Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Who Killed Chris Stevens and Why It Doesn’t Matter

Who Killed Chris Stevens and Why It Doesn’t Matter

                          Chris Stevens - Old Protestant Cemetery -Tripoli - May 2012

By William E. Kelly, Jr.  

Shortly after the news of the death of Chris Stevens reached the state of Washington, the Chinook Native American Indian tribe held a short ceremony in his honor and floated a single canoe oar out on a lake to aide Stevens’ spirit in its journey after life.

A few days earlier, Chris Steven’s sister, Dr. Anne Stevens of Seattle Children’s Hospital, received an early morning phone call from the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her late brother’s boss, who expressed her condolences on the death of the American Ambassador and promised that “justice would be done!” 

Dr. Stevens was surprised. “Justice,” she thought, was not what Chris Stevens was about.

“This was not at all how my brother would have reacted. I never heard him talk like that,” said Dr. Stevens, who believes the most fitting tribute to her older brother’s life would be to “complete the work he had started in Benghazi,” as his job there was not finished.

President Obama, on message, said of Stevens that, "… we must affirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens, and not by his killers,"

Whether the future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens, or by those who killed him is yet to be determined, especially since most Americans didn’t know Chris Stevens, don’t know who killed him, or why it doesn’t really matter.

                                              J. CHRISTOPHER STEVENS

To the Libyan people John Christopher Stevens was a legendary revolutionary hero before most Americans ever heard of him or even knew that he was the American Ambassador to the Libya.

Stevens, whose death at the hands of Islamic terrorist is now a political football in Washington, was not your typical diplomat who ran things from behind a desk, but was known to mingle among the people and meet informally with tribal elders, earning their respect by not only speaking their language and eating their food, but delivering on the promises he made.

Relatively unknown and unheralded when alive, Stevens was the son of a California attorney; his brother is a lawyer and his two sisters are doctors. After college, Stevens served in the Peace Corps teaching English in Morocco where he learned Arabic and acquired a taste for the local cuisine. He later joined the State Department, doing embassy duty in a number of Arab countries before Gadhafi renounced terrorism and renewed diplomatic relations with the United States, when Stevens served as an assistant to the US Ambassador in Tripoli.

                                “LIKE THE WILD, WILD WEST - A GREAT ADVENTURE!”

Stevens wanted to make the world a better place, but also thought he could have fun doing it. After being posted to Libya under Gadafi, Stevens urged a fellow foreign-service officer to come along for the ride, "This is gonna be awesome. It'll be like the Wild, Wild West. We'll have a great adventure."

While some Wikileaks cables and memos are embarrassing to the government, most of the ones out of Tripoli reflect a dedicated State Department staff working diligently on behalf of the United States. Wikileaks memos show Stevens briefed Condi Rice before she visited with Gadhafi on September 5, 2009 two hundred and five years to the day US Navy Lt. Richard Somers and the men of the USS Intrepid were buried on the Tripoli beach.

Stevens was aware of the efforts to repatriate the remains of US Navy Lt. Richard Somers and the crew of the USS Intrepid because he was included in the early correspondence between those seeking repatriation and the embassy. While Stevens was in Tripoli the State Department sought the restoration of Old Protestant Cemetery, where Intrepid graves are located, and nominated the cemetery as a World Heritage site.

Stevens may have known of the UNESCO World Heritage status from when he taught English in the Peace Corps in Morocco, where one of the first foreign embassies established by the United States government still stands historically preserved for posterity. World Heritage site status however, didn’t prevent the intentional destruction of a number of other World Heritage sites by radical Islamic extremists known as Salafists - the same ones believed responsible for killing Ambassador Stevens.

                                                              THE SALAFISTS

Salafist Islmists practice a strict orthodox version of their religion, and include jihadists groups like al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and militias in Somala and Mali, as well as groups fighting in Syria where, whenever they take over an area, town or neighborhood they impose their version of Shariah law.  

Salafas oppose democracy, despise most American values and all Western influence, and consider other moderate Islamic sects as blasphemous, such as the Sufis, who sing, dance and venerate their deceased holy men as saints. The Salafists are against singing, dancing, don’t venerate their dead and don’t like others that do. They are grave robbers who steal the remains of those buried in graves and crypts, especially those Islamic saints who have been buried under the cement and tiled floors of mosques, some for hundreds of years.

Although the Salafists are a distinct minority, less than 1% of all Muslims worldwide, and less than 10% in Libya, they were suppressed by Gadhafi, and are now free to practice their religion and impose it on others. Shortly after the revolution, freed from Gadhafi’s control, they took immediate and violent action against other Muslim religious sites, robbing the graves of Sufi saints from under the floors of mosques in Benghazi, Tripoli and other cities.

