JERUSALEM – As the House Oversight Committee hears from witnesses presenting a chronological timeline that starkly contrasts with initial statements by the Obama administration on the Benghazi attacks, it is instructive to recall how the administration spent $70,000 in taxpayer funds on an ad denouncing an anti-Muhammad film.
The ad aired on Pakistani television amid White House claims that the Benghazi attacks were caused by popular protests against an obscure Muhammad film released on YouTube.
It would later emerge that no such protests took place and that the Obama administration almost immediately had evidence the Benghazi attacks were carried out by jihadists.
The ads reportedly aired on seven Pakistani networks. They also came in response to protests in Pakistan that were reportedly a reaction to the film. However, it was the claim of popular protests in Benghazi at the time that garnered the biggest public reaction from the White House.
The Sept. 19, 2012, ads feature Obama and Clinton making statements against the film in the wake of the Benghazi attacks, which transpired one week prior.
“Since our founding, the United States has been a nation of respect, that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” Obama says in the ad, which is stamped “paid content.”
Clinton then denies any official U.S. involvement in producing the “Innocence of Muslims” video.
“We absolutely reject its contents,” she says.
The Obama administration blamed the YouTube video for what it claimed were popular protests that engulfed the Benghazi mission.
On Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012, three days before the ads were released, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on five morning television programs to discuss the White House response to the Benghazi attacks. In nearly identical statements, she asserted that the attacks were a spontaneous protest in response to a “hateful video.”
Rice’s spot on “Face the Nation” was preceded by the new president of Libya, Mohammed al-Magariaf, who said his government had “no doubt that this was pre-planned, predetermined.”
Still, other Obama administration officials made similar claims about the film being behind the Benghazi attacks.
Scores of news reports, video and intelligence evidence that was immediately available to the government had demonstrated there were no popular protests outside the Benghazi facility and that the attacks were carried out by jihadists.
The claims about the anti-Muhammad film being behind the Benghazi attacks are also now called into question by a top State Department official who said he knew immediately the attacks were terror strikes, not a protest turned violent, according to interview transcripts released Sunday.
“I thought it was a terrorist attack from the get-go,” said Greg Hicks, a 22-year foreign service diplomat who was the No. 2 U.S. official in Libya at the time of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks. “I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning.”
According to Hicks, “everybody in the mission” believed it was an act of terror “from the get-go.”
Reacting to Rice’s television interviews blaming the anti-Muhammad film, Hicks stated, “I’ve never been as embarrassed in my life, in my career, as on that day.”
In testimony yesterday, Hicks said he was “stunned,” his “jaw dropped” and he was “embarrassed” when Rice blamed the terror attack on an Internet video.
“The YouTube video was a non-event in Libya,” he stated.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.