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What Exactly Was the U.S. “Consulate” in Benghazi, Libya?

Though the media have generally referred to the Benghazi-based U.S. facility attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2012 as a “consulate,” it should rightfully be called a “mission.” As investigative journalist Aaron Klein points out:

“A consulate typically refers to the building that officially houses a consul, who is the official representativ[e] of the government of one state in the territory of another.... Consulates at times function as junior embassies, providing services related to visas, passports and citizen information.... The main role of a consulate is to foster trade with the host and care for its own citizens who are traveling or living in the host nation. Diplomatic missions, on the other hand, maintain a more generalized role. A diplomatic mission is simply a group of people from one state or an international inter-governmental organization present in another state to represent matters of the sending state or organization in the receiving state.”

Notably, the U.S. State Department website has no listing of any consulate located in Benghazi. Still more evidence that the facility was a mission rather than a consulate comes from the post-September 11 remarks of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both of whom referred to the post as a “mission.”

It was not, however, what is commonly referred to as a diplomatic mission. International law requires that before a diplomatic mission can be set up, the host country must be notified and must give its consent. But the U.S. never notified the Libyan government about this facility. Longtime U.S. ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, who was eventually appointed chairman of a federal investigation into the Benghazi massacre of September 11, 2012, refers to the facility as a “special U.S. mission” that also served as “a temporary residential facility.”


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