Benghazi, One Year Later

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi attack, January 23, 2013.



What we know about the attack in Benghazi one year after the fact is that it is an example of the Obama administration’s incompetence and mendacity. More worrisome still is what we don’t know.

We do not know how or why the State Department would send Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team to work at a facility with almost comically insufficient security, in a city that was growing more dangerous by the week — in Libya, dangerous territory for Americans at the best of times.

Shortly after the attack, Hillary Clinton called for an internal Accountability Review Board to examine the decisions surrounding security in Benghazi. The ARB report faulted four midlevel officials, conspicuously absolving of all responsibility the secretary herself and her closest advisers. Whether Secretary Clinton’s thinking on the events was unclear or mistaken at the time, we do not know, since the so-called accountability panel unaccountably did not even bother to interview her.

The four found to be at fault were placed on paid administrative leave, but Secretary of State John Kerry returned them to regular duty in August; they will not face any formal disciplinary action, which is to say they were punished with extra vacation time.

Secretary Clinton may not have wanted to speak to the accountability panel; strangely, it also refused to interview those who did desire to share their testimony. The State Department inspector general’s office announced in May that it would investigate why the review board had “failed to interview key witnesses who had asked to provide their accounts of the Benghazi attacks to the panel.” The decision to willfully ignore State Department employees who were volunteering information about the murder of an American ambassador suggests that the board began with a conclusion and avoided any possible contact with evidence that might contradict that conclusion.

Then there is the great mystery about why Stevens and his team were in that dangerous city to begin with. We know Washington was deeply concerned about dangerous Islamists obtaining “stinger” surface-to-air missiles that were smuggled into Libya during the civil war by Qatar — with the secret blessing of the Obama administration. On August 1, CNN reported that “dozens” — as many as 35 — CIA personnel were in Benghazi the night of the attack and that seven were injured, a figure out of line with any previous government explanation of those bloody events.

There also remain the troubling questions about whether anything could have been done to save Stevens and his team that night. While testifying before Congress, Stevens’s deputy, Greg Hicks, said a security team at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli had been ordered to “stand down” — that is, ordered not to go to Benghazi to rescue U.S. personnel. Hicks described security-team leader Army Lt. Col. S. E. Gibson’s frustration over that order. In June, the House Armed Services Committee issued a terse statement insisting that Gibson was “not ordered to ‘stand down’ by higher command authorities” — with no explanation of why Hicks had testified otherwise. A CBS News report in October 2012 said that a Germany-based Commander’s In Extremis force was moved to Italy that night, but State Department “concerns about violating Libyan sovereignty made a military rescue mission impractical.” If a military rescue was attempted, it is critical to know why it was aborted — and by whom.

Finally, there is the issue of the laughably false explanation initially given to the American public surrounding the attack. White House press secretary Jay Carney has already been caught offering the bald-faced lie that the only changes to the “talking points” attributing the Benghazi attack to a protest over a YouTube video were “stylistic edits.” No one on the ground in Benghazi reported a protest, leaving no clear explanation of how it became the centerpiece of the administration’s storyline on the attacks. Unless, of course, the administration invented that explanation out of whole cloth.

The demonization of a nobody uploading videos onto YouTube, and his subsequent arrest on a parole violation, suggest a chilling cynicism at the highest levels of the Obama administration. In what may very well have been the most shameful moment in a career full of them, Hillary Clinton assured Charles Woods, the father of the slain former Navy SEAL, at a memorial service, “We will make sure the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted.” Obama continued to cite the video while discussing the Benghazi attacks on The Late Show with David Letterman and at a forum on Univision. Either he knew full well that his account was malicious fiction or his administration has been culpably negligent in its handling of sensitive intelligence.

After the attacks, the president made his usual rote pledges to ensure that justice is done. Today, one year later, no one has been arrested, jailed, or executed for his role in the murder of four Americans. Special operators in the region told Fox News in August that while Benghazi-related targets have been identified for months, officials in Washington could “never pull the trigger.”

For its stunning blend of recklessness, fecklessness, callousness, and shamelessness, Benghazi overcomes steep competition to remain the worst of the Obama administration’s collection of scandals. The American people deserve to know what happened and why.

