Journalism in the Public Interest

What’s Happening in Libya: A Guide to the Best Coverage

We’ve rounded up the best reporting and stories on yesterday’s killings and post-war Libya.


U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed yesterday along with three of his staff in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya (Reuters)

Here’s the best reporting we’ve found not only on yesterday’s killings but also on post-war Libya. What are we missing? Please leave your favorite stories in comments.


U.S. Suspects Libya Attack Was Planned, New York Times
The connection between an anti-Islam film that reportedly sparked this week’s protests in the Mideast and the attack that killed the American ambassador is unclear. Unnamed U.S. officials have told the New York Times and CNN that militants behind the attack may have instigated a protest against the film as a diversion or taken advantage of it as an opportunity.

Stevens ‘was thrilled to watch the Libyan people stand up’, YouTube
In a U.S. embassy video uploaded to YouTube in May, Ambassador Stevens introduced himselfto the Libyan people. He described his childhood in California and how he fell in love with North Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, and compared the challenges facing Libya to the American Civil War.  

Stevens: ‘The whole atmosphere has changed for the better’, International Herald Tribune
The International Herald Tribune published a tribute to Stevens from foreign correspondent Harvey Morris, which included passages from a “catch-up email”Stevens had written to family and friends in July.

The victims: Sean Smith messaged fellow gamers in hours before attack, Wired
Sean Smith, a foreign service officer stationed in Libya who was also killed, was an avid gamer whose death was first reported by his online friends. Yesterday, he wrote a message to an online gaming friend saying he hoped “we don’t die tonight.” He added, “We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.”

Violence at demonstrations in Benghazi is not unprecedented, BBC
In 2006, during the height of the protests against the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, at least 10 people were killed in Benghazi during a large demonstration. The BBC reported at the time that the Italian consulate in Benghazi had been set on aflame and police had fired on demonstrators. Protesters were reportedly angry because an Italian minister had worn a t-shirt featuring the cartoons.  


The provenance of the movie connected to this week’s protests is murky.

A trailer for The Innocence of Muslims was posted on YouTube in July on an account bearing the name “sam bacile.” Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches first raised questions about information “Bacile” — identified as a California real estate developer — gave to the AP and the Wall Street Journal in recent phone interviews. Christian activist Steve Klein, who has been described in the media as a consultant on the film, told the Atlantic that “Sam Bacile” was a pseudonym and he did not know the person’s true identity. The AP reported that “Bacile” is an Israeli Jew living in California and that he had raised $5 million for the film from 100 Jewish donors. But Klein told the Atlantic that “Bacile” is not Israeli.


With Qaddafi gone, Libya is ‘boiling over’, New York Review of Books
In June, Nicolas Pelham offered an overview of the state of Libya with a focus on outbreaks of tribal violence in the south of the country. The piece also profiles Benghazi, reporting that militias “rule in and around” the city amid a collapse of central authority.

Libya Captors Become the Captives, New York Times Magazine
In May, the magazine profiled former prisoners of the Qaddafi regime who are now in positions of power in Libya. Reporter Robert Worth summed up the state of the government: “Libya has no army. It has no government. These things exist on paper, but in practice, Libya has yet to recover from the long maelstrom of Qaddafi’s rule.”  

State Dept. Warned Americans Away from Libya, Foreign Policy
Just last month, the State Department issued a travel warning against U.S. citizens visiting Libya. “The incidence of violent crime, especially carjacking and robbery, has become a serious problem,” the statement read. “In addition, political violence in the form of assassinations and vehicle bombs has increased in both Benghazi and Tripoli."  

Libya Democracy Clashes with Fervor for Jihad, New York Times
A tale of two emergent political leaders in the new Libya – one, a former jihadi who has renounced violence and says he wants to promote Islamic values as a politician, and the other a militia leader who was held in Guantanamo for six years and has said he wants a Taliban-style Islamist state.

Qaddafi: King of Kings, The New Yorker
Last November, New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson chronicled the life of Libya’s deposed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and how his 42-year reign devastated the country’s civil and political culture, ending in “a void, a sense that his mania had left room in the country for nothing else.”


