In rolling out his new memoir in media appearances, former defense secretary Leon Panetta has explained that from the start of the Benghazi terrorist attack, he told President Obama it was, in fact, a terrorist attack. This conflicts with the president’s implausible account. Mr. Panetta, moreover, has acknowledged the obvious: namely, that unanswered questions about the attack, including why no meaningful effort was made to rescue Americans under siege, demand additional congressional attention.
It has been five months since the House established a select committee to investigate this act of war in which our enemies attacked a sovereign American compound, killing our Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, and wounding many others. Yet the public continues to get more significant information about the episode from Fox News programs than from the panel created to establish what happened and ensure accountability for governmental decisions made before, during and after the attack. Consequently, I’ve joined several other concerned citizens, including several former government officials, in the following open letter to select committee chairman Trey Gowdy, calling for more energy and more expeditious inquiry.
Dear Mr. Chairman:
As you are well aware, on May 8, 2014, the House of Representatives adopted H. Res. 567 “Providing for the Establishment of the Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi, Libya”. With the publication this week of former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s book, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leaders in War and Peace, the need for such an inquiry has become both indisputable and even more urgent.
In particular, it is clear that there is more – and likely much more – that has yet to be established about the murderous September 11, 2012 jihadist attack on American facilities in Benghazi and those assigned to them. Indeed, former Secretary Panetta is providing an account of the Benghazi attacks that differs dramatically from what President Obama and his spokesmen presented in the hours, days and weeks after the attack.
For example, when shown a video clip of the former security contractors who defended the CIA Annex, who described how they were told to stand down that night by their superiors, Mr. Panetta agreed that Congress needed to investigate their story. Secretary Panetta has claimed that he set in motion a number of military units that night. Why was none of them directed to actually reach Benghazi? Who gave the ultimate order to U.S. military forces not to come to the rescue of our people in Benghazi that night? Was it the Secretary of State? The President? Or someone else? If so, on whose authority?
In addition, Mr. Panetta is saying in the course of his book tour that he disagreed with the assessment of CIA Director David Petraeus that the attacks were a demonstration turned violent. But what was the source of Gen. Petraeus’ assessment, since we know from other congressional committees that the CIA station chief in Tripoli was emailing the Director’s deputy, Mike Morell, within 48 hours of the attacks, telling him emphatically there had been no demonstration in Benghazi that night?
The need for full accountability for what really happened in Benghazi – and to establish how to prevent such murderous attacks on our foreign missions in the future – has taken on even greater urgency in light of recent developments with ominous implications for American diplomats, military personnel and security contractors overseas. These include:
- This summer, we had to evacuate our embassy in Tripoli, Libya because of threatening jihadist operations there.
- This week, our embassy in Sanaa, Yemen has come under attack – reportedly putting another 80 Americans at risk from jihadists who are openly boasting of their plans to kill Americans.
- Should Baghdad fall to the Islamic State in coming weeks or, more likely, the Green Zone come under enemy fire, some1000 of our countrymen and women could be at risk.
Has our government learned the lessons of Benghazi? Does it have actionable plans in place that will provide for the defense of our embassies and people in Sanaa or Baghdad?
We believe that Congress has a responsibility to get to the bottom of such questions as a matter of the utmost urgency. Otherwise, more American lives may be on the line and needlessly lost.
Clearly, the fact that the House of Representatives is in recess is not an impediment to holding hearings in the immediate future as you and other Members of Congress have been returning to Washington in recent days to hold high-profile hearings concerning a Secret Service scandal and the spread of Ebola. It strains credulity that Congress cannot find time for hearings about an act of war in which four Americans – including our ambassador – were killed, with many others seriously wounded as sovereign American territory was attacked by terrorist enemies determined to murder more of us. We know for a fact that the Islamic State, al Qaeda, Iran and a growing universe of jihadists are busy plotting to create more Benghazis, here and elsewhere.
What is the select congressional committee doing to prevent that?
We respectfully request that you make plain to the American people, who are seeking the truth and anxious to avoid any repetition of Benghazi that might arise from its continued suppression, that you will promptly secure the testimony under oath of Secretary Panetta and the other principals and key subordinates who have first-hand knowledge of the events that took place on the night of the 11th of September. In light of the stakes, hearings for this purpose should be held this month, not weeks and weeks from now.