Generally I try to shy away from topics that receive their fair share of media coverage, and with the seemingly endless hearings from five House committees, the story of the Benghazi attacks would fall in the “more than its fair share” category.
However, I feel like all this outrage, and such claims that attacks like these have “never happened before”, should be put in perspective. It is true that Ambassador Chris Stevens, a widely respected career diplomat, was the first U. S. ambassador to be killed in three decades. And it is also true that the attacks happened on September 11, a particularly potent date in political discourse.
And yes, those responsible — both in Libya and Washington — should be held accountable. Someone screwed up. But there is a fine line between being critical of the government and simply making personal attacks on President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (to help derail her political future). Senator Rand Paul said that “at the very least, Mrs. Clinton should never hold high office again.” Even assuming she would run in 2016, how much blame should she take? She did step down, after all.
What follows is a sample of American embassy attacks over the last thirty years. In none of these events did the Secretary of State resign. In most cases, hearings were not held. And in almost all cases, no one was ever arrested for the attacks.
* On September 17, 2008, and attack on the embassy in Sana’a, Yemen resulted in 19 deaths. The attackers dressed as policemen, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles, attacked the outer security ring at the entrance of the main gate. Susan el-Baneh, a newly married woman from New York, was killed along with her Yemeni husband while waiting outside to fill out paperwork. The Islamic Jihad of Yemen, an al Qaeda affiliate, claimed responsibility for the attack.
* On July 9, 2008, the consulate in Istanbul, Turkey was attacked and resulted in six deaths, including three police officers. Armed with pistols and shotguns, the three armed and bearded attackers arrived in a Ford Focus disguised as a taxi. One of them opened fire near the main entrance to the compound, killing a traffic policeman, then running toward a guard post some 50 yards away as other policemen fired back.
* On February 21, 2008, a group of about 1000 rioters arrived at the US, Slovenian and Croatian embassies in Belgrade, Serbia. They burned the US embassy, entered and destroyed the interior and exterior of Slovenian embassy and caused minor damage to the Croatian embassy. Emergency services were able to put the fire out in embassies after protesters dissipated. CNN reported that “charred remains” of an individual had been found inside the burnt-out offices. American flags were also burnt. Police guarded the US Embassy in Belgrade the next day. Other foreign embassies damaged in the course of the protest included those of Belgium, Germany and Turkey. In Belgrade and Novi Sad, McDonald’s restaurants were also damaged by protestors.
* On September 12, 2006, three gunmen and a Syrian security guard were killed in a foiled attack on the US embassy in Damascus. Gunmen tossed grenades over the perimeter walls before opening fire with automatic weapons. A car bomb was detonated outside the embassy, although a truck bomb filled with pipe bombs and gas cylinders failed to explode. Thirteen people were wounded, including two security guards and a Chinese diplomat. Police also captured one gunman, although he later died of his wounds. The Syrian government said the attack was planned in Saudi Arabia and the attackers had no links to al-Qaeda.
* On March 2, 2006, a suicide car bomb killed four people and injured thirty outside the Marriott Hotel in Karachi, Pakistan which is about 20 yards from the consulate. Among the dead was David Foy, an American diplomat and three Pakistanis. Foy was the target of the bomber, who detonated his vehicle in the parking ramp behind the consulate as Foy arrived. The bomb was reported to be the most powerful attack of its kind in Karachi, and it left a 6-foot crater in the ramp and destroyed at least ten nearby cars.
* On July 30, 2004, suicide bombers struck the entrances of the US and Israeli embassies in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Two Uzbek security guards were killed in both bombings. The Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) claimed responsibility.
* On February 28, 2003, gunmen killed two police officers and wounded five other officers and a civilian in front of the American consulate in Pakistan.
* On June 14, 2002, a truck with a fertilizer bomb driven by a suicide bomber was detonated outside the United States consulate in Karachi. Twelve people were killed and 51 injured. A group called al-Qanoon claimed responsibility for the attack.
* On August 7, 1998, 223 people were killed in simultaneous truck bomb explosions at the United States embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. The date of the bombings marked the eighth anniversary of the arrival of American forces in Saudi Arabia.
The attacks were linked to local members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, brought Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri to the attention of the American public for the first time, and resulted in the FBI placing bin Laden on its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was credited with being the mastermind behind the bombings.
In response to the bombings, President Clinton ordered Operation Infinite Reach, a series of cruise missile strikes on targets in Sudan and Afghanistan on August 20, announcing the planned strike in a prime time address on American television. In Sudan, the missiles destroyed the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory, where 50% of Sudan’s medications for both people and animals were manufactured. Clinton claimed that there was ample evidence to prove that the plant produced chemical weapons, but a thorough investigation after the missile strikes revealed that the intelligence was false.
Of the 21 people indicted in the attack, nine have been killed, eight are in prison and four remain fugitives.
* On December 12, 1983, six people died in a coordinated attack on two embassies in Kuwait, the country’s main airport and an oil refinery. The attack was more notable for the damage it was intended to cause than what was actually destroyed. What might have been the worst terrorist act of the twentieth century in the Middle East, fizzled because of the bombs’ faulty rigging.
The perpetrators of the bombing are thought to have been Shia Islamist members of the Iraqi Islamic Dawa Party working with the support and assistance of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The motivation of the bombing is suspected to have been punishment against Kuwait, America and France for their military and financial assistance to Iraq in the Iran–Iraq War.
* On April 18, 1983 the United States embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, was struck by a suicide bomber and resulted in the deaths of 63 people, mostly embassy and CIA staff members, several soldiers and one Marine. The attack came in the wake of the intervention of a Multinational Force, made up of Western countries, including the US, in the Lebanese Civil War. It also followed the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinian refugees by Lebanese Christian militiamen.
Again, why have I provided this list? Not to excuse the mistakes of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, but to remind people of how short the American memory is. What happened in Benghazi is tragic, but far from being the worst event of the last few decades. If we point fingers every time an embassy gets hit during the so-called War on Terror, a lot of eyes are going to be gouged out.