The Cable

Carter Ham: "Fragile" Libyan Gov't is Why Benghazi Attackers are Free

Aspen, CO. - Turmoil in the nascent Libyan government is likely frustrating the FBI's attempts to capture the five men suspected of playing a key role in the attacks on the U.S. consulate and CIA facility in Libya that left four Americans dead last September, according to former U.S. Africa Command chief, Gen. (ret) Carter Ham.

"It's more the dealing between the government of the United States and this emerging yet fragile government of Libya that has impeded any significant progress on bringing to justice those who killed our friends," said Ham during a talk at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado last night.

"All politics are local, and in Libya that is very much the case," said Ham. "The Libyan government has to wrestle with this idea of ‘do we apprehend this guy and what would that mean to us if we apprehended some of these people, if we tried them, if we handed them over [to the U.S.],' it's a very, very complex issue."

While the U.S. made some progress initially in working with the Libyan government that has emerged in Tripoli since Muammar al Qaddafi was overthrown in late 2011, that stalled as senior officials in the Libyan government came and went.

"This is one of the consequences of the fragility of the Libyan government," said Ham. "Progress was made initially but then the government changes, key leaders change."

He went on to say that "so much of this is relationships, so much of this is trust and if the person you're used to working with is now out of office and suddenly you've got a brand new person . . . it just frustrates, it complicates the process."

Some have criticized the Obama administration for not capturing the five suspects identified by the FBI in May via military means, despite claims the U.S. has evidence to justify such actions. The White House maintains that it is treating this as a law enforcement case and is trying to work with the Libyan legal system to extradite the attackers and try them in a U.S. criminal court. One of the suspects, Faraj al Chalabi, was reportedly detained by the Libyan government in March -- only to be released in June by Libyan authorities who said they didn't have enough evidence to warrant holding him.

The FBI, with the help of U.S. intelligence agencies, is keeping the suspects under electronic surveillance as it tries to gather up more evidence -- such as videos of the men at the scene of the attack -- for use in a criminal trial.

This is just one example of what may be many of how tough it will be for the U.S. to form working relationships with the new, often fluid and shaky governments that are emerging from the political upheaval in the Arab world. It also shows that it may be a while before the U.S. is able to put the Banghazi attack behind it. Let's hope America's can get better at building relationships with other new governements popping up in the Arab world.

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The Cable

Kerry Now Loves the Cairo Coup America Tried to Stop

The State Department has a new defense of Egypt's military coup: It may have prevented a civil war. It's an odd argument, considering top officials of the American government were trying to talk Cairo's generals out of deposing President Mohamed Morsy just before the coup went down. And it's another sign that the Obama administration's policy towards Egypt is something less than coherent. 

On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Amman he wasn't going to "rush to judgement" on Morsy's ouster. "What complicates it, obviously, is that you had an extraordinary situation in Egypt of life and death, of the potential of civil war and enormous violence, and you now have a constitutional process proceeding forward very rapidly," he added. "So we have to measure all of those facts against the law, and that's exactly what we will do."

The idea that the coup carried out by Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi may have been justified is supported by many liberal Egyptians and some analysts in the U.S., but it was not the message conveyed to Egypt's military by key officials in the Obama administration, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.

In multiple phone calls to Sisi prior to the ouster of Morsy on July 3, Hagel repeatedly discouraged Sisi from forcing Morsy out, according to The Wall Street Journal . "In the first call, in late June, Mr. Hagel gently cautioned Gen. Sisi against a coup," officials told the newspaper last week. After Sisi warned Morsy of a military intervention on July 1, Hagel doubled down on his demand to Sisi in a second phone call. "Hagel warned him more forcefully about the potential implications of a coup on the U.S.-Egypt relationship, including Washington's ability to continue to provide military aid," the Journal reported.

Despite these actions, in the days since the coup, the State Department has consistently highlighted justifications for the ouster such as the "millions of peoples" in Egypt "who didn't think it was a coup," as spokeswoman Jen Psaki pointed out last week, or the 22 million Egyptians who signed a petition demanding Morsy's ouster, another fact pointed out by Psaki.

The State Department insists "we're not taking sides," in Egypt's democratic struggle between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and more secular groups who flooded Tahrir square by the millions, but now that the military has sided with the opposition, Foggy Bottom has the difficult task of positioning itself with the winners -- a particularly fraught endeavor given its insistence that Egypt's future government include the Muslim Brotherhood whose leader remains in custody

At a Thursday State Department press briefing, Marie Harf emphasized that "we've called on the interim government to end arbitrary arrests ... including his," referring to Morsy. She also said Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns made a phone call with a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood during his visit this week, though she would not disclose the identity of the official.

A State Department spokesman did not respond to a request about an incoherence in U.S. policy regarding the coup. According to the Journal, Hagel was not getting in front of his skis when he urged Sisi not to depose Morsy. "Hagel isn't freelancing," the report said. "Before each call, White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice coordinates policy and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet and other advisers make the rounds of the administration and then brief Mr. Hagel, who speaks daily with U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson."

As for Patterson, Harf reiterated her support for the embattled diplomat who's taking heat from both Islamists and liberals. "Anne Patterson, who is a longtime decorated foreign service officer ... has the complete support of the State Department," said Harf.