Reflections on Benghazi

Benghazi Attack

On Sept. 11, most of us will take time to reflect upon and remember the events of 9/11. Some of us will also take time to remember the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya. We will take time to remember that President Obama told us, “Make no mistake, we will bring justice to the killers who attacked our people.” As I write, we are still waiting for justice, Mr. President.

It should be clear that by “justice” I do not necessarily mean bringing those who killed U.S. State Department personnel and associated contract personnel before criminal prosecution for their deeds—though this would clearly be a substantial outcome.

A good start towards justice would be bringing illumination to the events of Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi. Justice would be holding accountable those people in positions of authority within the government who did not make appropriate efforts to ensure security of diplomatic personnel. Furthermore, justice would be holding accountable those who did not allow contract agents to provide assistance and security during the moments of danger.

Basic contextual facts about Benghazi need to be understood by the public. First, contract agents (mostly former special operations personnel) were present at the CIA station in Benghazi. Second, what was not present in Benghazi was an appropriate contingent of State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security forces. These forces, as required by Inman security, were developed out of the Inman Report which led, in 1986, to the creation of the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Third, a Libyan national making $32 per shift was the guardian of the gate at the U.S. Consulate.

What did we know early last September about potential hostility in Benghazi? If reports from multiple unconfirmed sources are correct, we knew that hostilities were a real possibility. Hostilities not just from a reaction to a poorly constructed film made about the history Islam, but from real threats that had reason to use the anniversary of 9/11 to make a statement. These reports remain unconfirmed today as numerous congressional committees and White House investigations have still not made public the exact knowledge of potential threats and targets known in early September 2012.

So, what did we know after Sept. 11 in Benghazi? We knew that the consulate had been attacked in a coordinated manner by more than 100 people armed with rifles, rocket propelled grenades, mortars and some artillery support. We knew that the CIA station had been attacked. We knew that government personnel and contract agents had been killed. Apparently, but unconfirmed by any government source, we knew that the consulate had called for help and that on three occasions Global Response Staff requested permission to go to the aid of the consulate and were rebuffed.

We also knew that the attack was most likely a terrorist attack and, according to Gen. Ham, former chief of AFRICOM, “we were no longer in a response to an attack. We were in a recovery and frankly, I thought, we were in a potential a hostage rescue situation.” We knew that a drone was overhead watching the events and that Ham could have released fighter aircraft to provide support but did not give the authorization.

The problem is: What we knew by the end of the day on Sept. 12, 2012 is about as much as the public knows today.

What we know today is that at least six congressional committees are investigating the events before and after the Benghazi attack. We also know that none of the meetings have been open to public scrutiny. In fact, what we know now, according to Rep. Frank Wolf is not much. Wolf says, “I know Hillary Clinton is now receiving $200,000 a speech.… I also know that Susan Rice, who went on five talk shows saying that it was the video, is now the national security advisor… but I also know that four people died who are American heroes and patriots, and two were seriously wounded, and several others were wounded.”

Simply, we know the attack happened, we know people were killed, we know steps could have been taken and were not, and we know that no real action to hold anyone accountable has been taken. We know that justice still eludes the families of the dead and wounded. We also know that as of January 2013 former Secretary of State Clinton does not believe it worthwhile to pursue those who were responsible for the security collapse, stating simply, “what difference at this point does it make?”

As we move forward, what implications do the knowledge of the events and the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks have for the United States? Are there implications for U.S. foreign policy? Are there implications for the security of diplomatic personnel?

The latter question is relatively easy to answer. While I am no expert on diplomatic security, if changes were made to how diplomatic security is determined then such changes would be worthy of press coverage. Unfortunately, no such press coverage exists. A recent report appears in which an independent review panel states, “The [State] department’s present direction of expeditionary diplomacy, operating with an increasing number of temporary and permanent posts in complex, high-risk environments, requires an organizational paradigm change.” In other words, no action has been taken to make high-risk embassies or consulates any more secure, or, in the very least, there has been no public acknowledgement that a security alteration effort exists.

The more difficult question concerning implications of Benghazi is what impact, if any, exists for U.S. foreign policy. Our nation’s credibility in the region is at a crossroads. Political decision making has left the United States in a position where taking, or not taking, any action in the region is a poor choice. Support an elected government in Egypt? Or support taking down an elected Islamist government in Egypt? Take military action against the government of Syria for possible use of chemical weapons? Or take no action? Which choice is in the best interest of the United States?

Are any of the current decisions informed by the events that occurred in Benghazi last year? So far anyhow that is difficult to discern.

I do believe that one clear lesson has been learned by enemies of the United States. That lesson is simple: The rhetoric of President Obama is hollow on this issue. As of the first anniversary of that terrible night, no individual has been brought to justice. Even worse, no justice has been gained for the survivors and families of the injured and fallen heroes in Benghazi.

Dr. Samuel S. Stanton is an associate professor of political science at Grove City College and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values.
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