Adherents to the Salafa sects are also believed to be responsible for the assassination of US Ambassador Chris Steven in Benghazi, the desecration of the British military graves at Tobruk, and the destruction of hundreds of ancient graves and historic crypts in Timbuktu, where Salafa law was imposed for months before the radical Islamists were forced out by French and Mali troops.

                                     THE ARAB SPRING - REGIONWIDE REVOLTS

These radical Salafist Islamists, while only representing a small percentage of the Muslim faith, are the most vocal and violent, and have been trying to inspire an international religious Jihad for decades.

The Salafists were taken by surprise, as were the CIA and everyone else, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a young student in a small Tunisian village became distraught over some minor administrative dispute regarding a permit for his fruit cart, and started the Arab Spring region wide revolts by setting himself afire. So far the Arab Spring revolts have removed three reluctant dictators from long entrenched power and have others on the ropes.

Rather than a religious jihad however, these dictator toppling insurrections are essentially popular revolts by leaderless rebels who seek liberty, democracy and a free and open society, though the Islamists have done everything they can to hijack the revolutions and impose Islamic governments and law, like those in Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Once dictators fell in Tunisia and Egypt, on both sides of Libya, Mohmar Gadhafi suspected he was in trouble, and anyone who knew anything about the history of the area knew that when it began, the revolution in Libya would begin in Benghazi, a city intentionally suppressed by Gadhafi.

After running a rogue state for decades Gadhafi turned the other cheek, renounced terrorism, turned over his weapons of mass destruction and reestablished diplomatic relations with the United States, but it was clear that he was still a ruthless dictator. In retribution for past indiscretions, Gadhafi punished the city of Benghazi by denying it basic social infrastructure support and appointed a women mayor - Huda Ben Amer,  known as “Huda the Executioner.” She earned her nickname by personally pulling the rope to hang Sadek Hamed Al-Shuwehdy in a school gymnasium so all the students could see and learn what happened to those who opposed Gadhafi. Sadek had studied engineering in America and returned home with the idea of helping to rebuild his country. Not a militant activist, he merely sought social change, was arrested by security police and without a trail, was executed by Huda in the Benghazi basketball arena.

Since Sadek’s execution was conducted in a basketball gym, it is clear that there must have been some early American influence in the city, as basketball is a distinctly American sport, and Benghazi was certainly marked by Gadhafi for retribution, and many political prisoners in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison were from Benghazi, some radical Islamists.

Then on June 29, 1996, at Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison, over a thousand political prisoners - 1, 270 to be exact, were executed in one day and buried in a mass grave, though their families were never notified, and it took years before the truth became known.

Suspecting trouble after the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, Gadhafi made some minor moves, - he called off an international soccer match, not wanting thousands of football hooligans to get together, and he had a Benghazi lawyer arrested. Fathi Terbil, a civil rights attorney, had been hired by some of the mothers and widows of the executed prisoners who wanted the remains of their loved ones returned to their families so they could be properly buried.

Just as Mohamid Bouazizi sparked the Tunisian Revolution and young boys scribbling graffiti in Damascus started the civil war in Syria, the grieving Benghazi women began the revolt in Libya.

On February 17th, with their lawyer arrested, the grieving mothers and widows in black, their faces covered by hijab scarves, held a peaceful demonstration in Benghazi, a protest that the local police and Gadhafi militia tried to stop and suppress. But those efforts only led to the women being joined by men, who drove the militia back to their well-fortified and supplied garrison. A suicide martyr then drove a truck through the garrison gate, the defenders fled and the revolution was on. One of the first things they did in a free Benghazi was to burn down the home of the mayor known as “Huda the Executioner.”

Libyans in other cities and towns also took to the streets, but only the port city of Misrata was totally liberated and held out in a many months long siege as the Gadhafi forces retaliated and suppressed the revolt in other places east of Benghazi.

Gadhafi had taken power in a 1969 coup d’etat, and consolidated his control, and as Edward Lutwack proclaimed in his book “Coup d’etat - A Practical Handbook,” the total mechanized military firepower of the modern state precludes a popular insurrection from taking control, a political theory that held true until the success of the popular uprisings in Tunisian, Egypt and Libya.

The revolution in Libya however, would probably not have succeeded if the United States and NATO did not intervene militarily, neutralizing Gadhafi’s air force by imposing a “No-Fly Zone” and attacking any military force deployed against the Libyan people. America had been the first to intervene militarily and attack Gadhafi’s forces just as they bore down on Benghazi, saving the city the fate suffered by those in Zawiya, Zintan and Misrata.

                                           CHRIS STEVENS IN BENGHASI 

Shortly after the Libyan revolution began, the State Department sent Chris Stevens to Benghazi to make contact with the rebels and determine their motives and intentions. Arriving in the hold of a cargo ship, he engaged the services of a local guide and translator, who spoke fluent English and Arabic and knew the locals and understood their dialects.

