National/World

Cal campus mourns death of Bay Area diplomat

Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Members of the UC Berkeley chapter of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity honored the life of Christopher Stevens. U.S. embassy in Libya attacked Mitt Romney Ambassador Christopher Stevens Ambassador Christopher Stevens

"Make no mistake. We will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people," President Obama said Wednesday condemning the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya. He promised justice for the four Americans killed including the ambassador who grew up in the East Bay.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed when a mob of protesters and gunmen attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Stevens was raised in Piedmont. His body and the bodies of the other victims will soon be on its way to a U.S. military base in Germany before heading home. A Marine anti-terrorist team is also on the ground providing additional security. However, the ambassador, a man born, raised, and educated in the Bay Area is gone. That means that in both California and Washington, there is mourning.

Stevens, a Piedmont native, spent most of his diplomatic career in the Arab world with two tours in Libya before he was appointed ambassador back in May. Just five months after getting the job, his life came to a violent and chaotic end when protestors stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Afterwards, Secretary of state Hillary Clinton spoke to the nation. "We condemn, in the strongest terms, this senseless act of violence and we send our prayers to families and colleagues of those we lost," she said.

President Obama took to the White House Rose Garden to vow that Stevens' killers would be brought to justice. "We're working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats. I've also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world," he said.

Ambassador Stevens worked as a diplomat in Libya during the Arab Spring as rebels overthrew dictator Moammar Ghadafi. In a YouTube video the Department of State made to introduce Stevens to Libya, he said he looked forward to working with the country's new leadership.

"Growing up in California, I didn't know much about the Arab world. Then after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I traveled to North Africa as a Peace Corp volunteer," he said in the video. "I worked as an English teacher in a town in the high Atlas Mountains in Morrocco for two years and quickly grew to love this part of the world."

Former CIA officer Bob Baer, who spent two decades working in the Arab world, says America's view of post-revolution Libya may be a bit naive. "Absolutely, this is actually foreseeable. For a start, everybody in Libya is armed. You can get any sort of arms you want and there's a significant number of what we call 'Salafis' which are anti-American, anti-west," he said. Salafism is a jihadist movement among Salafi Arabs.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke out Wednesday saying the Obama administration sent the wrong message by not getting tougher with protestors before things turned violent. Baer says the Arab Spring is far from over and it's hard to predict how the new leaders will view the west.

Questions surround motive for the attack

Initial reports indicated the attack was in retaliation for a YouTube video, a movie trailer that made fun of Islam and the prophet Mohammad, but U.S. government officials are saying there is evidence it was a planned terrorist attack and the video had nothing to do with it.

Tom Henriksen is a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. His area of expertise includes extremist groups in the Middle East and his new book is called "America and the Rogue States." Retired Ambassador Jeremy Kinsman is diplomat-in-residence at Princeton. Both men say there is evidence that the attack in Benghazi was planned apart from the mob reaction over the video.

The attack that killed Stevens and three other American diplomats was carried out on September 11 by a group of 20 men firing automatic weapons and carrying rocket propelled grenades. "It's not simply one person's video or a threat to burn a Koran or any number of other things. That sometimes will provoke a street demonstration, but the actual terrorist attacks are better planned and I'm sure this was planned for a while," Henriksen said Wednesday.

Henriksen also believes U.S. foreign policy toward Libya may have played a part. "There's been a little tendency upon the administration and the American people, which the administration reflects, to think we can leave the Middle East to its own devices, we can somehow not intervene in Libya, leave it go, not be engaged in certain parts of the world," he continued.

Henriksen points to the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, but that criticism confounds Canada's former ambassador to the European Union Jeremy Kinsman. "I don't find this criticism in the slightest warranted. In fact, I find it goofy," he said. Kinsman says there's no evidence American foreign policy toward Libya was one of disengagement. "Ambassador Stevens, as is the custom now increasingly among American ambassadors, was making it a point to be out among the people and not just living in a kind of ambassador's bubble," he said. "He wanted to be seen and he wanted to see, and he wanted to follow the first lesson of ambassadors which is to listen to the people."

