A Voice for Ambassador Chris Stevens

April 4, 2016 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS

By

Lydie Denier

 

“This is NBC breaking news, what started as scattered violence against the American Embassy in Cairo and the US Consulate in Benghazi is taking a very deadly turn.”

I was at home in Laguna Beach, California when Matt Lauer’s voice filled the air around me. I had barely had time for my first sip of morning coffee while sitting in bed watching the Today Show.

A chill ran through my body as I stared at the television, unable to absorb the information and the face I had just seen flash across the TV. The man pictured had blond-gray hair, blue eyes, and a big white grin I knew only too well. In disbelief I walked to the television screen to get a closer look at his photo, his name clearly visible underneath. I didn’t have my glasses on, but still the blindness that I felt was not normal, I was in shock. His photo was replaced by images of flames in the background.

 

       Photo Credit: Reuters

 

Matt Lauer continued to report. “Reuters and AFP are reporting that the American ambassador to Libya, along with three other State Department workers have been killed in an attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi. A Greek contractor with the US Mission in Benghazi is telling NBC that he identified the body of Ambassador Chris Stevens in a Benghazi street earlier today.”

I wanted to run or to scream but I couldn’t. My knees were shaking and unable to move. I felt a sharp pain pierce my heart. My blurry vision was getting worse as I thought “Oh God, what is going on?” A wave of nausea washed over me but I sat, frozen to my spot on the bed, staring intently at the television screen.

“It couldn’t be him,” I tried to convince myself. “It has to be a mistake; it must be another Chris Stevens.”

Then his picture reappeared. I grabbed my glasses and now I could see without a doubt that there was no mistake; It was my Chris, my skinny chicken and he was gone… forever.

I had seen that picture before; it was his official photo as ambassador and now I would never see him again.

 

 

An icy shiver stabbed my body like the blade of a knife, over and over again each time his image flashed across the screen.

I stared at the television set as though it were a speck on planet Earth. And for an instant, I saw myself in space looking down on it all, a tiny fragment in the overall scheme of life. Every part of my brain wanted to deny that the man in the photo was Chris Stevens, Ambassador to Libya. A man I had loved, to whom I had been engaged, but the reality was impossible to ignore. My life would never be the same again.

 

 

I met Chris Stevens in Cairo on September 11, 1994. We were both smitten from the start. He was my first love, and I was his.

 

 

When we broke off our engagement it had only been a few weeks after terrorists had murdered over 3,000 people at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. However, we remained devoted friends until his tragic death.

 

 

I lived in Hollywood and when Chris visited his parents in Oakland we loved getting together to catch up on our latest adventures. How could either of us have imagined that he would be murdered in Benghazi on September 11th, 2012? Eerily, in my last email to Chris about three weeks before his death, I said, “Stay away from bullets.”

Back when we first met, Chris was an ambitious 34 year old, fluent in both Arabic and French. He was an up-and-comer in the Foreign Service, serving as consular officer at the US embassy in Cairo, with dreams of becoming an ambassador.

 

 

I was a 30-year-old French-born actress who’d found success in American television, as the character Jane in the series Tarzan.

Chris asked me to marry him only five months after we met, and we became engaged.

 

 

For much of our seven years as a couple we maintained a long-distance relationship; traveling to be together at every opportunity. When Chris and I finally decided to part ways, I knew that he was committed to becoming an ambassador more than anything else, and that this was his destiny.

 

 

At one time he wanted a family, but in the end, his desire to change the world superseded everything else. Like so many people in history who leave a lasting mark, Chris was not interested in living a normal, peaceful, safe, and secure existence. There was something far more compelling that he had to pursue and catch before his time tragically ran out.

 

 

This September will be the fourth anniversary since Chris’s murder in Benghazi. The politicians in Washington continue pointing fingers over who is to blame. Those politicians have been giant shade trees blocking out the sun that should have been shining on Chris. Chris did not die in combat and the media has depicted him as a victim, not a hero, but Chris Stevens was indeed a hero in the truest sense of the word.

 

 

Throughout his diplomatic career Chris took risks that placed him in many dangerous settings. 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.

Chris would have scorned the politicians for spending so much time playing the blame game. Instead, he may have zeroed in on who might carry out the initiatives he put into action during his short tenure as ambassador.

Few knew Chris was scheduled to attend a meeting at Benghazi Medical Center, the morning after the attack. That meeting’s agenda involved reviewing an ambitious but badly needed project for a new division devoted to emergency medicine. It was a project that Chris had been personally spearheading. In a tragic irony, Chris’s dead body was brought to this same hospital on the morning the meeting was supposed to take place.