U.S.-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gaddafi’s Libya, Human Rights Watch
A new Human Rights Watch report includes interviews with 14 Libyans who had fled the country in the 1980s, most of them members of an anti-Qaddafi Islamist group. The Libyans interviewed said they were detained by the U.S., interrogated as terror suspects, and then sent back to Qaddafi’s Libya “at a time when Libya’s record on torture made clear they would face a serious risk of abuse.”  One described being waterboarded by his American captors in Afghanistan.

Files Note Close C.I.A. Ties to Qaddafi Spy Unit, New York Times
Documents found in an abandoned office after Qaddafi’s fall documented what appeared to be regular communications between the CIA and Britain’s MI-6 and Libyan officials about terror suspects, and suggested that prisoners were rendered to Libya for questioning.

As U.S. Rebuilt Ties with Libya, Human Rights Concerns Took Back Seat, ProPublica
The U.S. began normalizing its relations with Libya in 2004, removing the country from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2006. Our explainer from last year covered how oil companies were among the proponents of more engagement with the regime. Evidence also continues to emerge that the U.S. and Qaddafi cooperated on some counterterror efforts, despite the Libyan government’s often inflammatory anti-Western public rhetoric.

Obama’s defense of U.S. role in Libya, MarketWatch
Last March, President Obama defended American involvement in the Libyan conflict, saying: “I firmly believe that when innocent people are being brutalized; when someone like Gadhafi threatens a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region; and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives—then it’s in our national interest to act. And it’s our responsibility. This is one of those times.”

Ongoing coverage: The Guardian | The New York Times Lede Blog | CNN | The Twitter feed of Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell

I didn’t preserve the history, not thinking this would be appearing at ProPublica, so forgive me if a link or two is off.  But it was the topic around the office, this morning, and I did some poking around to quiet the herd.

The Christian Science Monitor’s article on the attack is the only source I could find that mentions that the Libyan security plan included immediate evacuation, due to a recent, similar attack where an al Qaeda bigwig died.

However, it’s worth noting that an evacuation might have been in vain, based on the mention (only?) at Reuters that the safe house was ALSO already under attack, despite its location being a secret.

The Columbia (Missouri) Tribune article was the only article I’ve seen mentioning that this is occuring two weeks before Libya’s first post-Qaddafi elections.

Al Jazeera had an interesting contribution by talking to the film’s producer in its coverage.  He’s in hiding, but despite referring to his work as “provocative,” he’s very angry that his work…uhm…provoked.  On the other hand, as mentioned above, The Atlantic figures “Bacile” for a fake, so take that with a grain of salt.

Global Voices Online also has an interesting rundown on Arab World’s Bloggers’ reaction to the attack, largely calling out the attackers as varying degrees of pathetic.

The better question is: What’s happening at the White House?

When Obama refers to these murders simply as “senseless violence” that’s naive enough. Kids breaking out car windows is senseless violence. What happened in Libya was premeditated murder.

That was stunning enough but then Mr. O. goes further and states that he - the US - “rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.” Isn’t that a bit like telling a rape victim it was her fault?

True Freedom/Liberty will not happen in these countries which experienced so-called ‘Springs’ until and unless they eliminate highly extractive, controlling institutions/philosophies/religions. It will just never happen otherwise. Talk about Winter’s hell.

While it may be offensive, the mark of an advanced culture is where one can make offensive comments about anything and feel safe. In 2012 we ought not to have to fight 1,500 year old battles, which we already fought hundreds of years ago and decided we liked Freedom/Liberty rather than tyranny.

Jefferson had the right idea in mind with his blade and Bible. Institutionally/religiously this needs to happen with the Koran as well, to eliminate the basis used by these small, but very destructive, groups.

The story is the White House attempting to drag Western civilization back in time.

Something is missing in the reporting.

Why would the security team try evacuate from the building and potentially drive into a mob?

What happened to communications concerning the safe house attack?

Was the ambush so effective that the security team could not return fire?

How did they become so predictable in their movements and evacuation plans?

I pray for our Marines, and the families who have lost loved ones.

With all due respect to the victims of premeditated killings of innocent North-Americans in Libya.

