Chris Stevens: Admired and respected diplomat killed in the Benghazi consulate bombing


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The Independent Online

Chris Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya, who died along with three other US officials after a rocket attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, was the first American ambassador to be killed by an act of terrorism since Adolph Dubs in Kabul in 1979. The attack came on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, and amid protests against the US-made anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims.

Stevens, who was appointed in January this year, was a highly respected diplomat in the region, having been an envoy to the Transitional National Council (TNC) during the Libyan uprising in 2011. On taking the job he had expressed his "extraordinary honour" at being selected for the position and wanted to continue the rebuilding of Libya following the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi.

He returned to what he proudly called a "democratic Libya". "I had the honour to serve as the US envoy to the Libyan opposition during the revolution, and was thrilled to watch the Libyan people demand their rights," he said. "Now I am excited to return to Libya to continue the great work we started." He was described by President Obama as "a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States ... His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice."

Unlike many other American diplomats, Stevens liked to immerse himself in the cultures of the countries he resided in. A keen linguist, he had learned Arabic and French; coupled with his easygoing, personable and warm character, this had enabled him to gain a rapport and an affinity with his counterparts. As the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "Chris Stevens won friends for America in distant places and made other people's hopes his own."

A former Canadian diplomat, John Bell, recalled, "Chris was a consummate professional, calm and deliberative, with a real sensitivity to the Arab world. He was good on the ground, and he had a way about him that endeared him to a lot of people. He listened to a lot of people and was not highly opinionated. And that made him a good and unusual American diplomat."

John Christopher Stevens was born in Grass Valley, a small town in northern California, in 1960, the eldest of three children to Jan, a lawyer and California's Assistant Attorney General, and Mary, a concert cellist. By the end of the decade the family had moved to Davis, near Sacramento, where they lived until his parents divorced in the early 1970s.

In 1982, Stevens graduated in history from the University of California, Berkeley. Always keen to travel, in 1983 he visited Morocco, where he worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years, learning Arabic while teaching English in the Atlas Mountains region. "I quickly grew to love this part of the world," he said.

Upon his return to the US Stevens attended the University of California's Hastings College of Law and graduated in 1989. He went on to become an international trade lawyer based in Washington, DC, and was admitted as an active member of the State Bar of California in January 1990 before joining the US Foreign Service in 1991. In 2010, he received an honorary degree from the National War College.

With his language skills, Stevens received a number of postings to the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Israel. In 1996, he was appointed staff assistant in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department in Washington and special assistant to the Under-Secretary for Political Affairs. He had also served as Director of the Office of Multilateral Nuclear and Security Affairs and Pearson Fellow with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. By May 2007, he had also served as a staff adviser on Middle Eastern affairs to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Stevens' interest and focus on Libya began in June 2007, with his first posting as a Deputy Chief of Mission, when Colonel Gaddafi was attempting to repair decades of poor relations. Two years later, he became the chargé d'affaires at the embassy in Tripoli.

His second tour in Libya came in April last year, when he served as special representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council and was sent to the rebel headquarters in Benghazi so he could better understand the different factions trying to overthrow Gaddafi. He arrived in Benghazi hiding aboard a Greek cargo ship, as, he said, "there weren't any flights." With his team, Stevens – the highest-ranking US representative there – facilitated "non-lethal military assistance" to the TNC.

Stevens had played down the dangers inherent in opening a US diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Instead, he focused on explaining his mission there: to support a democratic transition in Libya, which had been ruled by a dictator for four decades.

Stevens had been determined to finish the work he had started and, as Hillary Clinton added, "was committed to advancing America's values and interests, even when that meant putting himself in danger."

In his free time, Stevens enjoyed tennis, playing all over the world and using it to keep fit – but also as a way of getting to know other diplomats. He also enjoyed running and even ran on the dangerous streets of Tripoli, followed by his security detail.

Stevens never married and is survived by his half-sister, brothers and parents.

John Christopher Stevens, lawyer and diplomat: born Grass Valley, California 18 April 1960; died Benghazi, Libya 11 September 2012.