Wednesday, 29 June 2016
Fact Checking the House Benghazi Committee’s Findings
WASHINGTON — The House Select Committee on Benghazi released its report on Tuesday detailing the attacks in Libya on Sept. 11, 2012, that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The Republican-led committee found no evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton, then the secretary of state. Here is a selection of summarized findings in the report, with fact checks:
Finding: Despite President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s clear orders to deploy military assets, nothing was sent to Benghazi, and nothing was en route to Libya at the time the last two Americans were killed almost eight hours after the attacks began. —Part 1, Pages 106, 141
This criticism is not particularly new. Senior Pentagon officials have consistently said that they were constrained by the “tyranny of time and distance” — that is, that the military could not have sent troops or planes in time to have made a difference. The report and Republican critics have always countered that had the White House and Pentagon acted more swiftly, they might have mitigated the later attack on the compound’s C.I.A. annex. But it is unclear what forces might have made a difference there.
Finding: A Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team sat on a plane in Rota, Spain, for three hours, and its members changed in and out of their uniforms four times. — Part 1, Page 154
This sounds like dithering that might have cost American lives.But the uniform swaps reflect the chaos and confusion in sorting out what was going on in Benghazi, and whether American forces should arrive identifiable as United States military personnel or be less noticeable in civilian clothes. Even the report acknowledges the challenges facing the so-called FAST teams: These troops did not have their own planes, which meant delays waiting for flights; did not travel with their own vehicles (they would need to find some in Benghazi when they landed); and were designed to deploy before a crisis hit, not during hostilities.
Finding: The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff typically would have participated in the White House meeting, but did not attend because he went home to host a dinner party for foreign dignitaries. —Part 1, Page 107
This suggests that the Obama administration was not treating the crisis seriously. But the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., was not a critical player in the drama. He was only one of many senior officials involved in managing the crisis, and was briefed after his dinner. There were many other senior White House, State Department and Pentagon officials, both in Washington and overseas, dealing with the crisis throughout the night.
Finding: The State Department failed to protect United States diplomats in Libya. In August 2012, roughly a month before the Benghazi attacks, security on the ground worsened significantly. Mr. Stevens initially planned to travel to Benghazi in early August, but canceled the trip “primarily for Ramadan/security reasons.” — Part 3, Page 99
An independent inquiry in December 2012, among others, came to a similar conclusion. That report faulted State Department officials in Washington for ignoring requests from the American Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, for more guards at the Benghazi mission and for failing to make sufficient safety upgrades. As security in Libya worsened in the summer of 2012, the State Department remained committed to a security strategy to deploy a modest American security force and then increasingly rely on trained Libyan personnel to protect American diplomats.That strategy, which had been set a year earlier after the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government, failed.
Finding: Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta bluntly told the committee “an intelligence failure” occurred with respect to Benghazi. A former C.I.A. deputy director, Michael Morell, also acknowledged multiple times an intelligence failure did in fact occur prior to the Benghazi attacks. — Part 3, Page 129
Warning signs were indeed flashing red for months before the attack. The Obama administration received intelligence reports that Islamic extremist groups were operating training camps in the mountains near Benghazi. By June, the city had experienced a string of assassinations, as well as attacks on the Red Cross and on a British envoy’s motorcade. Mr. Stevens emailed his superiors in Washington in August, alerting them to “a security vacuum” in the city.