The Benghazi Scandal
September 11, 2013, marks one year since the terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy compound in Benghazi, Libya. But even after lengthy investigations, troubling questions still remain about why and how the attack occurred, and about the handling of its aftermath. Here’s a look back.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2012: Protests erupt at the U.S. embassy in Cairo over the YouTube video Innocence of Muslims, which depicts Islam in a negative light. Some demonstrators storm the embassy walls and tear down the American flag.
A still from Innocence of Muslims. U.S. embassy staff in Egypt cite the film in a statement released just before the attacks, decrying "continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."
At the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, an alert goes out of an attack at around 9:40 p.m. local time. There are reports of crowds of attackers, gunfire, and explosions.
During a sporadic eight-hour battle in the Benghazi compound and nearby annex, Ambassador Chris Stevens is cornered and killed. He is the first U.S. ambassador to die in the field since 1988.
Another embassy staffer, foreign service officer Sean Smith, is also killed. Several unarmed drone aircraft are sent to the area to provide real-time intelligence.
Two more Americans — former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty (left) and Tyrone Woods — arrive later at the annex in an attempt to provide assistance and are believed to have been killed by mortar fire in the latter stages of the attack; several other personnel are severely wounded.
After the mortar attack, about 30 American personnel evacuate the annex. During the attack, several military emergency-response teams in the region are put on alert, but none are ultimately sent to Benghazi.
Three hours after the attacks begin, an alert is sent out from the State Department indicating that Ansar al-Sharia has claimed responsibility on social-media outlets.
Some of the burned buildings and vehicles at the Benghazi compound after the attack.
Mitt Romney blasts the Obama administration’s response to the attacks, citing the Egyptian embassy's statement: "It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
SEPTEMBER 12: President Obama speaks on the attacks, indirectly citing the YouTube video: "Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence.”
SEPTEMBER 14: The bodies of the four Americans killed at Benghazi arrive at Joint Base Andrews, where they are met by President Obama and Secretary Clinton.
SEPTEMBER 16: U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice appears on the Sunday news talk shows, citing intelligence reports to describe the Benghazi attack as initially a spontaneous demonstration inspired by the Cairo protests, which were “sparked by this hateful video.” Rice says it was “extremist elements” that attacked the compound.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) declares the attack was not spontaneous: “Most people don't bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to demonstrations. That was an act of terror… For anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact, I think, is really ignoring the facts.”
Libyan President Mohammed Magarief asserts: “The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous. We firmly believe that this was a precalculated, preplanned attack.”
SEPTEMBER 19: Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, tells Congress that Benghazi was a terrorist attack, citing possible connections to al-Qaeda, but characterized it as an “opportunistic attack.”
SEPTEMBER 20: The House Oversight Committee opens an inquiry into the Benghazi attack, and requests information from the State Department. Secretary Clinton delivers a closed-door briefing.
SEPTEMBER 21: Secretary Clinton describes Benghazi as a terrorist attack, but continues to reference the “offensive, disgusting, reprehensible” video Innocence of Muslims.
SEPTEMBER 27: Nakoula Baselley Nakoula, the Egyptian-born filmmaker behind Innocence of Muslims, is arrested for allegedly violating the terms of his probation because of his role in the film and use of an alias. He is later sentenced to one year in prison.
OCTOBER 2: Secretary Clinton appoints an Accountability Review Board to conduct an investigation of the attack, to be headed by Thomas Pickering.
OCTOBER 5: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) and three other senators speak out against administration spin on its talking points: "Either the Obama administration is misleading Congress and the American people, or it is blaming the entire failure on the intelligence community."
OCTOBER 8: Lieutenant Colonel Andy Wood, who headed a special-forces security team in Libya, says the State Department ignored repeated requests for more security for facilities in Libya, removing as many as 34 people in the six months prior to the Benghazi attack.
OCTOBER 15: Secretary Clinton says the State Department considered sending outside assets to Benghazi on the night of the attack but that it was a “fast moving, very difficult assault to try to figure out.”
OCTOBER 16: Mitt Romney brings up the Benghazi attacks during a debate with President Obama, asserting the administration took 14 days to admit it was a terror attack. Moderator Candy Crowley interjects claiming Obama did acknowledge it the day after the attack.
