On Sept. 11, 2012, terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, resulting in the deaths of four Americans.
Since the attack, internet rumors have claimed that Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador killed in the attack, was tortured and raped before his death. PolitiFact fact-checked the claim when it first surfaced and found it to be a combination of fabrication and unsupported speculation. We rated it Pants on Fire.
A new viral post goes further, however, using a gruesome photo of a man being tortured as evidence of the false claim that Stevens was tortured and contrasting that photo with an image of Marie Yovanovich, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
In the post, text alongside the photo of the tortured person reads:
"This ambassador was tortured, raped, cattle-prodded, and burned for 7 hours with no help from Obama or Hillary. No impeachment inquiry."
Below it is a photo of Yovanovitch, who is seated facing a camera during her Nov. 15 testimony in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. The text accompanying her picture reads:
"This ambassador had her feelings hurt by President Trump. Must impeach now!"
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
But this photo depicting violence does not show ambassador Stevens. The image, in fact, appeared on the internet years before Stevens’ death. Facebook screens the troubling torture image from viewers until they click on an "Uncover Photo" icon, warning first that, "This photo may show violent or graphic content."
As we previously reported, speculation that Stevens was raped and tortured prior to his death is unsupported. The rumor does not line up with government reviews of the attack and its aftermath, or with contemporaneous media reports and video footage.
A website called "The Meme Policeman" reported that it found the photo on the internet as early as 2004 when it appeared in a story by Spanish newspaper Diario de León about Argentinian military torture. We can’t verify that it was shared that early, as the article’s link no longer works, and it doesn’t appear in a search of internet archives.
Nevertheless, we did find the image posted on various blogs as early as 2009. As well, a reverse-image search shows versions of the photo on the internet as early as 2008 –– four years before Stevens’ death.
Various blog posts make a myriad of claims about the image’s origin. It has been used to illustrate articles about Spanish war crimes, Argentinian war crimes and CIA torture in Afghanistan. While we weren’t able to pinpoint its exact origin or date, it is clear that this photo existed online several years before Stevens’ death.
We rate this Pants on Fire!