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Originally published Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 3:17 PM

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Editorial: Lessons from Benghazi’s bedlam

Extensive reporting by The New York Times on the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi reveals the mindless prattle of GOP congressional critics.

Seattle Times Editorial

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BRAVELY working on the front lines of upheaval after the assassination of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, U.S. diplomats and security officers lost their lives to fatal assumptions.

An extensive report Sunday in The New York Times, led by reporter David D. Kirkpatrick, laid out the circumstances surrounding the four deaths in 2012, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Republicans in Congress, including Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, held hearings last May to blame the Obama administration for a cover-up of an attack by al-Qaida, and manifest failures by the administration to protect U.S. personnel in Benghazi.

The New York Times determined al-Qaida had nothing to do with the attack — one of many misunderstandings and misconceptions raised by the GOP in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election.

Instead, The Times found an explosive combination of tensions between layers of local militia groups in Benghazi, where the revolt against Gadhafi began.

The U.S. was operating on assumptions in unfamiliar territory about who was a friend or foe of any U.S. presence. They proved fatal when supposed allies were asked for local intelligence or, eventually, help.

An already dangerous and combustible atmosphere was ignited by a crude American-made video spread on YouTube that denigrated Islam in the eyes of the faithful.

A Muslim cleric in Benghazi had denounced the video and America to his followers days before the attack. A combination of local religious, political and economic tensions focused wrath at the U.S. compound in the midst of Benghazi.

Volatile local conditions between fragmented militias, not al-Qaida or any external group, were behind the attack. Local looters, not international terrorists, were present at the blaze, which killed the ambassador by smoke inhalation.

Hastings and his colleagues got no further than being mocked on Saturday Night Live.

The fatal flaw was a lack of local knowledge about the local players in a dangerous setting, amid the lethal consequences of religious tensions easily exploited.

These are lessons the U.S. has not learned in several venues and war zones.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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