Over two hundred years earlier, in 1805, Stevens’ great, great, great grandfather six generations removed on his mother’s side, Chief Comcomly of the Chinook Tribe, served as a guide to Louis and Clark as they explored the Louisiana Purchase. The United States had obtained the land from France, who needed the money to finance Napoleon’s army and navy, and among the ships Napoleon built became a pirate ship captured by the Americans and renamed the USS Intrepid, a ship that met its fate at Tripoli on September 4, 1804.

Two centuries later Stevens - a direct descendent of the Indian who helped guide Louis and Clark into uncharted territory, was the personal representative of the United States of America while enlisting the assistance of a local Libyan to serve as his guide to revolutionary Libya.

With a State Department assistant Nathan Tek and his local guide, Stevens met with everyone they could, including the leaders of the rebel government - the Transitional National Council, as well as shopkeepers, teachers, doctors and the fighters from the front.

According to Tek, "It was like they all spoke from the same script. They were all saying the same things… They all wanted a new Libya that represented the aspirations of the people. In my mind, it truly was a popular revolution….”

As for Stevens, Tek said, “Ambassador Stevens understood 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, he was the kind of diplomat I want to be. He wielded American influence through respect rather than intimidation and swagger."

In short order Stevens determined the rebels were mainly freedom fighters, though there were some extremists who sought to impose an Islamic state. While a distinct minority, the Salafi Islamists had opposed Gadhafi for years, were the best and most experienced fighters, and they were part of the deal.

Reversing a long standing American policy of support of foreign dictators who backed US interests, Stevens recommended the United States continue to back the rebels, and with Stevens as America’s representative, that support would continue.

                                         HOLLYWOOD’S “TRIPOLI

As a student of history Chris Stevens certainly saw the parallels between his situation and that of William Eaton, the American counsel who, in 1805, led a rag tag Arab army against a tyrant in Tripoli at the same time his ancestor assisted Louis and Clark.

Hollywood was about to make a major motion picture about Eaton’s exploits called “Tripoli,” described as an “action, adventure historical war drama” and staring Keanu Reeves as Eaton, when the Arab Spring revolutions intervened and postponed production for the second time.

Separated by two centuries, William Eaton and Chris Stevens found themselves in eerily similar circumstances. African pirates were attacking American merchant ships and holding their crews hostage, Islamists had declared a religious jihad against the United States, Arab dictators were terrorizing their own people and politicians in Washington were arguing over what to do about it.

Sound familiar? Well that’s what the situation was in 1804 when the U.S. Navy was assigned the task of defeating the Barbary pirates of North Africa and freeing the Americans being held hostage.

Eaton and Stevens - “warrior diplomats” centuries apart, found themselves representing American interests in Libya and appraising the chances and character of a motley army of renegade revolutionaries who had taken a eastern port city and were about to march on Tripoli to oust a tyrannical dictator.

Eaton went up against the Basha of Tripoli - Yousef Karamanli, who had declared war against the United States by chopping down the flag poll outside the American ambassador’s residence. He had a powerful pirate fleet that was attacking American merchant ships, enslaving their passengers and holding crews for ransom.

Answering with the cry, “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute,” Americans decided to fight rather than pay the extortion, but unfortunately one of the first ships sent to fight the pirates, the frigate USS Philadelphia, ran aground and its 300 man crew were taken prisoner and added to the hostages being held in the dungeons of the old castle fort. Karamanli renamed the ship “the Gift of Allah,” the flagship of the Tripoli pirate fleet.
Not without American heroes, Navy Lt. Steven Decatur, during a daring nighttime raid aboard the captured pirate ship Intrepid, recaptured and scuttled the Gift of Alah” in Tripoli harbor, a raid that is considered one of the earliest special operations of the US Navy, the type of mission now given to Navy SEALS.

Then Decatur’s sidekick, Lt. Richard Somers returned to Tripoli harbor with the Intrepid outfitted as a fire ship on a similar late night covert mission designed to destroy the anchored enemy fleet, but something went wrong and Somers and his twelve man crew perished in a fantastic explosion on September 4, 1804. The next day American prisoners from the Philadelphia buried their bodies on the Tripoli beach.

                                                       WILLIAM EATON AT DERNA

While the US Navy blockaded Tripoli harbor, another American diplomat - William Eaton opened a second front against Yousef Karamanli, the Tyrant of Tripoli - the Gadhafi of his day.

Eaton had met the tyrant’s deposed brother Hamid Karamanli in Egypt and convinced him to try to attempt to regain his power. With American support Eaton promised, Hamid could take over and end the tyranny.

The American support however, was limited to Eaton, US Marine sergeant Presley O’Bannon and eight U.S. marines. But they were eight “boots on the ground” leathernecks, all that would be needed. Together with 300 Greek Christian mercenaries and a small cavalry of Arab Bedouins, Eaton marched his ragtag Army across the desert to attack and capture the port city of Derna, east of Benghazi. Just as Lawrence of Arabia had captured the port city of Acaba during World War I, Eaton took Derna in a surprise attack from the undefended desert side.

