TIME Terrorism

Capture of Benghazi Suspect Again Raises Question: Guantanamo or the Courts?

U.S. President Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq at the White House
U.S. President Barack Obama on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, June 13, 2014. Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

Obama Administration opting for courts, after a Navy cruise

The capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the recently-snatched alleged ringleader of the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, once again highlights the split in the national debate over how to handle terrorists: Are they prisoners of war, or are they criminals?

Many terrorists linked to al-Qaeda were sent to Guantanamo Bay during George W. Bush’s presidency. Many others have been tried in civilian courts. According to the nonprofit group Human Rights First, there have been almost 500 people convicted on terror-related charges in federal civilian criminal courts since 9/11, compared to eight convictions in the Pentagon’s military commissions.

The Obama Administration prefers the federal court route, which is how it plans to proceed with Khattala—generating Republican criticism. “The Obama Administration should immediately transfer him to the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay for detention and interrogation,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“Rather than rushing to read him his Miranda rights and telling him he has the right to remain silent, I hope the Administration will focus on collecting the intelligence necessary to prevent future attacks,” added Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Who’d have thought a 1966 Supreme Court ruling designed to protect Ernesto Arturo Miranda’s confession to kidnapping, rape and armed robbery while under police interrogation would become the rope in a tug-of-war between the White House and Congress nearly a half-century later on how to handle captured terrorists?

Legal expert Jack Goldsmith. a former Pentagon lawyer now teaching at Harvard Law School, doubts the U.S. could hold Khattala in military detention, or try him before a military commission. That’s because Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has said the Benghazi attack didn’t fall under the congressional authorization for the use of military force, nor, in Goldsmith’s view, did it amount to a “conflict subject to the rules of war.”

Sending Khattala to Guantanamo is “the easy way out,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), chairman of the judiciary committee, who applauded his move into the federal court system. “We will try Khattala just as we have successfully tried more than 500 terrorism suspects since 9/11.”

The Obama Administration is actually straddling the issue, by housing Khattala aboard a Navy vessel in the Mediterranean for questioning (the Los Angeles Times reports he did get a Miranda warning “shortly after his capture” following initial questioning about other potential terror threats under a “public safety” exemption). “We should have some quality time with this guy—weeks and months,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an Air Force reserve lawyer, said Tuesday. “Don’t torture him, but have some quality time with him.”

The Administration has questioned at least two other terror suspects aboard ships for up to two months before dispatching them into the federal court system.

“The only reason for having him on a U.S. warship is to provide a nice quiet environment where the investigators can work their wiles on him,” says Eugene Fidell, a military-law lecturer at the Yale Law School and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice. “If the government wanted to have Khattala at the E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse [in Washington, D.C.] by four o’clock, he’d be there. The notion seems to have taken root that the government has, if not all the time in the world, as much time as it reasonably wants to see if can coax these people into making statements.”

TIME Libya

U.S. Captures Suspected Ringleader of Benghazi Attack

Ahmed Abu Khatallah is suspected in the 2012 attack

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American authorities have captured a suspected “key figure” in the 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, officials confirmed on Tuesday, during a covert raid in Libya that gives a welcome foreign policy victory for the Obama Administration.

U.S. Special Forces and law-enforcement personnel apprehended Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a senior leader of the militant group Ansar al-Shari’a, on Sunday, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

“He is in U.S. custody in a secure location outside of Libya,” Kirby said. “There were no civilian casualties related to this operation, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely departed Libya.

American officials wouldn’t yet say where Khatallah will be transferred to, though he is expected to be turned over to law enforcement for trial in the U.S. in the coming days. The Department of Justice filed charges against Khatallah in a sealed indictment in federal court last year.

Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed during the Sept. 11, 2012 attack. It became a rallying cry for conservative critics of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy record in the run-up to the 2012 elections, and congressional Republicans have continued to probe the Administration’s handling of the incident and its aftermath.

“The United States has an unwavering commitment to bring to justice those responsible for harming Americans,” Obama said in a statement. “Since the deadly attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, I have made it a priority to find and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of four brave Americans. I recently authorized an operation in Libya to detain an individual charged for his role in these attacks, Ahmed Abu Khatallah. The fact that he is now in U.S. custody is a testament to the painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement and intelligence personnel.”

