Myth vs. Fact on Benghazi Hearing
Last month, five House Republican committee chairmen issued a staff report on the attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, from which Democratic staff and members had been excluded. Tomorrow, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, is holding a hearing to follow up on that report. But the welter of inflammatory charges ignore the record already established by more than 30 hearings, interviews and briefings with senior government officials – including high-profile hearings with former Secretaries Clinton and Panetta as well as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey; the review of more than 25,000 pages of documents; and a thorough investigation by an Accountability Review Board (ARB), chaired by two distinguished nonpartisan statesmen: Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen. That process, not a political side show, can establish the truth of what happened.
Myth: State Department used threats and intimidation as part of a conspiracy.
FACT: Claims did not hold up to questioning by FOX News. Think Progress reports that, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), a member of both the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Judiciary Committee, “accused the Department of State of repeated threats and intimidation against witnesses to last year’s attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. But when pressed by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace for examples, he could offer none.” Chaffetz later pushed a theory of cover-up and conspiracy that prompted FOX News hosts Brian Kilmeade, Steve Doocy and Gretchen Carlson to ridicule the idea that Amb. Thomas Pickering, Adm. Michael Mullen and Gen. David Petraeus were complicit in a political conspiracy. [Think Progress, 5/5/13. Think Progress, 5/6/13]
Myth: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally denied security to the Benghazi facility.
FACT: What the Washington Post Fact Checker called a “whopper” is a fundamental misunderstanding of diplomatic process. Rep. Issa claims, “The secretary of state was just wrong. She said she did not participate in this, and yet only a few months before the attack, she outright denied security in her signature in a cable, April 2012.” However, Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler gave Rep. Issa’s claim four Pinocchios, stating, “every cable from an embassy bears the ‘signature’ of the ambassador — and every cable from Washington bears the ‘signature’ of the secretary of state… In his interview, Issa presented this as a ‘gotcha’ moment, but it relies on an absurd understanding of the word ‘signature’… At this point, Issa has no basis or evidence to show that Clinton had anything to do with this cable — any more than she personally approved a cable on proper e-mail etiquette. The odds are extremely long that Clinton ever saw or approved this memo, giving us confidence that his inflammatory and reckless language qualifies as a ‘whopper.’” [Washington Post, The Fact Checker, 4/26/13]
Myth: Washington denied on the ground support to the victims of the attack.
FACT: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has testified that no one was ordered to stand down, ARB found response “timely and appropriate.” This issue has been extensively explored. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey was specifically asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham, “Did Gen. [Carter] Ham [Commander of U.S. Africa Command] order a military asset in motion and someone told him to stand down?” Dempsey responded, “No. In fact he was with us in the Pentagon.”
This issue was also explored extensively by the ARB which found, “The interagency response was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time given the speed of the attacks for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference. Senior-level interagency discussions were underway soon after Washington received initial word of the attacks and continued through the night. The Board found no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders. Quite the contrary: the safe evacuation of all U.S. government personnel from Benghazi twelve hours after the initial attack and subsequently to Ramstein Air Force Base was the result of exceptional U.S. government coordination and military response and helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans. In addition, at the State Department’s request, the Department of Defense also provided a Marine FAST (Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team) as additional security support for Embassy Tripoli on September 12.” [Martin Dempsey via USA Today, 2/8/13. ARB, 12/12]
Myth: The report on which the hearing is based is a non-political attempt to determine what happened around Benghazi.
FACT: Bipartisan participation was blocked. The five ranking Democratic members of the committees who drafted the report sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner stating, “We are writing to strongly object to your decision to issue a partisan Republican staff report on Benghazi and dispense with House procedures for vetting official committee reports to correct inaccuracies and mischaracterizations. By abandoning regular order and excluding Democratic Members entirely from this process, you are unnecessarily politicizing our national security and casting aside the system used by the House for generations to avoid making obvious mistakes, errors, and omissions… Although staff reports may be appropriate in some circumstances, we do not believe a partisan staff report should be used in this case, which involves the death of a U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans and is based on sensitive and classified national security information.” [John Conyers, Jr., Elijah E. Cummings, Eliot L. Engel, Adam Smith, C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, 4/22/13]
Myth: Threat of terrorism was not taken seriously; State’s counterterrorism shop was shut out of the response.
FACT: The head of the counterterrorism bureau at the time of the attack: “At no time did I feel that the Bureau was in any way being left out of deliberations.” Amb. Daniel Benjamin, who was the coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department at the time of the Benghazi attack, released a statement yesterday stating, “It has been alleged that the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau was cut out of the discussion and decision-making in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks. I ran the bureau then, and I can say now with certainty, as the former Coordinator for Counterterrorism, that this charge is simply untrue. Though I was out of the country on official travel at the time of the attack, I was in frequent contact with the Department. At no time did I feel that the Bureau was in any way being left out of deliberations that it should have been part of.” [Daniel Benjamin, 5/6/13]
Myth: There has been no accountability for what happened in Benghazi.
FACT: After the investigation State Department has adopted all recommendations. Following the release of the ARB report late last year, which faulted State Department officials in Washington for ignoring requests from the American Embassy in Tripoli for more guards and for failing to make sufficient safety upgrades, four high-level State Department officials have been placed on administrative leave. In efforts to prevent another such attack the Department also adopted all of the ARB’s 29 recommendations and is working to implement them. Concrete efforts to improve security include: assessing high-threat posts; adjusting personnel to prioritize security; and transferring funds for diplomatic security. [NSN, 12/19/12]
What We’re Reading
Pyongyang removed two medium-range missiles from a coastal launch site, indicating a lowering of tensions in the peninsula.
The President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, is expected to launch an overhaul plan of the state-run petroleum company, Petroleos de Mexico.
The Obama administration on Monday accused the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army of a deliberate use of cyberweapons against the U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to push Russia to take a tougher stance on Syria.
The state-controlled Bank of China said that it had halted all dealings with a key North Korean bank in what appears to be the strongest public Chinese response to North Korea’s actions.
Candidate registration has begun in Iran for the upcoming presidential election, which will replace President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of former British ambassador Nicholas Kay as special envoy for Somalia.
India’s foreign ministry reports that India and China have started pulling back troops from disputed territory.
Malian forces pushed into the village of Ber, northeast of Timbuktu and previously occupied by fighters from Tuareg rebel groups.
Commentary of the Day
The Washington Post Editorial Board argues against a new report that claims immigration reform will be a drain on taxpayers.
David Rothkopf examines the “red lines” for Syria.