Sunday, September 16, 2012

Chris Stevens - American Warrior-Diplomat & Hero of the Libyan Revolution

                                                                       Chris Stevens

                        Chris Stevens - Eating native Libyan dish with locals shortly before he was killed

Chris Stevens – American Warrior Diplomat & Libyan Martyr

By William Kelly

Since they died for the same principles – freedom, liberty and justice, the names of Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods should be added to the Tripoli Monument at Annapolis, America’s first war memorial dedicated to the US Navy officers who died during the first war against the Barbary Pirates.

Stevens - the American hero of the Libyan Revolution, was a Peace Corp veteran and a dedicated diplomat who was sent into Benghazi to size up the revolutionary forces.

Arriving in Benghazi in the hold of a cargo ship, he met with all of the rebels, and tried to learn their true motives, beliefs and intentions. In breaking with the long held policy of backing dictators who support US economic, anti-communist and counter-terrorist policies, Stevens came down squarely on the side of the revolutionaries. He helped begin the political process that led to the US-NATO intervention, the establishment of the no-fly zone and saving the city of Benghazi from total destruction, as Gadhafi had done to other Libyan cities.

While most critics, mainly on the liberal left, decried the support of the rebels as an extension of the American war program as exercised in Iraq and Afghanistan, Stevens saw it in its proper historical context – the fight for liberty and freedom that went back over 200 years.

With the success of the revolution, Stevens was named the new US Ambassador to Libya, and was recognized as a true friend of the new Libya. One of the first public events Stevens did as ambassador was a Memorial Day 2012 ceremony at the graves of the American sailors from the USS Intrepid.

The USS Intrepid, a captured pirate ship, was used in a number of daring commando raids, that preceded the establishment of such special operations units like the Army Rangers and Navy SEALS. One mission on the Intrepid sank the captured frigate USS Philadelpha in Tripoli harbor. Then the Intrepid was converted into a fireship and sailed into Tripoli harbor at night with the intention of destroying the anchored pirate fleet. Instead the ship blew up prematurely and killed all thirteen men, including the commander, Lt. Richard Somers. Their remains were recovered and buried just off the beach near the old castle fort at Martyr’s Square, the epicenter of the Libyan revolution.

The only real martyrs buried at Tripoli’s Martyr’s Square are US Navy heroes killed fighting tyranny over two hundred years ago. And now those graves run the risk of being desecrated and destroyed while the US military conducts studies of the feasibility of repatriating their remains. 

Although these men were killed in action during the battle immortalized in the US Marine hymn, “to the shores of Tripoli,” they fought for the same reasons and principles we fight for today, and Stevens felt a personal affiliation with them, and in a sense, helped complete their mission.

The situation in 1804 was not that much different than it is today, as pirates were marauding American merchant ships off Africa and enslaving and ransoming their passengers and crew.  When tribute payments stopped, Yousef Karamanli, the chief pirate and tyrant of Tripoli, declared war against the United States by chopping down the flag pole outside home of the US counsel.

With the slogan of “Millions for defense but not once cent for tribute,” Americans decided to build a navy and fight the pirate, rather than pay the tributes and ransoms. Commodore Edward Preble led the American fleet in a blockade of Tripoli harbor, while William Eaton, the US Counsel to Egypt, convinced Hamid Karamanli, the deposed brother of the tyrant, to reclaim his kingdom. With Sergeant Presley O’Bannon and a squad of eight US Marines, a few hundred Greek Christians mercenaries and a cavalry of Bedouin tribesmen, the motley army marched across the desert and captured the eastern port city of Derna, much like Lawrence of Arabia captured Akaba. 

                                            William Eaton - American Warrior - Diplomat

After repelling a loyalist counterattack, Eaton, Hamid Karamanli, O’Bannon and their makeshift army, similar in their diversity to the 2012 revolutionaries, prepared to march on Tripoli. But before they did, another US diplomat, Tobias Lear accepted a peace treaty with Yousef Karamanli, paying him $60,000 ransom for the 300 US Navy prisoners from the captured frigate USS Philadelphia.

