“I heard that phrase, and I thought, what do they mean? Are they using ‘self-evident’ as kind of a throwaway phrase to say, “Well, this was a situation where violence was used with intent against a US facility”? Or are they saying, ‘We’ve got evidence that this was a preplanned event’?” says Wayne White, a former State Department official with experience in intelligence gathering in the Middle East. “It’s just not clear what this statement really says.”
On Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, “It is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack,” adding, “Our embassy was attacked violently, and the result was four deaths of American officials.”
Later at a question-and-answer session in Miami organized by the Spanish-language TV network Univision, Mr. Obama emphasized that while many details are still unclear, it appeared that extremists had used protests resulting from outrage over an anti-Muslim video as an “excuse” to attack US interests.
“What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm US interests,” Obama said. “We don’t know yet,” he added, “and so we are going to continue to investigate this.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department have mounted investigations into the Benghazi attack.
The administration’s explanation of what happened in Benghazi marks a shift in its earlier assertions that the attack was spontaneous and showed no signs of preplanning. That position came under stiff criticism from a number of Republican leaders, including Sen. John McCain, who cast doubt on the “spontaneous” characterization because of the intensity of the attack and the heavy weaponry employed in it.
The tweaking of the administration’s position on what happened could be the result of new information that has come in, Mr. White says – or it could simply be the result of building pressure on the White House.