I've always had a visceral, outraged reaction to the idiots who think up and spread conspiracy theories. They're usually based on little or no evidence (sometimes claiming as 'evidence' facts that have nothing whatsoever to do with their theory), cause much mischief among those who lend any credence to them (despite the fact that they should know better), and sometimes do a great deal of harm to the families and survivors of those affected by the rumors.
Two classic examples are circulating right now in connection with the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last month, and the death of the US Ambassador and three others. The first claims that because the US Navy is temporarily replacing the Rear-Admiral formerly in command of the USS John C. Stennis strike group, this is somehow related to the Benghazi incident. It's completely untrue, because (as the Stars & Stripes article announcing the replacement points out) the Stennis sailed from Washington state in August and crossed the Pacific to its operational area in the Middle East (near the Persian Gulf). It was nowhere near the Mediterranean Sea during the Libyan crisis, and was therefore not in a position to intervene. The relief of the Rear-Admiral commanding the strike group clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with events in Libya.
The second conspiracy theory claims that the Commanding General of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), General Carter F. Ham, was relieved of his command because he intended to intervene in the Libyan crisis, in defiance of alleged orders to 'stand down' from the Pentagon. The rumor reads:
The information I heard today was that General Ham as head of Africom received the same e-mails the White House received requesting help/support as the attack was taking place. General Ham immediately had a rapid response unit ready and communicated to the Pentagon that he had a unit ready.
General Ham then received the order to stand down. His response was to screw it, he was going to help anyhow. Within 30 seconds to a minute after making the move to respond, his second in command apprehended General Ham and told him that he was now relieved of his command.
The story continues that now General Rodiguez (sic) would take General Ham's place as the head of Africon (sic).
There's more at the link (although why you'd want to read such scurrilous nonsense, I don't know).
This rumor, too, is a lie. For a start, consider the visit of the Prime Minister of São Tomé and Príncipe to AFRICOM's headquarters in Germany on September 24th - two weeks after the Libyan crisis. In the photographs showing his arrival, who's shaking his hand and walking beside him? That's right - it's General Ham, still in charge of AFRICOM despite having allegedly been 'relieved of his command'. Secondly, General David M. Rodriguez is currently the Commanding General of US Army Forces Command. He's been nominated to succeed General Ham as part of routine personnel rotation, but has yet to be confirmed in that role by the US Senate. Assuming that happens, he won't take command of AFRICOM for some months. (Furthermore, announcing the nomination - on October 18th, several weeks after the Libyan crisis - Defense Secretary Panetta praised General Ham highly, something he'd be unlikely to do if the latter was 'under a cloud' in some way.)
I'm sure all the officers involved have been embarrassed by these unfounded rumors. I agree that the entire Libyan affair was a scandal - I've written about it before - but to spread unfounded rumors like those above, about such a tragedy, is completely unacceptable. Irresponsible speculation and attempts to make political capital out of the tragedy are just as bad. We're talking about people's lives here, dammit!
As one who's had to counsel the survivors of the victims of murder and other untimely deaths, I can't help but think of how much distress such rumors must inevitably have caused to the families of those who died in Benghazi. I'll have no ethical or moral qualms if something creatively painful happens to those who instigate and spread them. Such rumor-mongering is (to my mind) as much an atrocity, in its own way, as the murder of US citizens.