After repulsing a counterattack by loyalist forces, Eaton began to plan a march to Tripoli, but in the meantime, their victory at Derna convinced Yousef Karamanli to accept peace terms offered by Tobias Lear. Lear had been George Washington’s personal secretary, and despite the pronounced U.S. policy of not paying tribute or ransom, Lear’s treaty paid $60,000 ransom for the release of 300 captured U.S. sailors. It also permitted Yousef Karamanli to remain in power and betrayed the promises Eaton made to Hamid Karamanli, so Eaton had to abandon his volunteer army much like the Cubans were abandoned at the Bay of Pigs.

Sneaking out of Derna in the dead of night and boarding an American warship before his army and former allies knew he was gone, Eaton felt betrayed by his own government. Hamid Karamanli was also betrayed, but he thanked Marine Sgt. O’Bannon for fighting for him, and gave O’Bannon his Mamaluke sword, now the official dress sword of the US Marines. Tobias Lear, having ended the first war against the Barbary Pirates on unsuitable terms, was widely denounced for paying the ransom and agreeing to a treaty keeping Yousef Karamanli in power. Lear later committed suicide, and Steven Decatur led a second war to obtain terms for a more lasting peace.

But they left the remains of the crew of the USS Intrepid behind, buried on the Tripoli beach.

In 1949, over one hundred and fifty years later, when the US Embassy conducted an official ceremony at the graves of the Intrepid sailors, included in the proceedings was the mayor of Tripoli - Yousef Karamanli, a namesake and direct descendent of the tyrant of Tripoli who had declared war against the Untied States two hundred years earlier.

                                                    RETURN TO BENGHAZI

Then, more than two centuries after William Eaton snuck out of Derna by boat, Chris Stevens found himself arriving in Benghazi in the hold of a cargo ship, with instructions to meet and determine the motives of a rag tag army who were fighting another tyrant in Tripoli, and prepare to march there, possibly completing the march that Eaton began two centuries earlier.

Were the rebels sincere? Could they remove Gadhafi? Should the United States assist them? And if so, once the march to Tripoli began, if the road got rough, would they be betrayed by war-weary Washington politicians who would accept a “peace treaty” that would keep Gadhafi in power?

While Eaton’s promise was co-opted by the diplomatic moves of government, Stevens saw it through and finished the historic march to liberate Tripoli.

But unlike Eaton, the February 17th revolutionaries couldn’t just take the coast road west across the desert to Tripoli because Gadhafi’s well fortified and loyal hometown stood in the way.

When Stevens reported to Washington he explained how there was fighting on three fronts - at Benghazi, in the western port city of Misrata, which was holding out under siege and a third front in the mountains south west of Tripoli. While things appeared to be a stalemate, the revolutionaries were determined to topple Gadhafi, and they eventually did so, with the help of the United States and NATO air support.

The Berber “Amazingh” people of the Nafoosa mountains, with their own language and unique culture that stretched across a number of North African countries, had been there for centuries, before the Islamists arrived. They remember the Romans, got along with most invaders and occupying armies, but they too were suppressed under Gadhafi. When the revolution began the first thing they did after expelling the Gadhafi forces from their towns was to open schools to teach the Amazing language.

Supplied with small arms by the French, and reinforced by volunteer fighters from Benghazi and other Libyan cities, they trained and prepared for the final assault. A video posted on Youtube at the time shows the Libyan revolutionary fighters sitting around a campfire in the mountains singing a song in the Amazighing language that is translated as the Campfire song:

Translation (Sung in Amazigh):

Where do you want us to go?
Give me your hand
So we can go to Benghazi
The City of Freedom
So we can go to Zawiya
The City of Marytyrs
So we can go to Zintan
The City of Knights
And in the end Libya will be free,
and we will live in love and tranquility

The march to Tripoli, which was to begin in Benghazi, actually came out of the Nafoosa Mountains in southwest Libya in mid-August, 2011, and ended at the old castle fort in Tripoli where Gadhafi’s Green Square was renamed Martyrs Square in honor of those who died in the fighting to free Libya.

Just as Benghazi has its revolutionary square where their protests began, China has Tiananmen Square, Bahrain has the Freedom Roundabout, and Cairo has its center of public protest, Tripoli has what Gadhafi called Green Square. It’s the public space outside the Old City and old castle fort where Gadhafi celebrated the 40th anniversary of his coup. It’s the same square where Italian dictator Beneito Mussolini reviewed the troops, and where Nazi General Irwin Rommel planned the defense of the Fascist empire in North Africa early in World War II. Martyrs Square is to Libya what Times Square is of New York City, except it dates back many thousands of years, to pre-Roman times.

