It wasn’t long ago that Rubio and Cruz criticized the Obama administration for the deaths of four Americans, including Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, in a terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
“Congress and the Executive Branch need to work together to do everything possible to make sure something like this does not happen again,” said Rubio in June 2016.
Pope Francis met with refugees and leaders of religious faiths including Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus who joined him for a day of prayer for peace in Assisi, home of his namesake, the 12th-century friar St. Francis.
But it was the migrants he invited to join him for lunch on Sept. 20 who captured the headlines and illustrated the tangible impact of war and conflict.
ADD LIBYA TO the growing list of countries where the United States is conducting military operations in the name of fighting terrorism.
In February, a U.S. airstrike in the town of Sabratha in western Libya killed more than 40 people. The intended target was said to be Noureddine Chouchane, a senior commander of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) from nearby Tunisia, but there has been no independent confirmation that he was at the site. Among those killed in the attack were two Serbian embassy staff who were being held hostage by ISIS.
Since the overthrow of the Gadhafi regime in 2011, Libya has been engulfed by chaos. There are now two competing governments—one in the eastern city of Tobruk (recognized by the United Nations) and the other in Tripoli—neither with much power or public support. Real power in the country is in the hands of hundreds of militia groups that rule local areas and often support rival government factions. Many of the militias oppose the presence of foreign forces, and the Tripoli-based government vigorously criticized the U.S. attack on Sabratha.
Pentagon commanders believe that bombing and commando operations can reduce the terrorist threat in Libya, but the experience of military intervention in other countries during the past 14 years suggests otherwise. U.S. military attacks have not brought stability and peace to Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, or Syria. Why do we think they will solve the problems now in Libya?
The United States fought a major war in Iraq to suppress al Qaeda, but that organization morphed into the even-more-dangerous menace of ISIS. The U.S. has conducted more than 10,000 military strikes against extremist targets in Syria and Iraq during the past 18 months, but the threat from ISIS in the region remains formidable and is now spreading to Libya.
In marketing the film, Bay and the real-life men he portrays have stated that 13 Hours is not a political film. The goal, they say, is simply to show what happened, as it happened, and to recognize the courage and sacrifice of the people on the ground that day.
But it takes a more nuanced filmmaker than Bay (the creator of Bad Boys, Armageddon, and the Transformers films) to take an inherently political story like this one and truly make it free from bias. While 13 Hours doesn’t specifically call anyone out, or criticize (or endorse) the decisions of any particular leader or party, Bay and screenwriter Chuck Hogan mistake those qualities as the only ones required to make the film “non-political.”
Pope Francis on Feb. 16 denounced the brutal slayings of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by militants linked to the Islamic State, saying “they were assassinated just for being Christian.”
“The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out,” Francis said in off-the-cuff remarks during an audience with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland.
The pope, switching to his native Spanish, noted that those killed only said “Jesus help me.”
“Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it doesn’t matter: They’re Christian! The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ,” Francis said.
He said their deaths bore witness to “an ecumenism of blood” that should unite Christians, a phrase he has used repeatedly as the Islamic State continues its bloody march.
An Islamist group has gained ground in the northeastern Libyan city of Benghazi, declaring it an Islamic territory and raising fears that radical Islamist militias may spread in the rest of Africa.
The declaration from Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia movement mirrors the rise of the Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria. The two militant movements share similar goals.
The prospect of more fighting and the possible disintegration of Libya, the country where NATO allied forces helped topple strongman Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011, sent chills throughout the nation.
“I think this is a risky way to go,” said Sheikh Saliou Mbacke, a Senegalese Muslim leader who is the coordinator of Inter-Faith Action for Peace in Africa.
“It hinges on the failure of the governments, lack of democracy and poor and unequal distribution of resources,” added Saliou.
These latest actions reflect the growing influence of Islamists in Africa, where militants are challenging existing governments.
Church leaders in Libya remain hopeful that Christians in the mostly Muslim country will be allowed to practice their faith, even as the country appears to be moving towards Shariah law.
In December, Libya’s General National Congress voted to make Shariah the source of all legislation and institutions. The vote came amid international concerns over the diminishing Christian populations in North Africa and the Middle East, and increased Islamist influence in countries engulfed by the Arab Spring revolution.
Libya has undergone a two-year transition since 2011 when demonstrations toppled Moammar Gadhafi. Before the revolution, Christians were granted religious freedom, but with the change of power, they have been arbitrarily arrested, attacked, killed, and forced by the Islamist groups to convert to Islam.
