Opinion: My friend Chris Stevens was a hero

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The last time I saw my friend Chris Stevens was at the Benghazi Airport as his body was being transferred to the plane to begin his last journey back to the United States. The great, honorable, gentle man I welcomed to Benghazi only two days earlier now lay lifeless before me on the same tarmac.

Chris had arrived in Benghazi on Sept. 10, 2012, for five days of meetings and to inaugurate an American cultural center at an English-language school under my care. A Libyan by birth and lifelong resident of Benghazi, I had for years taught English and facilitated cultural exchanges with the United States and, upon the resumption of diplomatic relations, served as an adviser and cultural interpreter for U.S. officials — especially Chris. I was also the one charged with coordinating his fateful visit to Benghazi.

I learned that I had been targeted that night and it was no longer safe for me to remain in Libya. I arrived in the United States two months later. Upon my arrival I was dismayed to find that the public conversation here had veered from memorializing a slain hero to hijacking his legacy for naked political agendas. Yet I maintained faith that, over time, the country would settle its discord, heal its wounds and return to honoring Chris Stevens, his life's work and the noble mission for which he died.

We all know this has not happened, but not everyone will understand why. Yet I have had a front-row seat. For months, I have been approached by people seeking to persuade me to publicly endorse their false version of events that night, namely that Chris was taking part in secret weapons smuggling and that the secretary of state was responsible for letting him die.

But they do not need to pay me, threaten me, or persuade me to tell my story. I have already told the full truth, first to U.S. law enforcement, then to the State Department's Accountability Review Board and again to the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Now, the repeated attempts to get me to endorse unfounded theories and the fact that politicians and others continue to revive false narratives and accusations have pushed me to step out from the shadows. The American people, to whom I owe such a debt of gratitude as one of the Libyans whom their country saved, deserve to know the truth and that there are people who are actively seeking to mislead them.

The truth is that Chris's mission was to help build a partnership between the United States and the Libyan people and to help rebuild the country. That's what brought him to Benghazi, first as a special envoy in 2011 and then as ambassador in September 2012. He knew the dangers better than anyone else, yet he believed his mission was too important not to carry out to the fullest of his abilities. The attacks that claimed his life and those of three other brave Americans were crimes and tragedies of the greatest magnitude. The blame rests entirely and unquestionably on those who carried out the attacks.

The promotion of utterly false conspiracy theories are offensive, to me, to the truth and to Chris's memory. The political attacks based on the events of that night portray Chris not as the hero and leader that he was but as the pawn and the victim of incompetence or worse in Washington.

Chris does not deserve to have his legacy undermined in this way. The mission of the United States in Libya in 2011 and 2012 was noble, and Chris was its most lovable and effective champion. That the attack created chaos on the ground in Benghazi I know first-hand. It also left Libyans with a crisis of faith in our own politics and society. Chris's loss was a blow to both our countries.

To allow a cloud of false and misguided allegations to remain over Chris would be to compound that loss. His memory and mission must be given the true honor and recognition they deserve.

Special to The Washington Post. Habib was a local contractor for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.


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