By: FOX News Radio’s Courtney Kealy who has reported extensively from Libya & the Middle East
“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The photo of Chris Stevens on the cover of the New York Daily News made me flinch and look away while I tried to process the horrifying, visual details that underscore the distress he must have been in at the time of his death. Pulled by his undershirt, his face blackened by soot and smoke, he was clearly unconscious.
The caption read that he was being rushed to the hospital by Libyans. His mother gave an exclusive interview to the newspaper saying her son died doing what he loved and that his death left “a hole in her heart.” I had just tracked his mother’s words for a radio piece and took a few minutes alone behind the closed door of the edit room to cry for the first time since I heard that Chris had been killed.
Once again, terrifying and jarring photos emerged from the Middle East and North Africa. Once again, tragic news of someone I and so many others, had the privilege to know. The details of what went so horribly wrong remain hazy. Chris and three other Americans were killed this September 11th on an ill-fated trip to the eastern city of Benghazi, Libya. What remains unclear is how he and his team of expert security personnel who had access to classified intelligence and threat levels became trapped in a bombardment they may not have seen coming.
President Obama had just capped Chris’ State Department career with his first posting as a U.S. Ambassador based in Tripoli, Libya. Chris had just recently hosted his first July Fourth reception at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. Chris’ career after working in Jerusalem, Syria, Morocco and on the Iran desk in Washington became forever linked with the Libyan revolution and the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi. He had been Deputy Chief of Mission while Qaddafi was still in power then returned to Libya by boat to work in the rebel held east.
He had worked diplomatic channels in Benghazi with the Libyan Interim government and Libyan rebels where the streets were festooned with international flags, including what I noted at first incredulously on a trip there in June 2011- with American flags. U.S. flags were everywhere, and for the first time they weren’t on the ground being burned, they were hung on the walls in thanks.
A top Libyan military rebel commander at the time told me he wanted to have a daughter even though they were not as highly prized in his society as sons. He wanted to call her Susan Rice. He loved the way she held her hand up in support of the NATO mission at the United Nations. That sentiment has echoed through much of the streets of Benghazi then. Now, almost a year since Colonel Moammar Qaddafi was killed by Libyan rebels, they had just held elections for a Prime Minister.
There were risks involved, but not so much that Chris and his team stayed in Tripoli. Instead they made the security assessments and chose to take the ill-fated trip.
Senator John McCain who became friends with Chris in Benghazi paid tribute to him saying in a speech on the Senate floor, “In Chris’ death, the Libyan people have lost a great champion and believer in the peaceful aspirations of their democratic revolution. The American people have lost a selfless and dedicated servant of our interests and values. And I have lost a friend.”
Libyans and many others have taken to Twitter and Facebook posting photos of Chris as their own profile pictures. There are calls to name streets after him in Tripoli and Bengahzi. I expect that soon, in Libyan maternity wards we will also hear of some Libyans naming their prized sons “Chris Stevens” as well. I expect too, we will see more questions than answers as to who carried out this attack and why.
Listen below to some of Courtney Kealy’s reporting on the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens:
Follow Courtney on Twitter: @CourtneyKealy