The gruesome murders of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and 3 other Americans at the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya have deservedly attracted much attention. But it is the latest, not the first, in a pattern of disregard for the safety of American diplomats as is evidenced in other African diplomatic stations.
On August 26th, 2011 a suicide bomber blew up the United Nation’s headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria literally a couple of blocks from the US embassy. At the end of the day, more than 2 dozen people from different countries lost their lives. A US government official and an American working for the UN were fortunate to survive this bold strike by the jihadist terror group Boko Haram.
While current news headlines are filled with the travails of American oilworkers kidnapped by Islamist terrorists in Algeria, not a whimper emerged from the State Department on the Americans including one of their own, caught up in this bombing. That was 2011.
On January 20, 2012 Boko Haram went on a large scale onslaught against all security agencies in the northern Nigerian city of Kano. The police headquarters, barracks, intelligence headquarters, police stations were amongst the numerous targets of simultaneous attacks that left over 200 people dead. It was to be the highest single day death toll in any global conflict in 2012 until Syria tied with Kano much later in the year.
In April, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, ambassador Johnnie Carson bragged at the Center for Strategic International Studies that the US was going to open a consulate in Kano and that the State Department had “pots of money” ready to recruit Americans to go there. This was in a city where the police had shuttered several of their police stations after the January 20 seige because they could not defend them.
A few months later in July, ambassador Carson denied before a congressional hearing chaired by Congressman Chris Smith that any Iranian arms had come into Nigeria. This was inspite of the fact that in violation of UN sanctions requested by the United States, Iran had surreptitiously shipped 13 containers of weapons into Nigeria which the government confiscated and reported to the UN Security Council. As a colleague stated, even if ambassador Carson’s defense is that he has not been reading cables from the US embassy in Nigeria, what is his excuse for not reading the Washington Post? The Iran arms story has been reported by numerous news media and pops up in the most elementary google search.
Last week Boko Haram ambushed Nigerian troops heading to Mali to assist the US and French operation to counter the jihadist invasion. Yet the US still refuses to designate Boko Haram as a “foreign terrorist organization” preferring to view it as a local expression of legitimate grievances even though Boko Haram is also active in northern Mali (now recognized as an Alqaeda arrow head in Africa.)
Given all of this information how is the state department not culpable in a pattern of discounting incontrovertible intelligence and enacting policies and plans that present a clear and present danger to American diplomats? Especially considering that a father walked into the embassy in Abuja to report his terrorist son and yet the underpants bomber still got on a Delta flight to Detroit…
True, diplomacy is often considered the profession of artful lying. But the State Department seems to have skipped the inaugural diplomacy 001 class – “you lie to the opponent not to your people.” By an admixture of omission of facts and commission of falsehoods, the state department has woven a complex web of subterfuge that can only serve to imperil and self-sabotage the US more. It was one nameless diplomat in August 2011, then an ambassador and 3 others a year later but it’s the same culture of disregard for the truth - regardless of Hilary Clinton’s congressional testimony on Benghazi.
Spero contributor Emmanuel Ogebe, a human rights lawyer and international affairs analyst is Special Counsel for Jubilee Campaign’s “Justice for Jos” Project.