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham quickly said on Twitter that “Khattala should be held at Guantánamo as a potential enemy combatant.” But Obama made clear his Administration is taking another route.

“This individual will now face the full weight of the American justice system,” Obama said.

“With this operation, the United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans,” he added. “We will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”

Khatallah was added to the State Department’s designated list of terrorists in January. He was living relatively openly in Libya after the attacks, sitting for several interviews with Western reporters last year. Khatallah is the first suspect to have been captured for suspected involvement in the attack. His capture was first reported by the Washington Post.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the apprehension doesn’t end the U.S. investigation into the attack, “but marks an important milestone.”

TIME Iraq

State Dept Will Beef Up Security at Baghdad Embassy

A U.S. flag flies in front of the Annex I building inside the compound of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad
A U.S. flag flies in front of the Annex I building inside the compound of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad December 14, 2011. Lucas Jackson—Reuters

Taking action as militant extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) expands its reach and heads toward the city

The U.S. State Department announced Sunday that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will stay open as militant extremists in Iraq continue their offensive toward the city, but it will also take a number of increased security measures to protect its staff.

“As a result of ongoing instability and violence in certain areas of Iraq, Embassy Baghdad is reviewing its staffing requirements in consultation with the State Department,” spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The State Department said it will increase the number of security personnel in Baghdad, while other embassy staff members will be relocated to the Consulate Generals in Erbil and Basra as well as the Iraq Support Unit in Amman, Jordan. Most of the embassy staff will remain on site and “continue to engage daily with Iraqis and their elected leaders — supporting them as they strengthen Iraq’s constitutional processes and defend themselves from imminent threats.”

The Pentagon also announced that the U.S. military would provide security assistance to diplomats stationed in Baghdad. “A small number of DOD personnel are augmenting State Department security assets in Baghdad to help ensure the safety of our facilities,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.

The move to beef up security in Iraq comes after the State Department faced criticism over its lack of security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which was overrun by militants in a 2012 attack that killed 4 Americans including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. But the embassy compound in Iraq has both a far heavier military presence and stronger fortifications than the Benghazi compound had.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary on ABC: Big on Smiles, Small on Substance

Bemoaning a "double standard" for women in politics, Hillary Clinton refused to be drawn on any 2016 presidential bid in an interview with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer. Clinton blamed "bad strategy" for her first failed presidential campaign

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With a smile, Hillary Clinton deflected tough questions on Monday on the eve of the release of her book Hard Choices.

Interviewed by ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer in Clinton’s Washington home, the former Secretary of State and potential 2016 presidential candidate offered little insight into her political thinking with relatively safe answers.

Clinton navigated thorny issues like the Monica Lewinsky scandal and her health with a faint grin. “I am not going to comment on what I did or did not say in the late ’90s,” the 66-year-old stonewalled when quizzed about her husband’s sex scandal. She confirmed previous statements about her concussion and blood clot, but was vague about releasing medical records should she run for the White House. She blamed the failure of her first presidential campaign on “bad strategy,” while bemoaning a double standard for women in American politics that compounded matters.

Clinton drew Sawyer, a fixture on nightly television for millions of Americans, to note she was older than her interviewee, saying, “Isn’t it good to be our age,” in an effort to deflect an emerging GOP line of attack.

Although promoting a book that seeks to cast her policy record in a positive light, Clinton was tripped up by questions on Benghazi and her personal finances. She noted that Ambassador Chris Stevens was in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, “of his own choosing,” while refusing to say whether there was anything she should have done differently to avoid the loss of four American lives. “I take responsibility, but I was not making security decisions,” Clinton added.

She also claimed to have been “dead broke” after leaving the White House, defending her and Bill Clinton’s decision to accept more than $100 million in paid speaking engagements. “We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education,” she said, notably using the plural. “You know, it was not easy.” All throughout Clinton leaned in and smiled at Sawyer, straining to avoid appearing bitter or angry, as she did last year when testifying before one congressional probe into the Benghazi attack.

She said the incident would make her more likely to run for President, but offered few other reasons for people to vote for her.

