When a person you love dies, you want to know why. At least, I do. Often, it is easy to know the answer. Someone who dies of cancer in the hospital receives a death certificate stating the disease. A soldier killed in the line of duty receives a posthumous commendation explaining the circumstances of his death, and a mother who dies during childbirth has this written up in her medical records before being sent to the morgue.
When my former fiancé, Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens died, I wanted to know why, when and how. I did not try to assess blame; I needed the answers to process my grief.
Many people who have lost loved ones will understand this. I suppose that is one reason why we have accountability for death caused by criminal intent. When a loved one is the victim of a hit-and-run, the authorities and public do everything to locate the killer and provide other details about what occurred. But when a U.S. Ambassador was murdered in a remote city in the Middle East, the President did not allow that to upset his plans. Instead, he flew from Washington to Las Vegas the next day for a fundraiser. We should not be surprised then that no one has been helpful at getting to the truth about what happened to Chris Stevens and why. I wrote this book to set the record straight, and for our government to stop blaming Chris for the lack of security.
My book, “A Voice for Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens,” is the only book related to the overly politicized Benghazi tragedy that sets out to honor Chris Stevens. It is a story of a brilliant, complex man, a courageous idealist who sacrificed love in exchange for his incredible drive to better the lives of the people in the Middle East. In telling this story, I have incorporated the many love letters and email exchanges highlighting not only our deep feelings for one another, but also the many historic political and international diplomacy events Chris was involved with. It details the principles he lived by, principles that we rarely see in most individuals: Selfless service, honor, integrity and courage.
I met Chris Stevens in Cairo on September 11, 1994, the same day and month of the World Trade Center tragedy, September 11, 2001, and the same day and month Chris died in Benghazi, September 11, 2012. Coincidence? Irony? Who knows? Back then Chris was an ambitious 34-year-old, fluent in Arabic and French, an up-and-comer in the Foreign Service, serving as consular officer at the U.S. embassy in Cairo. He had dreams of becoming an ambassador. I was a 30-year-old French-born actress who’d found success as the character Jane in the American TV series “Tarzan.” I had travelled to Cairo as the guest of honor to help celebrate the inauguration of a French edition of the city’s paper, Al Ahram. It turned out that “Tarzan,” dubbed in Arabic, had become a huge hit in Egypt.
I fell in love with Chris hard and quickly, so taken by this exceptionally intelligent, charismatic man who was intently focused on getting to the heart and soul of who I was. We didn’t know how, but we knew that we would affect each other’s life.
During the first days after the Benghazi attack, the government was deliberately deceptive – lying to the American people about what motivated the attack – and telling them that Chris was killed because protest over an American-produced video had surged out of control, an event that occurred in Cairo, not Benghazi. The Benghazi murders occurred less than two months before a presidential election. In those days, I more or less expected politicians to lie in order to garner votes. Therefore, I waited until the election was over for the true story to emerge. It didn’t. Facts floated through the media, but there was no shape to them, no story that made sense.
This is what inspired me to search for the truth, an urge that I could not ignore. When Chris was murdered, I became obsessed with a need to know each detail about what happened in Benghazi, although I was intensely aware of the gaps in the information available. Imagine a gigantic jigsaw puzzle on the floor, the random pieces scattered around in chaos of bits of information, each piece a vital fact provided through the media that somehow fit together with the others to complete the final picture I was attempting to form in my mind.
Because Chris did not die in combat, the media has depicted him as a victim—not a hero. But Chris Stevens was indeed a hero. He was the first American on the ground in Tripoli when the United States re-established diplomatic relations with General Muammar Gaddafi in 2002, and he was the first American on the ground to meet with rebel leaders plotting to overthrow the despised dictator on April 5, 2011. Throughout his diplomatic career, Chris took risks that placed him in many such dangerous settings.
Chris’s murder got the attention of the world, and the Benghazi attack remains a hot media topic that is once again making daily headlines. The story continues to revolve around politicians protecting themselves, yet Chris’s contributions to his country have been forgotten.
President Barack Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s choice to sit still, leaving Americans alone, entirely on their own to fend for themselves in Benghazi, will go down in history as a singular act of cowardice. The choice was Secretary Clinton’s to make: either scrap the mission or improve the security, but do not desert your countrymen who it is your duty to protect, leaving your most important asset in a meat grinder to die.
I hope that my book will inspire people, like it has reminded me, to not only achieve your dreams but also remember to cherish every day.
Lydie M. Denier is an accomplished actress, demonstrating her versatility with appearances in over forty television series and feature films. Now, as she enters this next stage of her life as more of a writer than an actress, she embraces it with all the joie de vivre for which the French are famous.