WASHINGTON, DC – In an address to the United Nations General Assembly today, President Barack Obama dedicated several long passages to discussing and condemning what the New York Times has described as a 14-minute “amateurish video” that a 55-year-old Southern California man posted on YouTube in June.
Obama also told the United Nations that with modern technology efforts to control the flow of information have become “obsolete.”
The Obama administration had originally suggested that the video in question—which the New York Times said was a trailer for a movie entitled “The Innocence of Muslims”—may have been responsible for inspiring a mob to attack the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11 and to kill U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
However, the Libyan prime minister said last week that the attack on the U.S. consulate was pre-planned. Also, the chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee said on Sunday that not only was the attack planned but also that there was reason to believe it had been carried out by al Qaeda or an al Qaeda-affiliated group and that he had seen no evidence that there had even been a demonstration outside the consulate before the attack.
“In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening; in every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they are willing to tolerate freedom for others,” Obama told the United Nations.
“That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world,” he said.
“I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity,” said Obama. “It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well–for as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion–we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe. We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them.
“I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video,” said Obama. “The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.
“Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense,” said the president.
“Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs,” he said. “As President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views–even views that we profoundly disagree with.
“Now, I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that,” said Obama. “But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how do we respond. And on this we must agree: there is no speech that justifies mindless violence.
“There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents,” said Obama. “There is no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.”
“More broadly, the events of the last two weeks also speak to the need for all of us to address honestly the tensions between the West and the Arab World that is moving toward democracy,” said Obama. “Just as we cannot solve every problem in the world, the United States has not, and will not, seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad, and we do not expect other nations to agree with us on every issue. Nor do we assume that the violence of the past weeks, or the hateful speech by some individuals, represent the views of the overwhelming majority of Muslims–any more than the views of the people who produced this video represent those of Americans.”
In a story published on Sept. 16, the New York Times described the video the president spoke about at the United Nations as follows: “The incendiary, amateurish video–a 14-minute trailer for a supposed full-length feature called ‘The Innocence of Muslims’–depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a buffoon, a womanizer and a child molester. It was first uploaded to YouTube in June, and translated into Arabic and uploaded several more times in the week leading up to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.”
Last week, according to Deputy State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland, the U.S. government spent $70,000 to air a television advertisement on seven Pakistani television stations. The ad featured Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama condemning the YouTube video.
On CNN on Sunday, House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R.-Ala.) said he had seen no evidence that there had been a protest outside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi before terrorists attacked the facility and killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans there.
“I have seen no information that shows that there was a protest going on as you have seen around any other embassy at the time,” Rogers said. “It was clearly designed to be an attack.”
Rogers also said there was a “high degree of probability” that those who attacked the consulate had some connection to al Qaeda.
“Who were they?” CNN’s Candy Crowly asked the intelligence chairman.
“We don’t know for sure and for certain yet,” said Rogers. “We have–At least I look at the information, have a high degree of probability that it is an al Qaeda or al Qaeda-affiliated group that had a very specific target in mind, and that was to attack the consulate and cause as much harm, chaos, and death as possible.”
Libyan Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur also told CNN he believed that attack on the consulate was pre-planned.
“Have you then determined this attack was preplanned?” CNN Senior International Correspondent Arwa Damon asked Abushagur.
“Oh, I think it is. I think it is. Because the way it has taken place, the way they have done it, it’s clear this group has planned it,” said Abushagur. “So, it is not a spontaneous thing that took place that night, no.”