Ironically, the only real martyrs buried at Tripoli’s Martyrs Square are the US Navy officers and men of the USS Intrepid, who died fighting for the same ideals as the Libyan revolutionaries - against tyranny and for freedom, liberty and democracy.

“Death to Tyrants” was their motto in 1804, and death finally came to Gadhafi when the men of Misrata took Gadhafi’s hometown, ran Gadhafi down and brutally killed him, Libyan justice and revenge for what Gadhafi did to there city.

                                     AMBASSADOR J. CHRISTOPHER STEVENS

The revolution was difficult, but creating a new government and an open society is much harder, and as a reward for his success during the revolution, in May 2012 Chris Stevens was named US Ambassador to Libya and he was looking forward to helping the Libyans build a new nation.
On Memorial Day 2012 Stevens led a delegation of embassy personnel to a memorial service at the graves of the Intrepid sailors at Old Protestant Cemetery. [See photo]

While still not familiar to most Americans, ordinary Libyans knew Ambassador Stevens as a revolutionary hero much like Americans recognize French General Lafayette as an American revolutionary war hero.

As Ambassador, Stevens conducted business in much the same style he exhibited during the revolution, and he often went out among the people, meeting and dining with them, and getting to know them personally. He did this during the revolution and while U.S. Ambassador.

Shortly after the United States led the air intervention in Libya, keeping Gadhafi’s forces from destroying Benghazi, a pro-Gadhafi mob had attacked and trashed the American embassy in Tripoli. So they had to reestablish the American embassy from scratch, and while most Libyans are grateful for the support Americans gave them during the revolution, now there were no laws, no police or any legal authority so it really was, in Stevens’ words, just like the “Wild Wild West.”

And the bullies giving Libyan democracy the most trouble were the Salafists, the radical extreme, orthodox Islamists known to despise democracy, deplore music, dancing and the veneration of the dead.

When one Libyan revolutionary fighter was asked what he would do if the Islamists took over and imposed Islamic law, he said, “then the revolution isn’t over and we fight them.”

A 21 year old engineering student told a reporter, "I am not afraid of Islamists in Libya. This is a moderate country and even if there is a small element of radicals, they won't be able to push their way through."

The Salafists - Islamic Bullies pushed their way through however. For example:

-        A Libyan Jew, who left his studies in Italy to join the revolution and fight to liberate Tripoli, was threatened by the Salafist militiamen when he tried to clean up and restore Tripoli’s ancient abandoned synagogue.
-        A Copic Christian church in eastern Libya was burned to the ground, reportedly because its members were trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.
-        In Tobruck, young Salifists knocked over the grave markers of dozens of British and Australian veterans killed during World War II.
-        In Misrata, the city in ruins, there is nothing left of the 400-year-old tomb of holy man Sidi Hamed al-Bikr, after Salafi attackers fired anti-tank guns at it.
-        In Derna, Salafists demolished the tomb of Sidi Nasr Aziz, a sheikh and companion of the Prophet Mohammed.
-        In Tripoli the Salafists used heavy equipment to excavate the bones of revered Sufi saints, digging them up from their graves beneath the tiled floor of a mosque, and disappeared with the bones into the desert.
-        In Tripoli, more tombs at the Sidi Nasr mosque were wrecked by Salafists who broke in at night when no-one was there, destroyed two tombs: one of a holy man who died in around 1760, and another of a sheikh who died 15 years ago. They removed the body from the more recent grave, and were about to dig up the second when they were disturbed and fled.
-        In Timbucktu, southwest of Libya, fighters from the same radical Islamic sect of Salfarists, some fresh from battles against Gadhafi, took over Northern Mali, imposed a strict Islamic law in the ancient city of Timbucktu, and like the Taliban’s destruction of the ancient Buda statues in Afghanistan, began demolishing ancient crypts, destroying Sufi mosques and before being ousted by French troops, burned an historic and ancient library of Islamic books, all of which had been deemed protected as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

In Tripoli, Ambassador Chris Stevens led the American delegation in trying to restore diplomatic service and organize a new administration while he continued his popular style of meeting informally with everyone. Sometimes, when arriving early for a meeting, he would stop at a public café just to see and hear what people were saying. “Let’s hang out for awhile,” he’d say to his companions, and then sit down at a sidewalk café just to take in the atmosphere and pick up some “incidental intelligence,” that could prove important later on.

In May, 2012, on Memorial Day, continuing the tradition of venerating our honored dead, Ambassador Stevens led a large delegation of US Embassy employees to the Old Protestant Cemetery to pay their respects at the graves of the US Navy sailors from the Intrepid. [See: Photo]

From 1948 until the American military were ousted by Gadhafi in 1969, the graves of the American Navy heroes at the cemetery were maintained by the Officers Wives Club from Whellus Air Force Base. When they were rediscovered by some American tourists in the 1970s the Intrepid grave markers were overgrown with weeds and the cemetery in disrepair.

