In a statement that suggests the White House and State Department may not be totally in sync, White House spokesman Jay Carney said today "It is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack," referring to the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. personnel. That brings the White House view more in line with the assessment of Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf, who has long said there was "no doubt" the attack was a premeditated terrorist plot. On Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice surprised some journalists when she rebutted Magariaf's assessment on ABC's This Week, saying the attacks were spontaneous. “What this began as was a spontaneous, not a premeditated response to what happened in Cairo,” Rice told Jake Tapper, referring to protests of an anti-U.S. film in Egypt. Now Carney is saying the "best indication we have now" is that the attacks may have had an Al-Qaeda connection, the view Magariaf has had all along. Carney was not ready, however, to say the attacks were "significantly pre-planned."
So why does it matter if the attacks were pre-mediated or not? Other than pursuing the truth, it's also about holding the administration accountable, as The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald noted earlier today. "The claim that this attack was just about anger over an anti-Muhammad video completely absolves the US government of any responsibility or even role in provoking the anti-American rage driving it," he wrote. "After all, if the violence that erupted in that region is driven only by anger over some independent film about Muhammad, then no rational person would blame the US government for it, and there could be no suggestion that its actions in the region – things like this, and this, and this, and this– had any role to play," referring to instances where civilians were killed by U.S. forces.
Still, the investigation is ongoing at this point and U.S. officials are resisting any claims that the attacks were "significantly" pre-planned. In the coming days, we'll hopefully find out what the administration means by "significantly."