Keeping It Straight: Facts Poke Holes in GOP Benghazi Hyperbole
With multiple hearings, numerous reports and over 25,000 pages of testimony proving there is not "there, there" the GOP continue to insist upon wasting even more tax dollars in an attempt to somehow connect the President or the Secretary of State with the tragedy that took place at Benghazi, Libya on 11 September 2012. Fed by right wing shouting heads in both print and broadcast media, the virtual lies and untruths refuse to die as the intellectually challenged - those who still believe in birther loon nonsense - grasp at any and every straw designed to cast the president and his administration in a bad light.
What they seem to miss, however, are the facts presented in over thirty hours of testimony from nine military officers. Those transcripts were released on 9 July.
Addressed during testimony was the nature of the attacks, speculation the military was ordered to "stand down" from helping Americans, suggestions that the U.S. should have rushed jets or a special operations team to Benghazi, and early misperceptions that the attack began as a protest over an anti-Islam video.
In a question and answer format let's consider some of the points covered during questioning.
DID MILITARY LEADERS INITIALLY BELIEVE THE TROUBLE RESULTED FROM A STREET PROTEST?
A few of the officers had heard such reports and others did not. A typical scenario about events taking place on the ground hundreds and even thousands of miles away. One of the earliest reports came from Ambassador Chris Stevens, who told his deputy in a phone call cut short: "We're under attack."
From that point Army Col. S. E. Gibson, stationed at the Embassy in Tripoli, stated, "We started calling it an attack from inception. We never referred to it as anything else."
Another military official in Tripoli said he wasn't sure how to interpret the word "attack." Following reports of protestors scaling the walls at the Tripoli Embassy he, at first, considered that, "It could be, you know, vandals were attacking"
Retired Vice Adm. Charles Leidig Jr., deputy commander of AFRICOM, said he was awoken in the night at his headquarters in Germany and told, "...there had been protesters, and they had overrun the facility in Benghazi."
General Carter F. Ham, Commander of the U.S. Africa Command, reported he heard no mention of protestors during his visit to the Pentagon on 11 September and during the period the attacks were occurring stated there was, "very, very little discussion that I can recall about why did this happen. There just wasn't time for that, frankly."
WAS A FOUR-MAN TEAM HEADED FOR BENGHAZI ORDERED TO STAND DOWN?
Testimony indicates the team was not ordered to stand down. With the attacks over the team was told to remain and protect personnel and intelligence information at the Embassy in Tripoli.
Both the special operations officer leading the team and the commander who gave him the order told investigators that it was the correct decision. The team was in Tripoli to help train Libyan special forces at the time of the Benghazi attack and their primary duty was to protect the embassy in Tripoli amid fears it also would be targeted. Under the direction of Col Gibson the Embassy staff was evacuated to a classified and more-secure location.
One Libyan plane carrying a six-man U.S. security team already had taken off. Gibson wanted his group on the second chartered flight. He was told, "Don't go. Don't get on that plane." Gibson recalled, "Initially, I was angry. But then once I digested it a little bit, then I realized, OK, maybe there was something going on. Maybe I'm needed here for something else."
Rear Adm. Brian Losey, who gave the order, said he needed Gibson's team in Tripoli in case trouble started there.
Some GOP'ers have suggested the team might have helped repel attackers in Benghazi, however their flight would have arrived after the final assault that killed two CIA contractors and Adm Losey dismissed the notion that the foursome could have been much help in Benghazi, where Americans already were moving to the airfield for evacuation with the aid of Libyan forces and the U.S. security team from the first plane. The Admiral noted Gibson's group consisted of a communications specialist, a medic and a weapons operator with his foot in a cast, "That's not a security team," he said, "Sending them in didn't make a lot of sense."
Gibson testified had his group flown to Benghazi, their flight would have crossed paths with the first plane as it returned bearing wounded Americans. Because they stayed, his medic was there to meet two seriously injured people at the Tripoli airport. The medic is credited with saving one's life.
RIGHT OR WRONG, WASN'T THAT AN ORDER TO "STAND DOWN"?
Not according to Losey and Gibson who disagree with the civilians who claimed Losey ordered Gibson to stand down. But Losey and Gibson say in their military parlance, standing down means ceasing operations.