But Clinton offered subtle hints at what a 2016 campaign could look like. She admitted not being “as effective” as she should have been at calling out a double standard for women in politics in the past, illustrating new resolve when asked whether becoming a grandmother would affect her 2016 decision. “Of course, men have been serving in that position as fathers and grandfathers since the beginning of the Republic,” she said. Later she said that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “not the first” world leader to make a sexist comment when last week he questioned her “grace.”

And asked whether she would restate her criticism of a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” Clinton said she probably would not, because “I don’t think we need more political combat in this country.”

TIME Libya

Libyan General With U.S. Passport Wages War On Islamist Extremists

Gen. Khalifa Hifter has assembled a force that is taking the fight to Islamist extremists in the worst fighting since the 2011 revolution

Into the chaos of post-revolution Libya rides Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a former confidant of Muammar Gaddafi with a U.S. passport and a reputed history with the CIA. A resident of northern Virginia until the 2011 revolution that deposed his old boss, Hifter, 71, returned to his homeland and, after a couple of embarrassing personal setbacks, recently persuaded elements of the military forces to join him in battling the most extreme of the many armed militias operating in Libya today.

The fighting, described as the worst since the overthrow of Gaddafi, prompted the State Department this week to urge Americans to leave Libya, and the Pentagon to move a warship with 1,000 Marines on board into the vicinity. The USS Bataan was ordered, if not quite to the shores of Tripoli, then close enough to respond quickly if an evacuation is ordered.

Libya has remained conspicuously unstable since Gaddafi’s regime fell in August 2011 in an armed rebellion supported by a NATO air campaign. A constitutional process was set up, and a legislature and prime minister elected. But the government has failed to establish what academics call the fundamental element of sovereignty—a monopoly on force. Last October, the premier was kidnapped in broad daylight. Scores if not hundreds of militias are active, the most feared of which are Islamist extremists like the gunmen responsible for overrunning the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi in September 2012, killing ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Those are the militias Hifter is targeting. “We are now fighting not only on behalf of Libya, but on behalf of the whole world,” he told the New York Times by telephone on Wednesday. Fighter-jets loyal to Hifter bombed a base in Benghazi held by an extremist militia. In Tripoli, the capital, a militia loyal to Hifter overran the legislature on May 18, prompting lawmakers to finally name a date for new elections (June 25).

U.S. officials deny that Hifter is getting American support, something he reportedly boasted of receiving decades earlier when he commanded a force trying to unseat Gaddafi. He had helped Gaddafi come to power in a 1969 coup, but then turned against the strongman in the 1980s after being captured in neighboring Chad, which Gaddafi had ordered invaded. He later moved to Virginia, and voted in local elections in 2008 and 2009.

His 2011 return to Libya was not triumphant. Hifter tried but failed to take command of the rebel force arrayed against Gaddafi. And when he showed up on television in February calling for the overthrow of the government, he was mocked.

But in the weeks that followed, a force took shape behind him—motivated, according to the current U.S. ambassador, Deborah Jones, by a wave of assassinations carried by extremists, including a bomb attack on graduating military cadets. “That was the breaking point,” Jones said in a May 21 talk at The Stimson Center, a Washington think tank.

“Hifter’s focus is very specifically on terrorist groups,” Jones said, in remarks she acknowledged were more supportive of Hifter than the official State Department line, which criticizes the use of force. “It’s not necessarily for me to condemn his action going against… groups that are frankly are on our lists of terrorists,” Jones said.

Libya’s politics remain chaotic. The country has had three prime ministers in the last two months, two of whom still claim the title. The constitution is only now being drafted. Hifter has shown signs he views himself as Libya’s version of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian general who deposed an elected Islamist government in neighboring Egypt, and was elected president this week. But the dynamic in Libya is a different one, analysts say.

“I hear a lot of support for his actions against these specific groups, less support for him as an individual, given his background,” Jones said. “The jury is still out, because it’s not clear what the political agenda is.”

TIME 2016 Election

Between The Lines Of Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi Book Chapter

Hillary Clinton
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the New America Foundation (NAF) conference at the Newseum on May 16, 2014 in Washington. Olivier Douliery—ABACA USA

"Hard Choices" offers an exquisitely lawyerly version of Benghazi that is less inaccurate than some Republican accounts.