In the fall of 2013, one year after Chris’s death in Benghazi, I went to see Mary Commanday, Chris’s bereaved mother and my former mother-in-law-to-be, at her home in San Francisco. We talked about Chris, and the many ways his family planned on carrying out his legacy. One such project, ‘The Chris Stevens Fund,’ will support programs that build bridges between the people of the United States and the Middle East.

Chris’s murder captured the attention of the world, and since his death, the Benghazi attack remains a hot media topic that is once again making daily headlines. Unfortunately, those headlines are still driven by the agendas of politicians.

The media is immersed in legal questions about Hillary Clinton’s private server. This does not interest me. What interests me is this: No one disputes that the Secretary of State had thousands of emails on her private server immediately following the night Chris was killed in Benghazi, many of which were written that same night. She could have made those emails public, allowing people like me to see them, the next day or the next week.  Instead, she did not tell anyone she had them for more than two years while I was hungry and desperate for information about what really happened that night. The delay in revealing information about what took place in Benghazi was painful for me, leaving me frustrated and angry. I am also angry that although Hillary Clinton’s emails have been made public, we have also been told that she has destroyed 30,000 of those emails deciding to hide them from the world.

 

       Photo Credit: AFP

 

She says they are “personal”, but who believes her? The story continues to revolve around politicians protecting themselves, yet Chris’s contributions to his country have largely been forgotten amid the continued finger pointing and rhetoric.

In a CNN article, Jan Stevens, Chris’s father said, “Chris was not willing to be the kind of diplomat who would strut around in fortified compounds. He amazed and impressed the Libyans by walking the streets with the lightest of escorts, sitting in sidewalk cafes, chatting with passers-by. There was a risk to being accessible. He knew it, and he accepted it.”

 

 

His whole life, Chris was busy trying to represent America’s most coveted democratic principles such as individual freedom and respect of human rights. His goal was to improve the lives of the Libyan people. As Gregory Hicks, the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya said, “For us, the people that go out under the edge to represent our country, we believe that if we get in trouble, they’re coming to get us, that our back is covered. To hear that it’s not–that is a terrible, terrible experience.” Chris was one of those heroes who would rush in to save a stranger. If someone else were under attack in the annex, and he had been President or Secretary of State, there is no question that Chris would have run to the sound of the guns because that’s who he was. He probably assumed that the people backing him up were like him. That was his mistake.

Chris’s murder collapsed time for me, as though everything I felt for him had just occurred yesterday.

 

 

As the two-year anniversary of Benghazi rolled around on September 11, 2014, my sorrow gave way to full-blown rage. The public, the media, and worst of all, the State Department, seemed to be blaming Chris for his own fate.

I realized that the story I needed to tell was so much bigger than the story of Chris and me. I needed to tell the personal story of J. Christopher Stevens. Chris, a career US diplomat who had devoted his life to bettering the lives of the people in the Middle East, only to end up another casualty in a region that has spun out of control since he’d begun his first tour there in the early 90s. If Chris had survived, I am certain that one day, he would have written his own story.

My former fiancé, Ambassador Chris Stevens, no longer has a voice; therefore I will speak for him.

 

 

Lydie Denier has recently written a memoir about her life with Chris Stevens and is actively looking for a publisher. She has also partnered with Steven Barber and Vanilla Fire productions to film a documentary with the purpose of sharing Chris’ story with the world.

 

 

Photo credits: Lydie Denier, except where stated.

 

 

Lydie Denier

Actress, singer and model Lydie Denier, known for her extensive film and television work has appeared in several feature films including Bullet Proof and Wild Orchid II. Her television credits include her role as Jane Porter in the Tarzan series, Red Shoe Diaries, The Ellen Burstyn Show, China Beach, The Flash, General Hospital, Acapulco Heat, Spin City, Gilmour Girls, Starman, Baywatch, The Single Guy, Melrose Place, General Hospital, The Garry Shandling Show and Hammerhead. She has worked with such notable actors as Drew Barrymore, Terri Garr, Kathleen Quinlan, Martin Landau, Gary Busey and Malcolm Mcdowell. As a model she has appeared in both Vogue and Elle.

5 Comments

  1. Mary Gerdt June 08, at 10:57

    My heart goes out to Lydie Denier and family and friends of Ambassador Chris Stevens. May you find peace. May we be guided by people who care about people like Chris cared. He will always be a handsome upbeat guy, now better known thanks to Lydie. I don't want to know what happened between when the first panicked email began at the siege and when it ended for the Ambassador. I don't want to know but I Should Know. Like other truth seekers, I know ignoring injustice is being complicit. Even if all I have is words, I will share...to the world.

    Reply
  2. Rupen Savoulian April 08, at 04:45

    Here is my response: Heroes, villains, the Washington Post and historical amnesia https://rupensavoulian.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/heroes-villains-the-washington-post-and-historical-amnesia/

    Reply

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