God is the truth but ‘None’ of the religions. Small minded blind believers starting from Middle East to North-America are responsible for reacting violently on fabricated (Such as heresies against other heresies, blasphemy etc. type) and preplanned things. Dumb guys, unless wisely educated, will unfortunately believe a few blind guys’ “purposeful ugly political works” to be the works of USA or Libya or Bangladesh or Israel or Egypt etc. etc.

Secret funds transferred through a chain of strangers via other sets of strangers’ hands can cause crimes of guns or bombs at any place on this earth of naturally happy human societies.

The morality of good heads in our territorial Supreme Courts, if not somehow restraind by fake or holy type special-heads per se, the actual killers or master planners are bound to be identified and brought before justice in this era of indestructible digital evidences. No electronic communication is private and therefore top guys in Supreme Courts should not be allowed to suppress the electronically transmitted proofs.


Edmund Singleton

Sep. 13, 2012, 3:33 a.m.

A rumor, any rumor in the MiddleEast can be deadly…

Quick history:

First we were going to establish a no fly zone, but that didn’t stop Q’daffy, so we started ‘humanitarian bombing’ killing hundreds of innocents and creating more hatred for the US:

Then we started ‘arming the rebels’ which flooded the country with arms.
Now the country has so many weapons and so many different roving armed gangs that it’s basically not controllable:

The US installed a puppet who hasn’t lived there for decades as the head of the ridiculous NTC:

The government is a joke and various groups randomly ‘arrest,’ torture and murder each other on a whim:

And weapons are spilling over in to neighboring countries, ex: Mali where weapons we supplied to rebel fighters facilitated an overthrow:


The arms and rebel groups continue to spread across Africa, causing immense dislocations of civilian populations:

But just remember why we are there and not in say Syria. Libyan sweet crude. Syria’s oil production has been declining for years. Multinational oil firms are now cashing in - and this was the plan all along:

So, from above, we poured weapons into the country essentially arming every hoodlum, stood by while chaos reigned and big oil companies took over the oil fields, killed hundreds of civilians with our bombing campaign, creating thousands filled with hatred and now we wonder why a couple of hundred of them turned on us.

Lots more on

Mike, from what I can figure from the (extremely fragmented) reporting, the Libyan authorities recommended evacuating in the event of any crowd forming.  But it looks like they didn’t even consider evacuating until things turned violent.

The fate of the safe house IS a huge question, though.  To my knowledge, we don’t know how the attackers found it or how it was overrun without changing the evacuation plans.

Personally, I think the evidence released so far argues strongly against a protest-turned-riot (due to the weapons and organization) or an ideological terror attack aimed at the United States (because of the safe house attack).  My gut says that the mastermind is someone connected to law enforcement and behind one of the candidates in the upcoming elections.  The protest provided an opportunity and al Qaeda rumors provide deniability, but this reeks of someone pushing for an authoritarian government.

R, in principle, you might be right, but the fact of the matter is that we’re not that civilized, yet.  There isn’t a single religious or ethnic group in this county that doesn’t routinely wig out when their mythology is questioned.  Rich, white guys insist we unwashed masses persecute them because we’re jealous.  African-American associations insist that every move is designed to put their people back in chains.  Jewish organizations consider it a hate crime to so much as question the validity of any part of the Holocaust narrative, even disproven things like the human-skin lampshades.

It’s not right, and it’d be nice if we could grow out of it, but to accuse the Arab world of being backward primitives when you can get an outright death threat in the United States for saying abortion is OK (or not OK) or asking how “never forget"ting is stopping deaths over a decade later?  It’s a little disingenuous.

Again, I’m not defending the position of the offended people at all.  I also don’t think that people should ever avoid a topic because it might offend a bunch of people.  But, if you’re willing to get X-Rayed at the airport as a “minor” infringement on your civil liberties to (somehow) avoid endangering American lives (a line of reasoning which offends me, by the way), it’s willfully ignorant to do something guaranteed to offend the Muslim world knowing that it endangers American lives.

John, you are correct that the US/Western civilization is not ‘there’ yet. But to even suggest the Islamic world is close to our position is simply a farrago of delusion.

I also think you’re being a bit dullard in comparing isolated ‘threats’ in the US with institutionally/culturally/religiously encouraged/enforced beheadings/violence for non-sanctioned opinions about Mohammed/Islam in Moslem countries.

