almost always include a meeting at the U.S Embassy. The general purpose of these meetings is to inform the State Department why a Minnesota Supreme Court Justice is in the country and to assure the embassy that I was in the country to promote, not disrupt, the goals of U.S. foreign policy. Most often these meetings started out stiff and formal; but my meeting at the embassy in Tripoli was different for one reason -- Ambassador Stevens.

I sensed this difference when the Ambassador first entered the room and greeted each of us with a broad smile. Not only did he warmly greet our delegation, he almost immediately launched into a substantive discussion about our efforts in Libya. The whole time he was charming, full of energy, engaged, curious, disarmingly candid and most importantly he quickly demonstrated how well informed he was about the current political situation in Libya.

Stevens was optimistic about Libya's future and passionate about the efforts being made to establish a constitutional democracy. From the way he talked it was obvious that he had genuine affection and respect for the Libyan people. He expressed his belief that Libya had as good a chance to succeed as any of the "Arab Spring" countries. I particularly remember his description of the courage and dedication he witnessed first-hand as the Libyan people sought to rid themselves of the tyrannical rule of Colonel Muammar Gadhafi. He knew he was doing the right thing in Libya and believe that he could make a difference for the Libyan people in particular and the citizens of the Arab world in general.

Stevens was especially known for his "pleasant silences," when he would listen intently to what a compatriot had to say. I was the beneficiary of several of Stevens' pleasant silences when I responded to his questions about recent legal developments in U.S. law (Stevens was a lawyer), the impact of some recent U. S. Supreme Court decisions, the direction in which the Supreme Court may be heading, and the type of issues that come before the Minnesota Supreme Court.

We also talked about the need to better inform the American people about their own government and America's role in the world. I recall with special delight Steven's reaction when I spontaneously drew two of his embassy staff members into a physical, basketball-oriented, demonstration on how our system of separation of powers works. It is a demonstration that I frequently use with school students. The Ambassador laughed out loud as the three of us, the two staff members and I each representing one of the branches of government -- legislative, executive and judicial -- jostled and elbowed each other as we sought to position ourselves to best get an imaginary rebound of a basketball labeled "power." But more importantly, he fully understood how this basketball analogy demonstrated that even though our form of government can appear to be inefficient, messy, and even a rough at times, our system of separation of powers is designed to protect the individual liberties enshrined in our constitution.

We also discussed in some detail the security risks for Americans in Libya. This topic was very much on my mind because my family and friends thought that it was imprudent for me to go to Libya given the repeated warnings about heavily armed militias and individuals, assassinations and kidnappings. Tripoli was generally considered to be safer than Benghazi and Derna. It was clear that Libya was a very dangerous place and that the local police could often only provide nominal security.

The Ambassador was fully aware of these dangers and the risks assumed by any American in Libya. Precautions could be taken to reduce the risks, but there was no way they could be eliminated. One thing soon became evident to me: my profile in Libya was comparatively low and my exposure to the risk of danger was short term. On the other hand, the Ambassador's profile was about as high as it could be for any American in Libya. Moreover, his tenure in Libya, unlike mine, was for the long term. Despite the known risks, Ambassador Stevens liked being out among the people. He believed that his constant contact with a broad spectrum of people made him a more effective advocate for democratic reforms. But Stevens' success in promoting democracy also made him an enemy of some elements. Unquestionably, Ambassador Stevens was constantly exposed to considerable danger, something that he both acknowledged and accepted.

As we parted, we agreed that would be beneficial if I returned to Libya after the elections, possibly as early as this fall. We both expressed how much we looked forward to our next meeting. I remember how proud and pleased I was that Christopher Stevens was our country's most prominent face in Libya.

The foregoing experience, background, and knowledge provide the context for my dismay and irritation with the attempts to exploit Stevens' death for perceived political advantage. The pain and sorrow from my own experience of losing a child make me certain that as Stevens' parents mourn the death of their son, the current attempts to politically exploit his death must have elevated the pain of their personal loss to a nearly intolerable level. It must make the pain all the more unbearable for them to know that some of the loudest voices crying out are the same voices that worked to limit the adequate funding of our foreign service. Funding that might have been available for additional security for their son when he was in Libya.

The stark reality is that present-day Libya is a very dangerous place. Benghazi is particularly dangerous. Benghazi was the crucible for the revolt against Gadhafi. It is a city that Ambassador Stevens helped to save from that tyrant's troops. it is a city that Stevens had a special affinity for and it was a city that contained many of his friends -- friends who Stevens believed could protect him from danger.

As I end my comments I have some suggestions for those who seek to exploit the Ambassador's death for political purposes. First of all they should heed the admonitions of Stevens' parents: the attempts to "place blame are unproductive" and the blatant attempts to exploit the Ambassador's death are "abhorrent." We all would be better off if we returned to the bygone ethic of past leaders who sought to unite our nation on issues of foreign policy, not divide it. I hope, if nothing else, these tragic events make those exploitative voices reconsider their efforts to diminish the amount of resources our country commits to its foreign service.

Perhaps it is time to consider in earnest an idea discussed by Tom Brokaw and General David Petraeus. They agreed that something more subtle and nuanced than military boots on the ground may be required to win over local communities. Brokaw suggested that we would be much better off in the long run if we deployed a diplomatic special forces populated by Americans who were well versed in the language, customs and culture of the local people. Further, these American representatives would be trained to clearly understand what is exceptional about America -- our commitment to the rule of law, the equality and opportunities that this commitment brings, and the form of constitutional democracy we cherish, a form of governing that has allowed our country to "long endure."

Perhaps an appropriate name for such a corps of diplomats who are specifically trained in the skills and dedicated to the qualities exhibited by Ambassador Christopher would be the Stevens Diplomatic Corps, and those who received this training could be called Stevens Diplomatic Scholars.

Ambassador Christopher Stevens is an American hero and we must take special care not to tarnish his legacy. Further, Stevens is not only a hero in the United States, but in other countries as well. The Libyan ambassador to the U. S. recently said that Stevens was both a "friend and hero" to the Libyan people. Let Ambassador Stevens' reputation for tireless, fearless public service to his country be the legacy we speak of and honor. We should also honor the late Ambassador by rejecting the voices of those who seek to turn his death into a vehicle to advance their own parochial purposes.