Henriksen says that at the very least, the consulate in Benghazi should have been better protected. Kinsman says tighter security removes the U.S. from the people where the embassy or consulate is located and gives the impression that the U.S. is remote and not engaged.

Stevens' path to ambassadorship

In the meantime, Stevens and his co-workers are being mourned and remembered for doing what they loved. Chris Stevens' younger brother Tom spoke with reporters Wednesday. He described his brother as a natural diplomat, unflappable, even-tempered, and well liked by people everywhere he went because he was genuinely interested in them.

Stevens graduated from Piedmont High School in 1978. He was described as an outstanding student there and the current principal says he was active in the model UN, the theater department, and was also the editor of the school paper.

Stevens went on to attend UC Berkeley. A friend from high school, Austin Tichenor, became his roommate and fraternity brother there. "I think before today, I would have described him s a really great, great, old friend, but I didn't realize how close a friend he was really until this morning since I've been crying all day," he told ABC7 News.

Stevens was a 1989 graduate of Hastings but chose public service over law. Tichenor says that even after his appointment as U.S. ambassador to Libya, Stevens remained connected to friends through Facebook. "The only bit of solace I take in this whole thing is that he was doing what he loved to do and I think he, literally, died as he was trying to make the world a better place," Tichenor said.

Tom says his brother never married but had many girlfriends over the years. In the final weeks of his life, Stevens went to a friend's wedding in Sweden then traveled to Vienna to enjoy some restaurants and museums before returning to Libya to get back to work.

Stevens acclaimed by colleagues

Stevens colleagues are shocked and devastated. They say he was well liked in Libya and was a wonderful ambassador who ultimately embodied the UC Berkeley ideal. He had been working with professors at Berkeley on setting up an academic center in Libya. Those who were working with him at Cal say it is a huge loss.

"We are shocked. We are saddened. We are a little bit angry. Ambassador Stevens was really someone who was a partner for us," Emily Gottreich, Ph.D. said. "This ambassador knew the Libyans, understood the Libyans. There aren't that many people in this country who do. We haven't had close relations with Libya for a long time and that means there aren't that many Libya specialists in this country. So, we've lost one of them and we can't afford that loss." Gottreich says Stevens mastered the Arabic language and was both deeply engaged and very enthusiastic.

After Stevens graduated from Berkeley, he went on to Hastings School of Law. A professor there said he was not surprised to hear that Stevens went in and tried to evacuate his staff from the consulate. "He went to go save his own people. He didn't have to do that. He could've sent the Marines. He could've sent staff members to that consulate," Professor David Levine said. "He didn't have to go in there and he chose to go in there to try and save his people. And, it just seems to me that's just the epitome of what Chris was all about." Levine, who always kept in touch with Stevens, says Stevens knew when he was in dangerous situations but was devoted to his job and always kept at it.

Professors at Berkeley say they are committed to seeing Stevens' work continue and are dedicated to making sure the academic center gets established in Libya.

UC Berkeley chancellor statement

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau released a statement about Stevens' death saying, "Today, the University of California, Berkeley, mourns the loss of alumnus J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, who perished in yesterday's shameful attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya."

"After studying history at UC Berkeley, Chris, like so many of our graduates, joined the Peace Corps, which took him to Morocco in the early 1980s. This experience sparked in him an abiding interest in and passion for the Middle East, leading eventually to his successful career in the foreign service and postings in several Middle Eastern countries. He played a key role in supporting the Libyan revolution and was a champion for the country's emerging democracy," it continued.

"His life epitomized the best of UC Berkeley's graduates, a commitment to excellence at the highest level and a passion for making the world a better and more peaceful place. On behalf of our campus community, we extend our sincere condolences to his family, colleagues and friends. His family includes another UC Berkeley graduate, his father, Jan S. Stevens, who earned his political science and law degrees here in the 1950s. They are in our thoughts and prayers, as are those who also lost their lives in service to our nation in this terrible assault on our consulate."

Wednesday night, members of the UC Berkeley chapter of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity honored the life of Christopher Stevens.

ABC7 News reporters Eric Thomas, Amy Hollyfied, Heather Ishimaru, Ama Daetz and Mark Matthews contributed to this story.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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berkeley, afghanistan, uc berkeley, piedmont, terrorism, national/world
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