I do agree, though, that there are subsections of US/Western civilization which still just don’t ‘get’ Freedom/Liberty.

As I said, I don’t condone the violence, and won’t defend their offense.  My point is just that demanding that they “chill out” (for lack of a better term) while a huge number of people in this country have hot-button issues that come close to violence…well, it’d be like preaching sexual equality from a country where women aren’t allowed to own property.  It’s hard and doesn’t benefit to grade on a curve.

(Security-wise, I’m still told to this day that I should shut up about my civil liberties, because we’re still the “most free,” as if just being better than everybody else—assuming that’s even true—was anybody’s interest in such things.)

Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s NOT the culture coming to violence.  The attack was well-orchestrated, surgical, and professional, not some random protest-turned-riot.  Rioters don’t anticipate an evacuation by attacking the secret safe house beforehand, for example.

This came from high up the food chain, and used the protest to cover the action until it was too late.  And I guarantee whoever was behind it was NOT motivated by his beloved prophet fictionally being caught with his pants down.

Which reminds me, I just spotted this gem over lunch.  If true, we’ve been training the staff by correspondence and crossing our fingers, rather than paying to actually train them.

Natalie Simpson

Sep. 13, 2012, 6:40 p.m.

I think this article was fair…............................. Thank you reporter.

What a difference another 24 hours has made.  The conspiracy is getting deeper.  In one source I read the backing group was Global Jihad. No confirmation though.

John one thing to consider, though it is a stretch, is the hate fomented by these groups is not much different than methods used by the KKK.  Generations of hate reinforced within communities and families, no guilt for murdering, suffocating, lynching, or burning.  Just mindless calls for retribution, with undertones of religious superiority as their claim for justification.  But in this case these groups have more money than any other group in history.  (a broad base of support)

That terrorists might attack us or that violence might erupt at a protest isn’t what I’m doubting, Mike.  It’s more of a matter of, let’s say “style,” for want of a real term.

Nobody—and we’re seeing parallel protests in other places that bear this out—brings heavy weapons to a protest; that was even mostly true during their revolt.  Also, nobody really attacks consulates (it happens, but it’s pretty rare), because they’re generally boring.  And neither protestors nor terrorists generally are so well-informed and organized that they compromise safe houses before they’re needed…but when they do, there’s also a lot of collateral damage, which we’re not seeing.

However, those do match up with the tactics of a tactical police force.  Do the research, cut off the escape routes, surround the target, bring out the heavy weapons, and keep the target in focus.  Local police would also have access to both the weapons and the security measures.

I could very well be wrong, and I’ll probably change my mind another fifteen times as new evidence comes to light, but the “shape” of the events doesn’t fit the profile of an angry mob or a paramilitary action.  Generally, any strategy carries a legacy with it.  You may not be able to pinpoint the culprit’s identity that way, but you can usually detect their influences and background, especially when someone tries hard to disguise themselves.

A new wrinkle, by the way:  It’s looking like the “movie” was a hoax to begin with, though I don’t have a URL handy.  The Muslim references are poorly dubbed in, and the actors are coming forth to say (and casting calls back them up) they filmed a low-budget movie about pre-Islamic Egyptians.

When you consider that the entire Islamic world had been familiar with the trailer before anybody in the west had heard of it, this all seems even more suspiciously manipulative.

Yet another wrinkle.  One of the victims was an ex-SEAL contracted to find and destroy missing surface-to-air missiles.  Considering that they’re fingering a shoulder-mounted missile in the attack, I’m guessing this detail is relevant.

I wonder if this is related to the mention that the Libyan security men were outside the compound taking pictures.

Something to consider.

Chris Stevens may have been targeted because he was being successful with turning things around.  That would have been a threat to the terrorists.

Still reading conflicting reports about the security details (Marines) being ordered to carry weapons with the bolts removed, or no ammunition.  This is really bad.

If as is being reported that there was a leak in the Libyan security forces, the attackers would have known the readiness stature of the security details.