After Gadhafi reestablished diplomatic relations with the United States, the first State Department employees in Tripoli, looking for real estate for an embassy, took photos of the cemetery, and once the embassy was up and running, embassy workers volunteered to clean up the Intrepid grave site.

They also convinced the Gadhafi government to undertake a thorough study of the cemetery, restore the walls and landscape the grounds. They also nominated the cemetery as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In August the Defense Department report by the Navy on the feasibility of repatriating the remains of the Intrepid sailors from the Tripoli cemetery, signed by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, concluded they should stay where they are, without even mentioning the threat posed to the remains of Americans in hostile land by the grave robbing Salafists.

Hanna H. Draper, a State Department officer assigned to Tripoli, began a blog detailing  some of her experiences in Libya and in August, 2012 she wrote: “Tripoli: ....I absolutely love the people I work for, from my section chief up through the Ambassador. Amb. Stevens is legendary in Libya for spending almost the entire period of the revolution in Benghazi, liaising with the rebels and leading a skeleton crew of Americans on the ground to support humanitarian efforts and meeting up-and-coming political leaders.
Several Libyans have told me how much it means to them that he stayed here throughout the revolution, losing friends and suffering privations alongside ordinary Libyans. We could not ask for a better Ambassador to represent America during this crucial period in Libyan history.”

She also noted that it was exciting to see “History in the making. Yes, yes, it's schmaltzy, but I wouldn't trade this position, at this time, for anything else the Service could offer me. I get to see democracy being built, literally one day at a time.”

On Saturday, September 1, 2012, the same day I wrote a letter to Ambassador Stevens, inviting him to visit Somers Point, N.J. and sent him a copy of my regional history book “300 Years at the Point,” Hanna Draper wrote about having lunch with Stevens, in an article she posted called “ Lunch With the Ambassador and the Locals - How to Amaze and Amuse Your Hosts.” 

On this day Stevens and Draper drove into the mountains to visit the Berbers, the same fighters who sang “the Campfires song,” had liberated Tripoli, and captured Gadhafi’s son Saif, and treated him humanly, unlike the way Gadhafi faced justice from a revengeful mob.

The Amazigh - Berbers offer a refreshing and unique addition to the historically diverse Libyan democratic coalition, and how Stevens dealt with them was typical of how he served as the official representative of the United States.

In her blog Hanna Draper wrote:

“On Wednesday morning, the Ambassador called me and asked, "Do you have anything going on this afternoon?" When questions like that come from your boss, the answer is usually no.  So a few hours later he and I loaded up and drove two hours south of Tripoli to the mountain town of Gharyan.  A friend of the Ambassador invited him to the opening ceremony of a political party's local branch office, so off we went. Part of the celebrations included lunch in a khosh hafr, a traditional underground house found in many Amazigh (Berber) communities of North Africa.”  

“Gharyan is one of the larger towns in Libya's western mountains, on the main road from Tripoli to the Amazigh towns in the mountains.  It has a beautiful view of the coastal plains, overlooking some of western Libya's most fertile fields…. A khosh hafr is built about twenty or thirty feet below ground level, with open-air courtyards that provide natural light and air circulation to the rooms that are cut into the bedrock and that open off the courtyards. Being underground, the rooms are much cooler than the ambient air in the summer, and they stay pretty warm and insulated during the Libyan mountains' cold winters. Our hosts welcomed us into one of these rooms for conversation and laughter before lunch - many of the people knew our Ambassador from his time in Benghazi during the revolution or from his previous tour in Libya, back in the old days.”  

“When lunch arrived, we were given two choices - we could have couscous, the staple dish of North Africa that we'd eat with a spoon, or bazeen, a traditional Libyan Amazigh dish. Our host told the servers in Arabic, ‘Our guests will have the couscous, please,’ but the Ambassador stepped in and said, ‘Hold on, I'd love to have some bazeen!’”  

“Not to be outdone, I said, ‘I'll have the bazeen too!’ The servers and our hosts all turned to us with jaws dropped. ‘But - but - you have to eat it with your hand! Only Libyans like bazeen!  It's messy!’"

“Let's step back and think about this for a second.  Here I am, the only woman in an underground home, sitting around barefoot (no shoes on the carpets!) with my Ambassador and fifteen Libyan politicians and activists, and I've just signed up to eat something that I can't identify from a plate shared with my boss and an unknown number of others.  NOTHING could possibly go wrong.”

“Bazeen, it turns out, is barley dough that's served with braised lamb first and then tomato stew.  To eat it properly, you take your (right!) hand and eat the lamb, then you hack off a chunk of the dough in the middle of the bowl, then mash it against the side of the bowl for 5-10 minutes to soften it up and to make sure it soaks up enough of the soup.  Then you squeeze lemon or lime juice over the softened dough, take a bite of a spicy pepper, and chow down on the soupy dough.  It was a lot of work, but it was pretty tasty - and definitely worth the looks of hilarity and shock that we provoked in our lunch companions.”