The New York Times is reporting this afternoon that secret “target packages” are being prepared by the U.S. for potential action against militants suspected in last week’s attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“The American military’s top-secret Joint Special Operations Command is preparing detailed information that could be used to kill or capture some of the militants suspected in the attack last month in Libya that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, senior military and counterterrorism officials said on Tuesday.
“Preparing the “target packages” is the first step in a process that the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency are taking in preparation for, and in advance of, any orders from President Obama and his top civilian and military advisers to carry out action against those determined complicit in the attack on the United States Mission in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
“Mr. Obama has a range of options available — including drone strikes, Special Operations raids like the one that killed Osama bin Laden; and joint missions with the Libyan authorities — but all carry substantial political, diplomatic and physical risks.”
Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of President Barack Obama's remarks to the UN General Assembly in New York City on Tuesday, in which he condemns global violence and extremism, framing the speech around the recent tragedy at the U.S. consulate in Libya.
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentleman: I would like to begin today by telling you about an American named Chris Stevens.
Chris was born in a town called Grass Valley, California, the son of a lawyer and a musician. As a young man, Chris joined the Peace Corps, and taught English in Morocco. And he came to love and respect the people of North Africa and the Middle East. He would carry that commitment throughout his life. As a diplomat, he worked from Egypt to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Libya. He was known for walking the streets of the cities where he worked -- tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he could, speaking Arabic, listening with a broad smile.
Chris went to Benghazi in the early days of the Libyan revolution, arriving on a cargo ship. As America’s representative, he helped the Libyan people as they coped with violent conflict, cared for the wounded, and crafted a vision for the future in which the rights of all Libyans would be respected. And after the revolution, he supported the birth of a new democracy, as Libyans held elections, and built new institutions, and began to move forward after decades of dictatorship.
Chris Stevens loved his work. He took pride in the country he served, and he saw dignity in the people that he met. And two weeks ago, he traveled to Benghazi to review plans to establish a new cultural center and modernize a hospital. That’s when America’s compound came under attack. Along with three of his colleagues, Chris was killed in the city that he helped to save. He was 52 years old.
I’ve been reflecting on the recent events in Libya involving the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, and every time, I arrive at a different feeling about it all.
There’s the obvious tragedy of a life unnecessarily lost. By all accounts, Stevens was a humble, passionate man who had invested his life in the betterment of the infrastructure for the Libyan people. He was not, as some dignitaries or diplomats tend to be, resting on his credentials in an easy gig, waiting for retirement. He was living out what he believed in a terribly volatile corner of the world.
My heart is heavy.
Every day for the last week, media outlet have told their version of the current uprising stretching across the Middle East (Egypt, Libya, Yemen). Whether it’s pictures of embassies burned to the ground, rioting citizens, or highly politicized comics, the surge of content has been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.
And that’s because the events and corresponding responses have been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.
My heart breaks because I know the events that are unfolding do not represent the majority of those who inhabit the Middle East. I spend a significant amount of time in there and have built deep, life-long friendships.
Just two weeks ago I sat around a table and shared a meal with Christians, Jews and Muslims in the home of a devout Muslim family in the region. A day after that, I served alongside Muslim youth workers who are promoting non-violence and reconciliation in the face of oppression and poverty.
On the same day, I sat with an Arab Christian who embodied Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in dealing with daily injustice by saying, “We refuse to be enemies.” Lastly — and what keeps playing over and over in my head — are the words spoken to me by a Muslim friend named Omar who said,
“Please give this message to all of your American friends. We (Arab Muslims and Christians) desire peace. The violence you see in the news does not represent us. It is not the majority, it is the smallest minority of extremism. Please listen to our story and accept our friendship.”
Muslim and Coptic Christian leaders in the U.S. are pledging not to let a spate of violent protests in some 20 Islamic countries derail recent efforts to improve the sometimes troubled relations between the two communities.
On Sept. 18, the Egyptian government ordered the arrest of seven Egyptian-born Copts now living in the United States who were allegedly involved in an anti-Muslim film that portrayed Islam's Prophet Muhammad as a bumbling sexual pervert.
“We cannot allow the actions of a few deceived fanatical individuals to define our communities,” said Bishop Serapion, head of the Los Angeles Diocese of the Coptic Orthodox Church, speaking during a press conference on Sep. 17 with Muslim leaders in Los Angeles.
“We call on members of both religions to lean on our faiths to counter the hate and the violence with good speech and positive work,” added the Egyptian-born bishop.
The show of solidarity comes almost a week after protesters in Egypt, where about 10 percent of the 90 million Egyptians are Coptic, attacked the U.S. embassy, setting off protests in other Muslim countries, including neighboring Libya, where American ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
Coptic Christian leaders in the United States distanced themselves from an anti-Muslim film that has sparked protests in more than 24 countries, and denounced the Copts who reportedly produced and promoted the film.