Paying the ransom was not only against the declared US policy, it also left Yousef Karamanli in power. When they learned of the treaty, Eaton, Karamanli, O’Bannon and the marines had to sneak out of Derna at night by boat and abandoned their army, much like the Cubans were abandoned at the Bay of Pigs. But in appreciation for fighting with him, Hamid Karamanli gave Sgt. Presley O’Bannon his Mamaluke sword, which was adopted as the official dress sword of the U.S. Marines.

Over a hundred and fifty years later, in 1949, present at an official ceremony at the graves of the men of the USS Intrepid, was Youself Karamanli, the mayor of Tripoli, namesake  and direct descendent of the tyrant who was the first to declare war against the United States.

From 1949 until Gadhafi seized power in 1969 the Tripoli graves of the men of the Intrepid were maintained by the Officer’s Wives Club of Wheelus Air Force. It wasn’t until Gadhafi renounced terrorism, paid off the victims of the Lockerbie bombing and turned over his weapons of mass destruction that US diplomats returned to Tripoli. And one of the first things they did was to conduct a ceremony at the graves of the Intrepid sailors and convince the Gadhafi government to restore the historic Old Protestant Cemetery.

In the meantime, the family of the Intrepid’s commander  Lt. Richard Somers of Somers Point, New Jersey petitioned the US Navy to repatriate the remains of Somers and his men, an effort that was joined by the family of the Intrepid’s second in command, Lt. Henry Wadsworth, uncle of Longfellow. Their efforts led to the inclusion of an article in the 2012 Defense Appropriation Act requiring the military conduct a feasibility study of repatriation of the remains of these men, a study that is due soon.

Shortly after the restoration of the cemetery, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Tripoli and stopped by the Intrepid graves to pay his respects to the American heroes buried there.

Then after the Arab Spring revolutions began in Tunisa and forced the outster of a number of dictators, the Gadhafi government arrested a Benghazi lawyer who represented over one thousand families of political prisoners Gadhafi had executed in one day. On February 17, 2010, less than one hundred, mostly women protested the arrest of their lawyer in Benghazi, a protest that, while it led to the release of the attorney, was joined by others, and the Libyan revolution was on.

While the US government officially supported Tunisia’s Ali, Mubarak of Egypt and Gadhafi, as they had agreed to support US economic and counter-terrorism policies, Chris Stevens was sent in to evaluate the rebels and find out who they were and what they represented. His reports greatly influenced US policy makers, especially Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,and the decision was made to forgo support for Gadhafi and back the rebels instead. It was a decision made at the same time Gadhafi’s military forces were about to level Benghazi, as they had other rebellious towns and cities.

This change in US policy, from support of friendly dictators to backing the democratic revolution to overthrow them, is a major change in American policy, and one that should be upheld in other countries controlled by dictators.

Stevens didn’t give his life for NATO, the UN or the Arab League, he died for the freedom, liberty and justice for the Libyan people – the same reasons that Richard Somers and the men of the Intrepid died, fighting the tyranny of Yousef Karamanli.

And in a sense, two hundred years after William Eaton's march on Triopli began and was thwarted by political diplomacy, Chris Stevens, an Army of one, was able to complete Eaton's mission and help his Libyan friends liberate Tripoli from a dictatorial dynasty.  

In recognition of the fact that Americans fight today for the same reasons that they fought for two hundred years ago, freedom – liberty – justice and democracy - the names of Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods should be added to the names of those American heroes inscribed on the Tripoli monument.

And the remains of the Naval heroes still buried in Tripoli should be repatriated home immediately and reburied with full military honors in a safe and secure location that can be visited by those who have been inspired by their actions.

                                                          Tripoli Monument at Annapolis 

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