NOVEMBER 14: President Obama defends Ambassador Rice from critics: “[F]or them to go after the U.N. ambassador? Who had nothing to do with Benghazi? And was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received? To besmirch her reputation is outrageous."
NOVEMBER 16: Former CIA director David Petraeus testifies that the original information the agency provided for the administration’s talking points on Benghazi indicated it was a terror attack by a group linked to al-Qaeda, but that that conclusion was altered by Obama administration officials.
NOVEMBER 19: Administration officials defend Rice’s talking points as having been produced by the intelligence community, and that the White House and State Department made only one edit to the information, changing “consulate” to “diplomatic facility.”
NOVEMBER 27: Ambassador Rice meets in a closed session with senators who have been critical of her statements on Benghazi. Senator McCain later says he was “significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn't get.”
DECEMBER 13: Ambassador Rice formally withdraws her name from consideration to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
DECEMBER 15: The State Department announces that Secretary Clinton will not testify before Congress on Benghazi due to a recent injury (she reportedly fainted and suffered a concussion).
DECEMBER 18: The State Department Accountability Review Board releases its report on Benghazi, concluding that “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” resulted in an inability to deal with the September 11 attack. The board also concludes that there had been no demonstration outside the compound prior to the attack.
DECEMBER 31: A bipartisan report from the Senate Homeland Security Administration entitled “Flashing Red” concludes that the State Department, Pentagon, and White House failed to respond to and prepare for security risks prior to the attack, and that the Pentagon failed to place adequate resources in the region.
JANUARY 23: Secretary Clinton makes a contentious appearance before two congressional committees investigating Benghazi. While she takes ultimate responsibility for the deaths that occurred, she denies reviewing specify requests for additional security prior to the attack.
Clinton also lashes out at critics who questioned the administration’s initial talking points, declaring: "We had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or because of guys out for a walk one night and decided to go kill some Americans? At this point, what difference does it make?"
JANAURY 27: President Obama and Secretary Clinton appear on 60 Minutes. Says Clinton: “It was a great personal loss to lose [Ambassador Stevens] and three other brave Americans. But I also have looked back and tried to figure out what we could do so that nobody, insofar is possible, would be in this position again."
FEBRUARY 7: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifies before Congress on the Pentagon’s inability to respond to the Benghazi attack: ”We were not dealing with a prolonged or continuous assault, which could have been brought to an end by a U.S. military response, very simply, although we had forces deployed to the region."
FEBRUARY 23: The White House agrees to release additional Benghazi documents in order to end a filibuster over John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director.
MARCH 5: Details about the shifting content of the administration’s Benghazi talking points in the days after the attack emerge suggesting that press officers at the White House, Pentagon, and FBI were involved in changing references to al-Qaeda from initial versions.
APRIL 23: A progress report by five House committees concludes that Secretary Clinton and other officials reduced security levels at Benghazi, contradicting Clinton’s congressional testimony. It also charges that officials removed references to Islamic extremists from the original talking points.
MAY 8: Former Libya deputy chief of mission Gregory Hicks testifies before the House Oversight Committee. Hicks says that more could have been done to provide for security at Benghazi, and that some special forces were ordered to stand down rather than attempt to intervene.
Hicks also says he was “stunned” by Ambassador Rice’s claims that the attack evolved out of a protest over the YouTube movie, when the consensus of those in the region was that it had been a terrorist attack. Says Hicks: “My jaw dropped. And I was embarrassed.”
MAY 10: Secretary of State John Kerry blasts the ongoing investigations into Benghazi, calling it a "pure, prolonged, political process that really doesn't tell us anything new about the facts."
MAY 13: President Obama dismisses the controversy over edits to the talking point as a “sideshow.” White House press secretary Jay Carney’s explanations for apparent changes in the documents — and his own previous characterizations — generate widespread criticism.
AUGUST 6: The Department of Justice files the first criminal charges in the Benghazi investigation against Libyan militia leader Ahmed Khattalah. Khattalah has been linked to Ansar al-Sharia, and had previously been found and interviewed by both CNN and the New York Times.
Updated: Sep. 13, 2013