If you want the simple truth about Benghazi, it’s this:

  • As protests against an anti-Islamic video raged in 40 countries around the world on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012, major American media outlets incorrectly reported that protests preceded the attacks on U.S. buildings in Benghazi, too.
  • Despite evidence the attacks were in fact a coordinated assault by heavily armed Islamic militants, the CIA believed the incorrect media reports and spent the following week repeating them to the Obama administration and members of Congress.
  • The Obama administration and members of Congress in turn repeated them to the public, giving Americans the mistaken impression two months before the 2012 Presidential election that four U.S. officials, including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed by demonstrators not terrorists.

If, on the other hand, you want a truth that accommodates the best interests of those who, wittingly or not, contributed to that mistaken impression, you will get this:

There were scores of attackers that night, almost certainly with differing motives… It is inaccurate to state that every single one of them was influenced by this hateful video. It is equally inaccurate to state that none of them were. Both assertions defy not only the evidence but logic as well.

That appears to be the bottom line representation of the origins of the Benghazi attack presented in the 34-page chapter on the subject in Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming book, “Hard Choices,” which was leaked to Politico this week. It is an exquisitely lawyerly, and factually accurate, assertion.

It’s also largely beside the point. No doubt the perpetrators of every terrorist attack of the last 20 years acted with “differing motives.” But no mainstream media outlet or politician took “differing motives” as justification, at the time or months later, to frame 9/11 or the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as the result of popular outrage rather than militancy. In retrospect, the mistaken assertion of “protests” at Benghazi is not hard to understand–in three of the 40 countries where protests were taking place, U.S. facilities were attacked by demonstrators. That doesn’t justify the error.

But the Benghazi narrative has drifted so far from the context of the actual events that it is almost impossible to have a useful debate about it. Indeed, Clinton’s version is substantially more accurate than the version of events offered by some Republicans. The GOP head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Congressman Darrell Issa of California, for example, has said he suspects Hillary Clinton told the Defense Department to “stand down” rather than launch counterstrikes against the Benghazi attackers, even though multiple bipartisan reports, including ones Issa himself signed, find no stand down orders and no communication between Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the time. In other words, no factual evidence at all.

At some point in the coming 2016 Presidential contest there will be a debate about whether Obama administration officials used the uncertainty generated by (incorrect) media and CIA reports to maximum advantage ahead of the 2012 election. That’s called spin, and Americans have a right to know if political interests affected the presentation of the facts in the days after the Benghazi attacks.

When that debate takes place, however, another simple fact will reemerge. When the White House needed someone to appear on all five Sunday shows on Sept. 16, 2012 to translate the (incorrect) media and CIA version of events at Benghazi to the American public, Hillary Clinton stepped aside and let then-U.N. representative Susan Rice speak. It will be interesting to see if Clinton’s book has anything to say about whether that hard choice was the result of luck, wisdom or sound advice from her aides.

TIME 2016 Election

The 5 Least Mind-Blowing Things About Hillary Clinton’s Book Tease

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaking in Washington on May 14, 2014. Cliff Owen—AP

Clinton’s much-anticipated book is due out early next month, but early glimpses haven't given away much

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock with no media access for the last month, you’ll be well aware that former First Lady, former Secretary of State and the once-and-potentially-future presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has a book coming out next month.

Vogue readers got a first glimpse of Hard Choices in Mother’s Day excerpts which drummed up a million advance purchases of the book, but Clinton revealed more about the memoir in an author’s note on Tuesday. In it, she explores her reasons for wanting to write her eleventh tome — if you count some of her more academic early offerings — this one on her tenure as Secretary of State.

But the sneak peak doesn’t give away much about what the book actually contains — and what was included is hardly surprising. Here are five key things she was either bound to mention, or decided to skip:

1. Not mentioned: Monica

The book is called Hard Choices, she says, because of all the hard choices in life that make us who we are, whether that’s a parent, a politician or a world leader. Though she mentions the choice of “whether to get married—or stay married,” she avoids mention of a certain former White House intern who made waves with an interview of her own this month, Monica Lewinsky. And, anyway, the book is about Clinton’s time as secretary of state, so despite referencing her early choices in life in the tease, she quickly moves on to focus on her choices in office.