There has been more information since this report.  I’d look for a more recent article.  They now know the identity of the creator of the anti-muslim fim.  He wrote it while he was doing “time” in prision.  There is a right wing conspiracy to incite violence.  Pastor Terry Jones (the infamous Koran burner) promoted this film.  He is responsible for American deaths, twice, now.  And twice, did a General have to call him and ask him to stop because he is putting the TROOPS IN HARMS WAY!

You just can’t figure out these Muslim extremist’s..!!!

A cheap film about Muslim prophet…no one killed by the film.  No mosques destroyed or holy Muslim books burned. 

Yet Muslims riot and kill in the streets all over the world.


Well let me ask…Where is the outrage and riots over the slaughter of Muslims, the destruction of hundreds of Muslim Mosques of every sect, the buring of

thousands of Muslim holy books….all in Syria by Bashar Assad the ruler of Syria. 


TELL ME…where are the Muslim nations?  Where…are the Muslim’s who are outraged?


Bashar Assad has mass murdered over 39,000 (over 29,000 known and at least 10,000 dead still buried under the rubble) Syrian Muslims !!  Butchered unarmed

Muslim civilians…men, women, children and babies.

Assad has arrested or disappeared over 235,000 other Muslim Syrian people.  No one knows how many for sure…no one has seen them.) He has slit their

throats after capture, burned them alive in their homes, burried them in mass graves hundreds at a time, and drops barrles of TNT on them everyday…wiping

them off the face of the Earth !!


Where is this so called Muslim outrage ???

None….nothing anywhere !!  Not one protest against Assad’s attackes on Muslims and Muslim mosques recently….anywhere outside Syria !! 

Yet…today…and I mean right now !!!  Assad is shelling with artillery, and bombing with planes Muslim cities, villages and towns…just as he has for 19


Not one Muslim on TV, or in the streets to protest this slaughter!



Yet here we have Muslims all across the world as “Movie Critics” burning and killing over the insult ???  Many of the protesters interviewed had not even

seen the movie trailer clip…the whole Movie (likely a fake)  still unreleased. 

Yet ...What?? Protesting the unseen, unheard…unknown insult??


What about the actual act, the actual destruction of Muslim People and their Holy places of worship?  How can Muslim’s let Bashar Assad act..and not

protest such atrocities against Muslims?


If there is this little outrage over Syria’s Muslims being slaughtered ...then all this rioting and outrage over an unpublished movie and it’s trailer is

just a bunch of Muslim BS!  Useless waste of lives and energy. 


If Muslims don’t care about what is going on in Syria .....Muslim’s just don’t care…AT ALL !!!

They lie and pretend to even be Muslims caring about Islam !!

I protest ....the lack out outrage over Syria !!!

@ john…texas

the owners of american media want you to believe that US should stop Bashar Assad and “help ” syria. much like we helped iraq and confiscated their wmd’s. there are much higher interests in syria and i can asure you none of them are about helping the syrian people or stopping a tyrant.

The terrorists have capitalized on an opportunity.  It is a sick joke of playing capture the flag, raising the black jihadist flag on flag poles.  Assad is just as dirty as Saddam, and the nut job in Iran.

John…Texas, they ARE protesting, and many are sacrificing their lives to do it.  It was in the news for, like, fifteen minutes on a slow day a few months ago.  But as “random kid” points out, there’s a “higher-level narrative” of some sort regarding Syria, so we’re supposed to ignore all that.

We’re also supposed to ignore that we have an embargo preventing Syrians from buying, say, cryptographic technology that would allow them to communicate privately while we sell surveillance to the government—including the technology that apparently tracked Marie Colvin’s phone to target her hotel.

And Mike, I agree about Stevens.  The counter-protests make it clear that he’s a big name in Libya and the people credit him for a big part of rebuilding the country.  That makes him a target not just for terrorists, but for anybody who’d rather not see the recent stability continue through next week’s elections.

Also, don’t forget that Washington is capitalizing on this opportunity, as well, trying to pretend that this was spontaneous violence that’s all about the World Trade Center.  Our guys WANT this to be terrorists, possibly because they want a foothold in Africa, since China has been so successful there and the Pentagon could really do with some spare rare earth metals.

I appreciate your wise-thinkng ability. Salute to Mr. /Mrs. A., B., C., there & esp J., M., R. here. Thank you for positive contribution to a world changing thing.

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