WASHINGTON – Back in 1979 when a mob attacked and burned the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, Libya, while an unstable Moammar Gadhafi was in power, American officials decided to respond by banning Libyan nationals from entering the U.S. to train as pilots or nuclear scientists.
Now, following a 2012 attack by Islamists that killed America’s ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, and the Arab Spring that destabilized other North African and Middle Eastern nations, and which, according to one analysis, left “particularly severe” fragmentation of Libyan society so that the “chances of the country’s dissolution are high,” American officials want to drop that ban.
The request to lift the Reagan-era passport ban that restricts Libyan nationals from entering the U.S. to train for those two positions is coming from officials with the Department of Homeland Security and the 9/11 Commission – because, “It simply isn’t needed to keep America safe from harm.”
It was earlier this month at a joint congressional hearing that House Oversight and Government Reform Committee members pressed Border Security Subcommittee officials to give sound reasoning for the current administration’s request in light of late-March reports that indicate Libya is overrun by al-Qaida, Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist-backed Islamist militias and is on the verge of a civil war.
A commentary at Gatestone Institute even noted there is a move to bring an Islamic monarchy back to Libya.
And according to a just-released report by Clare M. Lopez of the Citizens Commission on Benghazi, “Early 2011 was swarming with al-Qaida and Muslim Brotherhood militias and affiliates fighting to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.”
But Democrats are calling the restriction “an anachronistic relic of a bygone era.”
“Why are we willing to risk, no matter the likelihood, chancing Libyan extremists or terrorists to come here to essentially learn the skills to commit acts of terror … why now specifically? What has changed? The burden of advocating for change, in my judgment, in the status quo lies with the administration,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said in testimony.
Oversight committee members cited Obama’s “failed” promise to secure diplomatic posts worldwide immediately following the 2012 Benghazi attacks.
“I have also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world,” Obama said then. “Make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.”
But nothing has happened yet.
According to Oversight testimony, DHS Assistant Secretary of International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer Alan Bersin, formerly an Obama recess appointee, wrote a memo last February to then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano recommending the secretary take regulatory action to rescind the rule. His rationale for rescinding the rule echoed the same reasons CBP officials gave during the testimony.
Bersin stated in the memo, “DHS has determined that maintaining this regulation would no longer reflect current U.S. government policy toward Libya” while failing to mention the Benghazi attacks.
“What’s most surprising is that the memo postdates the tragic day in Benghazi when our country lost four Americans during a terrorist attack,” Oversight Committee member Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said in the hearing.
Chaffetz said Libya was so broken down at the time of the attacks that it was impossible to obtain ground intelligence.
“We couldn’t even send our FBI into eastern Libya for 18 days because it was so dangerous. We couldn’t get the intelligence that we needed. We couldn’t even get the FBI to go into that part of the country. And yet we want to give those same people a visa to come to the United States to learn about nuclear sciences. Wow,” Chaffetz said.
While failing to describe the state of chaos in Libya, Bersin in his memo cited the current administration’s plan to “encourage engagement and educational exchanges in coming years with the Libyan government.”
He said the Defense Department is involved in a $2 billion deal to purchase aircraft and conduct pilot training and ground crew training and that the money would go to other countries if the visa restrictions on Libyans were not lifted.
“The Departments of Defense and State have made it clear that absent its rescission the regulation will significantly hamper these efforts,” he said in the memo.
To support their argument, Democrats said recent Defense Department reports state the fleet is aging, needs repair, more flight crew members need to be trained, and the only thing standing in the way of procurement are the visa restrictions. Democrats cited partisan policy as the roadblock to Libya’s successful transition to a democratic government.
“Members on the other side of the aisle may raise the unfortunate attacks in Benghazi at this hearing today. But that event actually underscores why we should lift the visa restriction. On the night of the attack, it was one of those very same Lockheed C-130 transport planes that the Libyan government used to rescue and evacuate the surviving consular personnel at the U.S. compound in Benghazi. Rather than used against us, that plane helped Americans survive,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said in testimony.
In a column recently published at Accuracy in Media, Clare M. Lopez, a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy and a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi, said that on the heels of the attacks, a new presidential finding cemented policy to lend material support to terrorism.
“The next chapter in the U.S. jihad wars was under way … and the American people barely noticed,” she said.