2. Mentioned: Osama Bin Laden

Not unsurprisingly, the lead choice is the decision to kill Osama bin Laden, which Clinton pushed for behind the scenes. Given its prominence in the teaser, it would seem this will be her top hard choice—and a very successful one at that—in her book.

3. Not mentioned: Benghazi

Some of Clinton’s less successful hard choices go unmentioned, including her response to the attack in Benghazi, Libya that claimed the lives of Amb. Chris Stevens and two other Americans. She does mention some regrets, though. “As is usually the case with the benefit of hindsight, I wish we could go back and revisit certain choices,” she says. We’ll all have to wait until the book’s release on June 10 to find out what those choices were.

4. Mentioned: Hatred for the press

In recent weeks much has been written about Clinton’s potential 2016 bid, including the fact her biggest hitch is having to deal with the media she loathes. That comes through in her teaser.

“While my views and experiences will surely be scrutinized by followers of Washington’s long-running soap opera—who took what side, who opposed whom, who was up and who was down—I didn’t write this book for them.

I wrote it for Americans and people everywhere who are trying to make sense of this rapidly changing world of ours, who want to understand how leaders and nations can work together and why they sometimes collide, and how their decisions affect all our lives: How a collapsing economy in Athens, Greece, affects businesses in Athens, Georgia. How a revolution in Cairo, Egypt, impacts life in Cairo, Illinois. What a tense diplomatic encounter in St. Petersburg, Russia, means for families in St. Petersburg, Florida.”

5. Mentioned: A tantalizing hint

For anyone hoping and dreaming that Clinton will run for president in 2016, she gives yet another vague hint that she’s leaning that way. She signs off the letter: “One thing that has never been a hard choice for me is serving our country. It has been the greatest honor of my life.” So, perhaps the choice to serve again isn’t so agonizing after all?

TIME Congress

Kerry To Testify About Benghazi, But Not To Select Committee

John Kerry Benghazi
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gives a news conference after meetings at the Palais de la Nation in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo on May 4, 2014. Saul Loeb—Reuters

Secretary of State John Kerry is prepared to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the State Department said in a letter to lawmakers Friday. The letter follows weeks of partisan wrangling over congressional investigations into a 2012 attack on an American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.

“As we have previously communicated to the Committee, we believe there are witnesses better suited to answer questions regarding the Department’s response to Congressional investigations of the Benghazi attacks,” Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield wrote in a letter to Oversight committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa. “However, in the interest of accommodation and to resolve once and for all any outstanding, relevant, questions, the Secretary is prepared to appear before the Committee on June 12 or June 20. In doing so, we believe this would remove any need for the Secretary to appear before the Select Committee to answer additional questions.”

The Republican-controlled committee twice subpoenaed Kerry to testify while he was overseas, drawing condemnation from the State Department and Democrats. The committee has said it hopes to question Kerry about his department’s slow response to subpoenas for documents surrounding the government’s handling of the attack, an issue that has been used as a political bludgeon by the GOP.

House Speaker John Boehner formed a separate select committee earlier this month to continue the investigation into the attacks. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday she decided to appoint Democratic lawmakers to the panel.

Below is the full letter, obtained by TIME:

TIME 2016 Election

Risks Outweigh Rewards for Democrats in Joining Benghazi Commission

How a tragedy became political spectator sport

By agreeing to join the House GOP’s Benghazi investigation after contemplating a boycott, Democrats are taking a serious risk. The benefit is that Democrats will have a (limited) say over the investigation and an opportunity to defend Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others during the committee’s hearings. The risk — and it’s a major one — is that Republicans can now tout the “bipartisan” nature of the inquiry and any of its findings. For low-information voters who don’t closely follow the ins and outs of Washington politics, “bipartisanship” is an easy, though often misleading, signifier of legitimacy. (Jonathan Chait is good on this point.)

And those low-information voters will be hearing a lot about this panel. Many people in Washington media consider Benghazi to be a phony scandal exploited by the GOP and are sick of covering it. But cover it they will. This afternoon CNN ran live with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s annoucement of five Democratic members to the panel. (Pelosi herself averred of the decision to participate, “I could have argued this either way.”)