“The Ambassador's a lefty, so he was operating at something of a disadvantage in his dough-mashing.  This was made worse by the fact that by accident my lime flew out of my hand - hey, my hand was covered with stew juice - and knocked over his drink all over his bare feet.  (I haven't been here three months yet, and I've already sealed my fate in my annual review.)  Better yet, the political party posted photos of us eating bazeen on Facebook, which resulted in some of my contacts on Twitter asking me last night, ‘Hey, isn't that you eating bazeen?’"  

“This photo is currently bouncing around Libyan social networks, getting over 350 comments and 400 reblogs off the Embassy Facebook page alone.  Most of the comments are pretty positive - lots of laughter and surprise that the Ambassador is eating bazeen. Cultural diplomacy at its finest, y'all.  Now I need to find a similarly messy American dish to make for Libyans!”

                                                          RETURN TO BENGHASI

On September 10, 2012, six months after being appointed Ambassador, Stevens returned to Benghazi for the first time since the success of the revolution. He visited an English language school established by his former guide, met with a Turkish diplomat and made arrangements to meet a Boston medical doctor who was in Benghazi to establish an emergency medical service that, if it had been in service that night, could have possibly saved his life.

That day, the eleventh anniversary of the September 11th al Qada attack on the United States, was marked by protests at many U.S. embassies, demonstrations by Muslims upset at the Youtube video trailer of a movie spoof of Mohamid. Most of the protesters hadn’t seen the movie or the internet video, which depicted Mohamid as a hypocrite in a  Monti Python type movie that looked like it was made by high school students. The US State Department took the threat seriously, and paid tens of thousands of dollars to take out advertising in Arabic newspapers and radio stations denouncing the film and disclaiming any responsibility for it. There were still a number of planned protests at the US Embassies in Cairo, Egypt, and Tripoli, Libya, but Benghazi was quiet.

                                       Dr. Thomas F. Burke, of Massachusetts General Hospital

At the US mission in Benghazi, Ambassador Stevens wrapped up his meeting with a Turkish diplomat and talked briefly on the phone with Dr. Thomas Burke, the Boston doctor in Benghazi who wants to set up an emergency medical service in the city. Although officially off duty, Stevens was to meet with Burke at the Benghazi Medical Center to see how they could help the Libyans upgrade and improve all of their medical services.

From his Benghazi hotel room Dr. Burke was talking with Ambassador Stevens when they came under attack and the line went dead.

The attack on the US mission at Benghazi is now the subject of many articles, official reports, Congressional investigations and hearings and will surely be the subject of books and someday made into an epic movie with a cast of thousands.

But at the end of the day, four Americans were dead, including Chris Stevens.

Stevens made the appointed rendezvous at the Benghazi Medical Center, as a friendly Libyan discovered Stevens alive but unconscious on the floor. A local Libyan, a Good Samaratan not knowing who Stevens was, carried him to a car and drove him to the hospital, but Stevens was dead on arrival, probably from smoke inhalation. If a modern Emergency Medical ambulance had arrived on the scene with an oxygen tank, Stevens could be alive today.

                                       FORGET LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY

Shortly after Stevens went missing in Benghazi, his sister Anne Stevens received a call from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It was 5:30 in the morning on Sept. 12, 2012, Dr. Stevens recalled, “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,” Stevens said to Clinton.

Revenge and justice were not what Chris Stevens was about.

                                                 Anne Stevens, of Seattle Children’s Hospital

Then Dr. Anne Stevens learned about Dr. Thomas Burke, the physician from Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital who was in Benghazi that day, and was scheduled to meet with Ambassador Stevens to discuss how to best help the Libyans develop an effective emergency response network.

According to Dr. Anne Stevens, “Dr. Burke’s 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. This was one of the most neglected parts of the country under Gaddafi. While there are many physicians, there is not much of a health care system. They don’t have enough ambulances, anything like the 911 system or many of the most basic features of health care we take for granted here.”

 “My brother,” Dr. Stevens said, “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.”

And instead of seeking revenge or justice, Dr. Stevens thought the most fitting tribute to her older brother’s life would be to complete the work he had started in Benghazi, helping Libyans improve emergency care, so she has joined Dr. Burke in working towards those goals.

“They could use our help to gain peace, stability and security,” Dr. Burke said, agreeing with the assessment of Dr. Stevens that, “We need to be a little less focused on who killed Chris Stevens.”

Burke said Benghazi is a city of 1 million people with no functioning ambulance service, its doctors are in need of advanced medical training, and they “lack management and leadership experience, and need to develop basic health-care-management skills.”

Photo by Erika Schultz/Sealte Times From left, Drs. Laila Taher Bugaighis, deputy director general of Benghazi Medical Center; Thomas F. Burke, of Massachusetts General Hospital; and Anne Stevens, of Seattle Children’s.

