Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Benghazi facts and fictions
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Republicans cannot believe that the voters have paid so little attention to the events last year at Benghazi that took the lives of four Americans, including the much beloved ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. Democrats are equally confounded by the GOP’s determination to find in the chaotic events evidence of an administration cover-up that would deflect blame for the deaths and conceal a terrorist attack. Now, into the mix the Republican-controlled House of Representatives brought forth people whom they claim to be whistle blowers, but instead appear to have an anti-administration agenda.
Five congressional committees are investigating various aspects of Benghazi, and the one with the most investigative clout, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by the indomitable Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., introduced the three State Department employees at a Wednesday hearing.
Democrats complained that they weren’t given access to the witnesses ahead of time, and could not prepare an adequate defense in what they anticipated would be highly partisan testimony. And the testimony was riveting, even emotional. Greg Hicks, who was deputy chief of mission and then, after Stevens’ death, the highest ranking diplomat in Libya, said he knew from the start the consulate was under attack and that they weren’t simply fending off protestors offended by an anti-Islam movie. But he also admitted concern about bringing more Americans into the fray for fear a trap was being set.
Most of the questioning centered on allegations that the administration could have come to the aid of the diplomats, but instead rebuffed calls for help. Mark Thompson, who was with the State Department’s Counter Terrorism Bureau, said the White House turned him down when he requested a special operations team be dispatched immediately to the scene. But that made no military sense. While U.S. special-ops teams are elite fighters, they are not supermen, and they would have been vastly outmanned and outgunned. Sending a handful of them to Benghazi would have only resulted in more American casualties. At the minimum, a several dozen-man platoon was needed, but no platoons were available.
There were also planes ready to go, but then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the nearest planes were at Aviano Air Base in Italy, and they could not have reached Benghazi in time to productively intervene. While conceding that may well have been true, Thompson made the case that while the attack was underway, no one knew how long it would continue. “One definition of a crisis is you do not know what’s going to happen in two hours,” he said. What he failed to say was that fighter aircraft are of no tactical value against close-in fighting. When combatants are only a few yards from one another, aircraft are as likely to hit friends as foes.
The core of the GOP critique is that the administration was more concerned with how the events were portrayed in the media than in reacting swiftly to diplomats under fire, an Independent Accountability Review Board, headed by respected outside advisors, did issue a scathing report on the State Department’s actions, prompting the dismissal of several top officials. Whether a different response might have saved lives is not clear.
In the end, the political nature of these hearings shouldn’t be surprising. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in charge at the time, and while she may not have directly made any of the decisions on that fateful night, her tenure at State is marred by Benghazi. With polls showing Clinton far and away the most favored candidate for the presidency in 2016, the Republican-controlled House is doing what it can to tarnish Clinton and perhaps topple the former First Lady from her pedestal.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND