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Word on the Benghazi street

By MORGAN STRONG, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Jan. 17, 2013 at 12:04 AM   |   Comments

BRICK, N.J., Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The word from Libyan journalists in Benghazi is that the attack on the U.S. consulate was carried out, not by terrorists, but by remaining elements of Moammar Gadhafi supporters. Libyan Deputy Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharif has publically claimed that the attack was carried out by pro-Gadhafi elements.

Libyan government officials have said that there is no significant presence of al-Qaida in Libya and they would be incapable of carrying out the attack on the consulate. There is, however; a significant number of well-armed Gadhafi loyalists there who are determined to return the Gadhafi family to power.

In an HBO documentary "Witness: Libya," journalist Michael C. Brown interviewed several leaders of the Libyan revolution, as well as interim government officials who claim that remaining Gadhafi supporters are substantial in number and a serious threat to the revolution. They are, said one, "opportunists" plotting a counter-revolution.

Gadhafi created a climate of paranoia among the Libyan people which persists, despite the overthrow of the dictator. The consequences of this state of paranoia make a common trust among the Libyan people untenable and a common purpose impossible.

Libya remains in a state of near anarchy; weapons are plentiful; well-armed militia, accountable to no authority, roam the major cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. The central government is too fragmented to impose order.

In February 2006 a mob attacked the Italian consulate in Benghazi. Eleven people were killed and the consulate burned. The attack was in response to Italian Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli flaunting a T-shirt on television defaming Islam.

Gadhafi was engaged in negotiations with the Italian government then over the amount of money to be paid Libya in compensation for occupation of Libya by Italian forces, which began in the early 1930s lasting through the early 1940s. A total of $5 billion was paid to Gadhafi by the Italian government in 2008. The attack and the burning of the Italian consulate were widely viewed as a tactic by Gadhafi to force the Italian government to settle the dispute on his terms.

Most of Gadhafi's' family managed to escape the anti-Gadhafi revolution and obtain sanctuary in nearby countries. News reports indicate the remaining family members will take residence in South Africa. Gadhafi's wife Safia, his sons Hannibal, Muhammed, Saadi and his daughter Aisha have managed to find sanctuary there. Despite their collective, and individual, responsibility for crimes committed under the regime. Another son, Seif remains in jail in Tripoli awaiting trial.

Gadhafi's wealth, estimated at $30 billion, is secreted in banks abroad. That amount of money would allow the family to fund a counter-revolution in Libya. The present state of anarchy there would provide an excellent opportunity to create havoc, if not find success, in their attempt to return to power.

The Libyan government, the United States, and its intelligence community and the member states of NATO are profoundly embarrassed that Gadhafi supporters were capable to carry out the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has joined the criticism of in claiming that the NATO intervention in Libya was a failure. "Libya "is disintegrating," Putin said at a news conference in Moscow, pointing to the fractious groups that have been struggling for control of the country since Gadhafi was overthrown.

"You've asked me about [my] mistakes but wasn't this a mistake? And do you want us to go on constantly repeating these mistakes in other countries?" Putin said.

Putin, along with U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have denounced the attack on the consulate as demonstrating a failure of the present administration's policies in Libya. McCain has been particularly vitriolic in his condemnation of the administration for its failure to properly identify those responsible for the attack on the consulate.

McCain has failed to name those responsible, for the attack on the consulate despite his positions on the Senate's Homeland Security and Government Affairs, and Armed Services Committees, where he is privy to the most sensitive intelligence reports, including intelligence reports examining the consulate attack.

There is a degree of hypocrisy on McCain's part in dealing with Gadhafi and the revolution. A delegation of U.S. senators, led by McCain, visited Libya in early October 2011 to pledge U.S. support for the new government, to praise the revolution and perhaps most importantly to extract promises of favorable treatment for U.S. business interests in Libya.

In August 2009 though, McCain visited Libya as part of another congressional delegation and, according to a confidential U.S. Embassy cable published by WikiLeaks, regarded Gaddafi quite differently. McCain viewed the dictator as an important collaborator in what President George W. Bush had dubbed the "war on terror."

McCain along with three other senators -- Graham, Joe Lieberman, Ind.-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine -- had meetings with Gadhafi and one of his sons to discuss the dismantling of Libya's weapons of mass destruction programs and in expanding Libya's cooperation on counter-terrorism.

The cable stated McCain expressed a willingness to give Libya equipment to help with its internal security challenges. McCain assured Gadhafi's son that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its security," the cable read.

The enmity that has been so painfully demonstrated by the attacks on the Obama administration for its failure, or resistance, to name those responsible for the tragedy at the consulate in Benghazi is demonstrative of the divisions that engulf and separate our political parties here. These divisions only encourage disparate nations, those who hold with grievances toward this country, to abandon caution and disparage the United States to their perceived advantage.

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(Morgan Strong is a former professor of Middle Eastern History and was an adviser to "60 Minutes" on the Middle East. He is a contributing editor to The Tripoli Post in Libya.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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