There are some questions I would have liked to ask former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her trip to Naples Tuesday.
Did the heroes who rushed toward the sound of gunfire in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012 to protect their fellow Americans ever call for reinforcements?
If they did, was that call answered?
If not, was it because of concerns that responding with overwhelming military force might create diplomatic backlash in a volatile region?
I didn’t get a chance to ask those questions Tuesday. I didn’t meet up with her. Heck, even her ardent supporters didn’t know where she was, staking out the wrong Ritz-Carlton in hopes of catching a glimpse of the possible 2016 presidential contender.
But my questions were answered later in the day when I read a report released last week by the U.S. House Republican Conference. The report compiles the findings of five House committees that have been looking into the raid on the Benghazi diplomatic mission that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
A product of House Republicans, you would expect the report to be critical of President Barack Obama and members of his administration, including Clinton. In that regard it does not disappoint, citing failures to anticipate the violence and to have adequate security in place.
But as to the response to fighting as it was ongoing, the report doesn’t find fault.
You’ve heard the theories: Armed Americans were told not to go to the mission. Americans on the ground had laser sights trained on the insurgents but no one would authorize an airstrike; reinforcements were told to stand down; officers were quietly ushered out of the military to keep them quiet.
The Republican report dispels all of those notions.
Within minutes of the attack on the Benghazi diplomatic mission, a security team from a nearby annex building headed there to help. Two hours later, a nine-person security team from Tripoli left to join them.
Other military units in Spain and the U.S. were dispatched, but they were too far away to be of any use.
According to the report, “No U.S. government element refused or denied requests for emergency assistance during the crisis. The evidence also does not show there were armed air assets above Benghazi at any time or that any such assets were called off from assisting U.S. personnel on the ground.
“According to witness testimony, the security officials on the ground did use laser sights, but they did so as an escalatory demonstration of force in an effort to deter some attackers. They were not lasing targets for air assets.”
As to the shake-up in the military, the report concludes, “Similarly, the evidence does not show that military commanders involved in the U.S. military’s response to the terrorist attacks in Benghazi were relieved of command, transferred, or encouraged to seek early retirement as a result of their actions in response to the attacks.”
While the congressional report answers questions about what went on once the mission came under attack at 9:42 Benghazi time on Sept. 11, it raises anew questions about the level of preparedness leading up to that date and the explanations offered afterward.
Most pertinent to then-Secretary of State Clinton are: How could she claim to not know that American diplomats in Libya for months had been requesting increased security when an April 2012 memo bearing her signature not only acknowledges the request but also reiterates the State Department’s intention to reduce the number of security officers there?
And: Why did the State Department see the need to push an explanation for the attacks that focused on an inflammatory video when just two hours after the attack began the State Department’s Operations Center issued an alert saying al-Qaida and its affiliate Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility for the attacks?
The report offers this assessment: “When draft talking points were sent to officials throughout the executive branch, senior State Department officials requested the talking points be changed to avoid criticism for ignoring the threat environment in Benghazi.
“Specifically, State Department emails reveal senior officials had ‘serious concerns’ about the talking points, because members of Congress might attack the State Department for ‘not paying attention to agency warnings’ about the growing threat in Benghazi. This process to alter the talking points can only be construed as a deliberate effort to mislead Congress and the American people.”
The congressional report as labeled as “interim” and its authors say they will update it as more information becomes available.
If Hillary Clinton comes through town again I’ll ask her some of the questions the report raises.
If I can find her.
(Connect with Brent Batten at email@example.com)