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Among the many questions Trey Gowdy’s select committee on the 2012 Benghazi attacks should ask is this: Who leaked the sealed sentencing transcript of video maker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula?
This is the one question that haunts Nakoula most. “Why did the government release the deal?” Nakoula asked me. “Why did they put my life in danger?”
Nakoula does not exaggerate. On Sept. 14, 2012, Smoking Gun published the document under the headline, “Producer Of Anti-Islam Film Was Fed Snitch.”
Nakoula, a Coptic Christian from Egypt, had been arrested in June 2009 for his role in a check-kiting ring. He chose to cooperate in the feds’ pursuit of the ring’s mastermind in return for a lesser sentence.
Someone in the federal government released this sealed document less than 48 hours after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton first blamed the Benghazi attack on Nakoula’s video, “The Innocence of Muslims.”
“The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” said Clinton on the night of Sept. 11 while former Navy SEALs Ty Woods and Glen Doherty were still fighting for their lives on a Benghazi rooftop.
This was the same Hillary Clinton, by the way, who a year earlier happily applauded Broadway’s “Book of Mormon,” a scandalously potty-mouthed riff on the Mormon religion with charming lyrics like “F–- you, God, in the a–, mouth, and c–-.”
It seems likely that the Obama administration was also leaking its Nakoula strategy to the New York Times.
According to the Times, “Earlier in the week, federal officials appeared to be investigating whether Mr. Nakoula had been the person who uploaded the video to YouTube.”
“If so,” the Times continued, “[Nakoula] would have violated the terms of his sentencing in a conviction in a 2010 check-kiting case, which includes restrictions against his using the Internet without permission from a probation officer.”
Earlier in the week? The Times reported this on Sept. 15, just three days after the smoke had cleared in Benghazi.
The release of this information put a major target on Nakoula’s back and that of his family. At the time, given the White House’s widely echoed blame-the-video narrative, Nakoula believed himself responsible for the death of the four Americans in Benghazi.
“I felt I had blood on my hands,” Nakoula told me in a phone interview Monday. “I felt like I deserved my punishment.”
That punishment was swift in coming. Less than two weeks after the Smoking Gun article, a federal judge ordered Nakoula to be detained without bail.
Although the authorities were still holding Nakoula’s American passport, Judge Suzanne Segal deemed Nakoula a flight risk who posed “some danger to the community.”
The only “danger” Nakoula posed was as a target of Islamic wrath or that of his cohorts in the check-kiting scheme.
Among the very real death threats Nakoula faced was one from a Pakistani cabinet minister who put a $100,000 bounty on Nakoula’s head.
The Justice Department responded to those foreign threats against an American national by recommending a two-year prison term for the American.
It could have been worse. Egyptian courts sentenced Nakoula to death for his role in the video.
As the Times predicted, the most prominent charge brought against Nakoula was his use of the Internet without the authorization of his parole officer.
Feeling like he had little choice, Nakoula pleaded guilty to four of the eight charges against him and was sentenced to one year in prison and four years of supervised release.
Imprisoning Nakoula served two purposes for the Obama administration. For one, it signaled to the Muslim world Obama’s willingness to suppress any anti-Muslim sentiment.
Consider, for instance, this exchange from the Sept. 18, 2012, David Letterman show, perversely enough the first occasion on which Obama took questions about the Benghazi attack.
LETTERMAN: Now, I don’t understand, um, the ambassador to Libya killed in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi. Is this an act of war? Are we at war now? What happens here?
OBAMA: Here’s what happened. You had a video that was released by somebody who lives here, sort of a shadowy character who – who made an extremely offensive video directed at – at Muhammad and Islam.
LETTERMAN: Making fun of the Prophet Muhammad.
OBAMA: Making fun of the Prophet Muhammad. And so, this caused great offense in much of the Muslim world.
This is the same David Letterman who a year later would use the occasion of Pope Francis’ World Youth Day appearance to say, “And I’m telling you if there’s anything the kids can’t get enough of, it’s a 76-year-old virgin. Come on! World Youth Day. Or as the Vatican calls it, salute to altar boys.”
And yet here was the sycophantic Letterman, like virtually everyone else in the major media, sharing Obama’s outrage that someone would dare make fun of the “Prophet Muhammad.”
The second purpose Nakoula’s imprisonment served, of course, was to silence him – not that the major media needed much prompting to deny him his voice.
Their collective indifference to his plight shocked Nakoula, but that was only because he had paid insufficient attention to the media’s giddy quest to get Obama re-elected.
When, some months after his arrest, I tracked Nakoula down to the Federal Correctional Institution–La Tuna at the westernmost tip of West Texas, I was the first person in the media to contact him.
When I called him on Monday, he was still confined to a halfway house in Orange County, Calif., nearly six months after he was supposed to have been freed.
“Why did you punish me again?” he asks angrily of the Justice Department. “Why? It was not in original judgment.”
In the age of Obama, though, with all due apology to Alfred Lord Tennyson, Nakoula’s role is not to reason why. His role is to do and die or, at the very least, keep his mouth shut until someone shuts it for him.
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