A reader recently forwarded us a chain email about the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. Similar emails have been circulating for months, speculating about how U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed by Islamic extremists in the attack.
But this email caught our eye because it was purportedly written by Dee Dee Myers, who once served as White House spokeswoman for President Bill Clinton. The email played up the significance of a well-known Democrat breaking with President Barack Obama over what had happened in Benghazi.
The reader wondered if it was actually written by Myers, and so did we.
Moments after we contacted Myers’ office, she emailed us back, saying she had nothing to do with the account.
"No, I didn't write it, don't have any relatives in the Benghazi Guard, didn't have any of the conversations or meetings described in the letter," she told PolitiFact. "There is no truth to it whatsoever."
What the email said
The email opens by falsely claiming that the account is directly from Myers and that one of her cousins was guarding the ambassador on the night he died. (Read the full text of the email.)
The email then purports to tell a disturbing story about what happened that night. In the email's version of events, the cousin dies as well:
"... Ambassador Stevens was brutally murdered. His genitals were cut off, he was sodomized and beaten and cut and stabbed and burned. He was dragged thru the streets and left for dead. This is eyewitness testimony of a local Dr. who found the Ambassador in a ditch and tried to save his life. He had no idea who he was. The other 3 men, including my cousin, met similar fates.
"Death due to smoke inhalation is a 100% fabricated LIE. ... The next week I drove my aunt and uncle and 2 others to DC to receive his body. We met with Hillary, whom I remain friends with, Panetta, and Susan Rice. All apologized saying it was a protest gone bad over a video and exited the area. Next Obama entered with the same story and made no apology and offered little sympathy."
The email ends with a lament for the Clinton years:
"The leadership of our country has reduced to lies and deception.......what has happened to us? How I long for President Clinton."
Myers herself told us she was not the author of the email and that its details concerning her or supposed relatives are fabricated.
We still wondered whether there was any other evidence to support the email’s claims about how Stevens died. Was he "sodomized and beaten and cut and stabbed and burned"?
What we know about the night of the attacks
After the attacks, the administration empowered an Accountability Review Board headed by former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen and veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering. In its unclassified final report, the board said the scene was chaotic on the night of Stevens’ death. Officials lost track of Stevens around 11:30 p.m., until he arrived at the Benghazi Medical Center around 1:15 a.m.
But the report makes no mention of any kind abuse to Stevens. Instead, it says he was brought to the emergency room by "six civilians .. but to the best knowledge of the Board these were ‘good Samaritans’ among the hordes of looters and bystanders" who arrived on the scene after the American personnel had left. The death, the report said, was due to "apparent smoke inhalation."
Another group that reviewed the attack and its aftermath, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee -- controlled by Republicans -- made no mention of abuse either. Their report concluded that "local Libyans found the remains of Ambassador Stevens in the main diplomatic building at the Benghazi Mission and transported him to the hospital. The Libyans apparently did not realize who the Ambassador was, but they alerted the State Department of his location by using the cell phone that was in the Ambassador’s pocket. Libyan doctors tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate Ambassador Stevens upon his arrival at the hospital."
These accounts also track with contemporary reporting.
An Associated Press report included an interview with Ziad Abu Zeid, a Libyan doctor who treated Stevens. Abu Zeid told the AP that Stevens was unresponsive when he arrived at the hospital, but that "we tried to revive him for an hour and a half but with no success." Abu Zeid said Stevens had bleeding in his stomach because of the asphyxiation but no other injuries.
A CNN reporter was told by Libyans that they found Stevens and brought him to the hospital. That report too made no mention of any kind of abuse, and a doctor said Stevens was covered in soot when he arrived. The CNN report includes amateur video that shows rescuers pulling Stevens through a window, a detail that tracks with what the Accountability Review Board concluded.
Meanwhile, the rare published reports that supposedly back up the chain email have been the subject of strong pushback.
A Lebanese news outlet, Tayyar.org, published a report soon after the attack that cited Agence France Press reporting that Stevens was raped before being murdered.
However, the AFP subsequently released a statement saying that the Tayyar.org report "falsely quoted our news agency and has no truth whatsover to it. AFP promptly sent a strongly worded complaint to that website and they removed the report and published a denial, saying that AFP did not report such a thing."
One key piece of evidence has not yet been made public: autopsy results. The FBI was charged with investigating the attack, but it has not yet produced a final report, which would presumably include an autopsy report. A call to the FBI on Sept. 6, 2013, confirmed that no report has been released yet. We will update this report when that information is publicly released.
The chain email forwarded an account purportedly written by Dee Dee Myers of how her cousin and Ambassador Chris Stevens were killed in the Benghazi attack, including being "sodomized and beaten and cut and stabbed and burned."
Myers told PolitiFact that she had nothing to do with the email, and that anything it said about her was false. As for the email’s claims about Stevens’ being violently attacked and violated rather than killed by smoke inhalation, two government reports and several contemporary journalistic accounts cast strong doubt. The one Web report that supports this scenario was recanted by the website after the mainstream media source it had cited, Agence France Presse, said it had reported no such thing.
The email is a combination of fabrication and unsupported speculation. We rate it Pants on Fire.