"It was not a stand-down order," Gibson insists.
"It was never an order to stand down," Losey said. "It was an order to remain in place and continue to provide your security role in Tripoli."
DID SECRETARY CLINTON GIVE A "STAND DOWN" ORDER, AS SOME REPUBLICANS HAVE THEORIZED?
"No," said Losey.
Adm Leidig said, "I never received any orders from the secretary of state or heard of any orders from the secretary of state."
"No," said Gen Ham, who commanded the Africa operations. "And we would not receive direct communications from the secretary of state," adding that no one else ordered him to stand down and no one tried to stop him from helping the Americans in Benghazi any way he could.
WHAT DID THE MILITARY DO TO HELP?
Following the first report of trouble about 9:40 p.m. local time on Sept. 11, officials began looking for military planes that could head to Benghazi for evacuations. None would be available for hours. An unmanned drone already in Libya was quickly sent to survey the situation at the diplomatic post.
Two Special Forces members were in the six-man team that flew from Tripoli to Benghazi around midnight and aided with the defense and evacuation of the CIA base.
An Air Force C-17 transport plane reached Benghazi on 12 September and flew the Benghazi evacuees from Tripoli to Germany that night. A U.S. anti-terror team sent from Spain arrived in Tripoli after the evacuees had departed.
Two military teams - one in Croatia and the other in the U.S. - were prepared to go but, as the situation changed, weren't brought to Libya. They would have arrived too late.
Not until the morning of Sept. 12 was the 31st Fighter Wing in Aviano, Italy, ordered to get four F-16 jets and four pilots ready to respond if needed. The call to Benghazi never came.
WHY DIDN'T THEY SCRAMBLE THE F-16 FIGHTERS?
Military leaders decided early on that jets armed with 500-pound bombs were unsuited for the chaotic crisis in an urban area. Gen Ham stated, "Ultimately, it was my decision that said no, not the right response in this circumstance."
There was no one on the ground to provide targeting information for air-strikes and the General did want to harm innocent people or risk inflaming more Libyans to join the attack. He also believed militants had missiles capable of downing a plane. "Had I made a different decision, had strike aircraft deployed, we don't really know what the outcome would have been. Maybe it would have been positive, but maybe it would have got shot down. Maybe it would have killed civilians."
Brig. Gen. Scott Zobrist, then the wing commander at Aviano, Italy, had similar worries. He said, even if called right away, it would have taken 20 hours to get jets to Benghazi from the base in Italy normally used for training flights. Pilots would have to be recalled from their homes, bombs loaded onto planes, the 1,000-mile route planned. The jets would also require refueling, which meant coordinating with tanker planes stationed in England.
COULD THE MILITARY HAVE DONE MORE?
That is strictly conjecture. In hindsight, Ham said, he should have reached out to his Libyan contacts and other U.S. officials to get Americans evacuated from Benghazi faster. That might have saved the two lives that were lost hours after the first attack at the diplomatic post. While the evacuation from Benghazi was being planned by the embassy and the CIA, Ham said, he switched his focus toward gearing up a possible hostage rescue mission, because the ambassador was still missing.
In the interim, surviving U.S. personnel were gathered at the CIA base in Benghazi where Gen Ham felt they were relatively safe. He and other military leaders said they weren't advised by the CIA that the compound already had come under gunfire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks.
The U.S. security team that arrived at the Benghazi airport after midnight was detained by Libyan officials for several hours. That delayed the evacuation, Ham said, and "allowed sufficient time for the second attack to be organized and conducted." During that attack, around 5 a.m., mortar fire killed two CIA security contractors on the roof and wounded other Americans. Less than an hour later, the evacuation of all American personnel from Benghazi began.
It is more than obvious that the military responded correctly to the situation and there was noting, literally, that could have been accomplished by either the President or Secretary of State to save any lives. The one glaring failure that is more than obvious is that lives were lost and others put in danger by the GOP'ers and TEAbillies in Congress who consistently refused requests from the Secretary of State for additional funds to improve security at all of our overseas Embassies, Consulates and locations. If additional hearings are necessary they should be confined to the actions of the Republican members Congress.