"We reject any allegation that the Coptic Orthodox community has contributed to the production of this film," the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of America said in statement on Friday.
"Indeed, the producers of this film have taken these unwise and offensive actions independently and should be held responsible for their own actions."
AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier reports
“WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. is sending more spies, Marines and drones to Libya, trying to speed the search for those who killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, but the investigation is complicated by a chaotic security picture in the post-revolutionary country, and limited American and Libyan intelligence resources. The CIA has fewer people available to send, stretched thin from tracking conflicts across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.”
“To fill in the gaps in spies on the ground, the U.S. intelligence community has kept up surveillance over Libya with unmanned and largely unarmed Predator and Reaper drones, increasing the area they cover, and the frequency of their flights since the attack on the consulate, as well as sending more surveillance equipment to the region, one official said.”
The Associated Press reports
“BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — U.S. drones hovered over the eastern city of Benghazi on Friday and militia forces fired toward the crafts, prompting authorities to close the airport for several hours for fear a commercial aircraft could be hit, Libyan officials said.
“Abdel-Basit Haroun, the head of the militia in charge of city security, said the drones could easily be spotted from the ground. He says men angry over perceived foreign intervention fired in the air and authorities closed the airport.
"The drones are like bees," he said, referring to the long hours the drones were seen, with their buzzing noise heard in different neighborhoods of Benghazi. Militias, known as brigades, fought regime forces during Libya's eight-month civil war that led to Moammar Gadhafi's fall last year. Since then, many have roles in keeping security, though they have not been integrated into government forces.
“An airport official confirmed the firing on the drones was the reason for the airport shutdown.”
When inflamed mobs stormed the U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt on Tuesday, the media quickly looked to a likely spark.
Florida Pastor Terry Jones ignited deadly riots by threatening to burn Qurans in 2010, and by torching the Islamic holy text last year. Recently, Jones said he would promote a crude film that portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a foolish sexual pervert.
But in the days before the protests, Jones made no public mention of the film — called Innocence of Muslims — even as he prepared to stage an “International Judge Muhammad Day” on Sept. 11.
Instead, the man who translated the film into Arabic, sent it to Egyptian journalists, promoted it on his website and posted it on social media was an obscure Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who lives near Washington and proudly touts his ties to Jones.
I finally sat down and watched the entire 11-plus minute video, Innocence of Muslims, which is at the heart of the recent outrage in Islamic countries in Yemen and north Africa. Suffice it to say, I lost a healthy share of brain cells in the process. The narrative – if you can call it that – is incoherent throughout, the sound is barely audible in places and the overall production values make the Annoying Orange series look like Scorsese.
That said, there’s plenty to anger Muslims in this clip, or anyone who values religious tolerance, plural coexistence, or even basic respect for human nature.
During the Libyan revolution, U.S. drones were a significant part of the NATO forces involved, carrying out nearly 150 attacks. But when the conflict ended, the drones stayed. CNN reported in June:
“A senior Libyan official told CNN that the U.S. is flying surveillance missions with drones over suspected jihadist training camps in eastern Libya because of concerns over rising activity by al Qaeda and like-minded groups in the region but said that to the best of his knowledge, they had not been used to fire missiles at militant training camps in the area.”
Following yesterday’s attack in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, President Obama declared that the killers would be found and that “justice will be done.”
CNN reported today on the military role in that "justice:"
The Pentagon dispatched a contingent of Marines to Libya, moved warships toward its coast, and planned to use drones in a stepped up search for those responsible for an attack on a U.S. consulate that killed the American ambassador and three others.”
A “senior military official” provided more details on the planned use of drones
“American drones also were expected to join the hunt for potential targets. They would be part of "a stepped-up, more focused search" for a particular insurgent cell that may have been behind the attack, the official said. The unmanned surveillance aircraft are expected to fly over Benghazi and other areas of eastern Libya to look for militant encampments.”
And, while the reports now are only of surveillance, an educated guess would suggest that the drones are (or soon will be) armed, and that missiles will likely be fired.
Muslim Americans condemned violence in Egypt and Libya that left four Americans dead, but remain concerned that the deaths could rekindle anti-Muslim sentiment just as post-9/11 resentment was starting to ebb.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three embassy workers were killed on Tuesday when fundamentalist protestors attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in response to a low-budget film that attacks Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, reportedly made by an Israeli real estate developer who lives in California.
Imam Talal Eid, the Islamic chaplain at Brandeis University near Boston and a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, predicted the violence would lead to “more resentment” against Muslims, who he criticized for not doing enough against terrorism.