That’s because what began as a genuine tragedy and then evolved politically into an effort to damage President Obama’s re-election campaign has now become almost entirely about the single most exciting topic in American politics: Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential ambitions. It doesn’t matter that few people really believe that some scandalous truth about the September 11, 2012 attack remains to be unearthed.

Benghazi has become less about what really happened that night than about something called “Benghazi,” which is not a place or an event but a process, a spectacle — the venue for political combat that pits Hillary Clinton and her defenders against the charge of the right’s brigade. CNN and every other network will cover this story exhaustively because people are fascinated by the public discourse around Hillary and how her political machine responds to it. Analysts will cover tone, temperament, tactics and “optics” on their own merits. (Yes, I will likely participate. Perhaps this very item you’re reading qualifies as well.) Nothing new will be learned about foreign policy or diplomatic security. Everything will happen on a meta level.

Meanwhile, the real place called Benghazi is in a state of chaos, with potential national security implications for the U.S. That’s a more relevant and important story — but not one you’re likely to hear about in the weeks to come.

TIME National Security

No, Hillary Clinton Isn’t ‘Soft’ on Terrorism

Conservatives are pouncing on Benghazi and Boko Haram as evidence that the likely 2016 Democratic nominee is weak on national security. It's a bogus charge

Conservatives eager for lines of attack against Hillary Clinton ahead of her presumed presidential run are currently hammering two story lines with a common theme—that she is soft on terrorism. It’s a bizarre attack. While you can second-guess some of Clinton’s secondary decisions while she was Secretary of State, the most important fact about her tenure in Obama’s cabinet is that, when it came to fighting terrorism and the use of American power, she was its most hawkish member.

Story line number one in the conservative case is Clinton’s 2011 decision not to place the despicable Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram on the State Department’s official list of foreign terrorist organizations, even after the group’s violent radicalism was well-known. There were some good reasons for this. But conservatives see a simple lesson: “That’s a question of judgment, leadership, [and] strength in foreign policy,” former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told Newsmax.

Story line number two is Benghazi. The case is subtler here, but among the many sins the right is trying to pin on Clinton is a lack of awareness about the terrorist threat in post-Ghaddafi Libya. A 2013 House Republican investigation of Benghazi decried a “fundamental lack of understanding at the highest levels of the State Department as to the dangers presented in Benghazi” while Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro declared that Clinton “violated the most basic standard of duty” by not ensuring better security.

Both these episodes offer rich material for a talented political ad maker. (Hillary Clinton: She couldn’t protect our ambassador in Libya. She couldn’t protect these schoolgirls. How can we trust her to protect us?) Taken together — as they surely will be — these data points will enable conservatives to argue, as one did recently in the New York Post, that as Secretary of State Clinton “logged nearly a million miles of travel but was otherwise an appendage of a strategy of retreat.” And low-information voters who don’t follow foreign policy closely might buy it.

But that would be an extremely misleading portrait of Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. In fact, Clinton was the most reliable advocate in Obama’s first term for the use of U.S. military power abroad. As I detailed recently — based on interviews with administration sources as well as published accounts — Clinton led the hawks on issues ranging from troop levels in Iraq to arming Syria’s rebels to the air campaign over Libya (which she may have played a decisive role in convincing Obama to mount). When it came to the war in Afghanistan — which conservatives called crucial to the terror war — Clinton’s position was actually slightly to the right of then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush years. And don’t forget that Clinton — also unlike Gates, and Vice President Joe Biden — voted strongly in favor of the daring 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. No wonder David Petraeus — former CIA director and terrorist hunter in Afghanistan in Iraq — recently declared that Clinton would make “a tremendous president.”

You don’t have to applaud that record: the left certainly doesn’t. “She’s a f-cking hawk and a neocon, basically,” the civil liberties crusader Glenn Greenwald tells GQ magazine.

But it is not a portrait of a woman who is “soft” or “weak” when it comes to national security. Which may be exactly why conservatives are so eager to refract Clinton’s record through the distorting lenses of Boko Haram and Benghazi.

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