Lack of leaders delays justice in Benghazi attack

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 5:42 p.m.

TRIPOLI, Libya — More than a month after attacks in Libya left the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead, the United States is struggling to bring the killers to justice. But when American officials try to speak to Libyan leaders, there's often no one on the other end of the line.

Moammar Gadhafi's death almost a year ago left a country with few political institutions, and Libya's new political class is still trying to put together a democratically elected government. Infighting has grown even more bitter since the Sept. 11 attack on U.S. outposts in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Many ministries, including those that would take the lead in an investigation, are on autopilot as the new lawmakers plot alliances and betrayals over endless cups of coffee in Tripoli, the capital.

Meanwhile, the Libyan investigation into the attacks is taking place a 400-mile flight away in still-unsettled Benghazi. Security there is provided by militias that have only loose affiliations with the central government, and the efforts of U.S. investigators to search the city's dusty streets for clues have been tightly curtailed.

U.S. lawmakers visiting Tripoli have said the Libyan government has provided almost no information or cooperation as the FBI and others pursue their own investigation. Although Libyan officials say they are working to hunt down the attackers, some acknowledge that the probe is not the top priority.

“The investigation is going to be done sooner or later,” said Saleh Jouda, a member of the new legislature, the General National Congress, and deputy head of the national security committee. But Libya's interim leaders see the undertaking as politically problematic, he said.

“They don't want to deal with it,” he said. “They just want to hand it to the new government.”

It may be weeks before that new government is formed. Meanwhile, Republicans in Washington have seized on security lapses at the U.S. mission before the attacks — as well as the shifting explanations afterward about what transpired — to attack the Obama administration before the election.

On Wednesday, House Republicans dominated a congressional hearing in which former diplomatic security officials said their requests for more security in Libya had been dismissed.

In Tripoli, the day after the attacks and just hours after President Obama announced that Ambassador Christopher Stevens had died along with three others, Libya's new lawmakers were not focused on the incident, although leaders did immediately condemn the deaths. They were instead voting narrowly for the country's first democratically elected prime minister, Mustafa Abushagur, in a previously scheduled ballot.

The frustration has paralyzed the capital, with small conspiracies swirling in the marble-lined hotel lobbies where the emerging political class holds its meetings.

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