As President Obama was celebrating the beginning of his second term yesterday, Algeria’s prime minister delivered the sobering news that a standoff with terrorists at a remote natural gas facility ended with 37 hostages dead.
That included three Americans: Victor Lynn Lovelady, 57, of Houston; Gordon Lee Rowan of Oregon; and Frederick Buttaccio, 58, of Katy, Texas. Another American, Steven Wysocki of Ebert, Colo., hid for two and a half days with the terrorists at times just steps away before escaping to a nearby Algerian military facility.
The administration rejected an offer to trade the Americans for blind sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui. Algerian special forces twice raided the plant, with hostages perishing each time, out of fear that the militants, believed to be powered by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, would scuttle the hostages over to new al-Qaeda playground Mali.
“Out of respect for the families’ privacy, we have no further comment,” the State Department said Monday afternoon, confirming the fatalities and perhaps deferring comment until after Inauguration Day.
It was on the mind of departing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, though, who lamented the loss of the three Americans to a group of reporters as he was leaving the inaugural lunch on Capitol Hill. “That just tells us al-Qaeda is committed to creating terror wherever they are, and we’ve got to fight back,” Panetta said.
Today at the White House press briefing, spokesman Jay Carney wouldn’t lump President Obama in with leaders who have been criticizing the Algerian government’s response.
“We will remain in close touch with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent tragedies like this in the future,” Carney said. “But let’s be clear in terms of the specific question you had. The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out. I mean, the United States condemns those actions in the strongest possible terms.”
The loss of the Americans echoes in the case to be resurrected on Capitol Hill tomorrow when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations and the House Foreign Affairs committees on Benghazi. One of the central tenets of criticism from lawmakers on the terrorist attack that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, is the simple principle that Americans were left without any support or hope of rescue from the hours-long terrorist assault.
“Over the past month, we and our colleagues have sent 13 separate letters to senior Administration officials, including President Obama, seeking an explanation for why no U.S. armed forces were available to go to the aid of the four American citizens who died during the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi,” Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said in a statement in November after receiving one explanation, from Panetta.
“Unfortunately, Secretary Panetta’s letter only confirms what we already knew – that there were no forces at a sufficient alert posture in Europe, Africa or the Middle East to provide timely assistance to our fellow citizens in need in Libya. The letter fails to address the most important question – why not?”
As the dead Americans from the Algerian attack are mourned, as fresh questions will be asked about why the Benghazi consulate workers didn’t get the help they needed, there are more Americans languishing around the globe as their loved ones and other concerned parties try to get the government’s assistance — or even attention.