The collaboration Anne Stevens said, “is exactly what my brother wanted to help support, it’s not telling them to do anything, or giving them stuff, but collaborating with them.”

Dr. Stevens also created a memorial to her brother online, http;//, to promote communication and understanding between the Western and Arab worlds.

Under an “eye for an eye” Shalfa law, the victim or their relations can forgo justice by forgiving the sin, as the mother of Mohamid Boauzizi forgave the policewomen who harassed her son, slapped him and humiliated him into committing the self-immolation that sparked the Arab Spring.

Now Anne Stevens can find it in her to forgive those who killed her brother, and instead of seeking revenge and justice, she wants to continue his work - help develop a modern medical emergency response system, not only in Benghazi but throughout East Libya.

If the ultimate sacrifice is giving one’s life for one’s country, and those who have died in war gave their life so we can be free, then Chris Stevens gave his life so Libyans could be free. 

                                              BENGHAZI - THE CONTINUING CRISIS
While the politicians in Washington continue to play the blame game over the circumstances of Stevens’ death, who killed him and who was negligent in his death, Americans can do something in memory of Chris Stevens by supporting the things he was working on when he was killed - the education of Libyans, especially women, and assist Dr. Burke and Dr. Stevens help the Libyans establish such basic social services as emergency medical assistance.

A Libyan who sent his American friends a recent photo of the newly renovated front gate of Tripoli’s Old Protestant Cemetery, included the sentiment, “I would like to give you my belated condolences on the loss of Ambassador J. Chris Stevens. He was a much liked and respected by most Libyans. What happened to him in Benghazi was tragic and shameful. 40,000 people marched in Benghazi against his killers a week after his death.  He will be missed.”

Indeed, who killed Chris Stevens was no mystery to those who lived in Benghazi, and within days of Stevens’ death, forty thousand people gathered together in Benghazi’s main Freedom Square. They knew who was responsible for the deaths of the Americans, and they marched to the militia headquarters of the Islamist Ansar al-Salafist Brigade, who fled the city.

But they later returned, and their commander - Mohammad Ali al-Zahawi, in a brash interview with the BBC said, "Our brave youths will continue their struggle until they impose Sharia." Zahawi also confirmed that his brigade was responsible for demolishing and desecrating Sufi shrines in Tripoli and Benghazi, which they regard as idolatrous saying, "It is a religious duty to remove these shrines because people worship the deceased and this is prohibited. It is not me who says so but rather our religion."

Of them Frederick Wehrey:  ''Well, they have certainly been behind a lot of the attacks in Libya against Sufism, which is a variant of Islam that they regard as heretical. They have attacked other Western targets. My reading of the Salafis in Libya is that they're such a marginal minority, and Libyans are really predisposed to a more moderate interpretation -- and we saw this in the elections -- that the Salafis are grasping at relevance and they're trying to rattle their sabers. They're trying to muscle their way to prominence through this violence. And this is not the strategy of a movement that has grassroots support or a winning movement. So again they're a fringe movement. That said, they can still cause violence. They can still play a spoiler role. And, importantly, they're highlighting the weakness of the government. And what you're seeing is a lot of Libyans, they're mad at the Salafis for this attack and for other violence, but they're turning their anger toward the government and they're saying, why aren't you providing security?''

Using cell phone photos and Youtube videos of the September 11th, night time attack on the American mission at Benghazi, intelligence analysts have isolated a number of men who figured in the death of Ambassador Stevens, a State Department assistant and two former US Navy SEALS who were in Benghazi on a special mission. One of those sought in the attack, a Tunisian who was arrested in Turkey, was returned to Tunisia and released.

Stevens’ assassins freely walk the streets today, and when instructed, they attack and destroy symbols of Islamic idols, especially the graves of revered Sufi saints, revolutionary martyrs and American heroes.

In Washington, the circumstances of Stevens’ death has made “Benghazi” a buzz word that has sparked official investigations, reports, Congressional hearings, civil ceremonies and radio talk show conversations, indicating that it may even take on the status of a Deep Political Event in the same category as Watergate, Iran-Contra and the assassination of President Kennedy.

Since Chris Stevens’ canoe paddle was sent off into the water, the American political landscape has changed considerably - there is a new Secretary of State, a new Secretary of Defense, a new Secretary of the Navy, a new Ambassador to the UN, a new director of Central Intelligence, a new military commander of AFRICOM and a new Ambassador to Libya, all somehow affected by the spirit of Chris Stevens and the fallout from what we now know as “Benghazi.”

Left behind are the remains of US Navy Lt. Richard Somers and the men of the USS Intrepid, whose bones are still buried in clearly marked crypts in an old walled cemetery on the Tripoli beach, waiting to be desecrated or destroyed by the radical, grave robbing Salafists, the same orthodox Islamists responsible for the murder of J. Chris Stevens.