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Briefing on Benghazi

Adam Smith — the Washington congressman not the Scot who promoted a competitive marketplace — called the House investigations into Benghazi “a political witch hunt,” according to Politico.

“It’s time to put this madness to an end” … said the the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and Obama administration ally. “It is my hope that today’s briefing is the last act in a sad attempt to manufacture a scandal,” Smith said today as his panel headed into a behind-closed-doors briefing on the attacks.

The public is split on the GOP-led investigations into that fateful night/early morning when U.S. envoy Chris Stevens, State Dept. information officer Sean Smith and CIA operators Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed in separate attacks, a Washington Post/ABC News poll finds. When asked, “Do you think Republicans in Congress are raising legitimate concerns, or are they just political posturing?”, 44 percent said it was legit and for 45 percent it’s politics. But 55 percent think the Obama administration is trying to cover up the facts, so the president isn’t exactly out of the woods.

Hillary Clinton so far remains unscathed. … Her approval rating today is a whopping 62 percent, compared with 68 percent in  December, according to the poll. Twenty-eight percent disapprove. (Perhaps the most shocking number: 9 percent have no opinion. No opinion of a Clinton!)

With the investigations into what happened in Benghazi on Sept. 11 last year much has been made of the administration’s talking points for Sunday Sept. 16 talk shows. What seems to be forgotten is what the initial news reports had to say.

The Washington Post editorial writers were right when in the midst of World War II they noted, “News is only the first rough draft of history.” Still, aren’t you a wee bit curious to know what people on the streets of Benghazi were telling reporters only hours after the attack?

On Wednesday Sept. 12, a Reuters reporter talked to a 17-year-old student named Hamam at the burned out U.S. consulate, who referred to a crude video about the Prophet Mohammad (that had sparked protests in Cairo that night).

“When we had heard that there was a film that was insulting to the Prophet, we, as members of the public, and not as militia brigades, we came to the consulate here to protest and hold a small demonstration.”

The commander of a local defense brigade — remember that in the vacuum left by the fall of Gadhafi brigades were the de facto police force in eastern Libya —  defended the Libyan guards at the U.S. compound who failed to protect the Americans. Wissam Buhmeid mentioned the video and what he saw as justified indignation felt by Muslims.

“I first of all place the blame on the United States itself for allowing such a movie to be produced. This was the product of the anger of Muslims,” Buhmeid said, noting also that the guards had only light weapons in the face of rockets.

“I saw utter chaos. The power went out and it was completely dark,” he said. “There were definitely people from the security forces who let the attack happen because they were themselves offended by the film; they would absolutely put their loyalty to the Prophet over the consulate. The deaths and injuries and attacks are all nothing compared to insulting the Prophet.”

 The Reuters report also acknowledged that the attack on the makeshift U.S. consulate took place on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, and that it could have been an elaborately planned attack.

This much is clear: a crowd gathered at dusk, about 7 p.m. (1700 GMT), chanting slogans against the film and angry at Washington’s failure to act against its promoters. At some point, shooting began, with some in the crowd thinking they were under fire from the consulate. Around 10 p.m., rioters surged into the compound, bullets and grenades flew, and fires started.

Among the assailants, Libyans identified units of a heavily armed local Islamist group, Ansar al-Sharia, which sympathizes with al Qaeda and derides Libya’s U.S.-backed bid for democracy.

At least the FBI has made “some progress” in finding out who is responsible for the attacks.

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