The Senate Benghazi Report: What Does It Say?

Yesterday, the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence released what I take to be its final report on Benghazi. You can read it here. The main body of the report is attributed to the committee as a whole, while the majority and minority each added separate comments. The bipartisan nature of the report (for better or worse) is apparent from these comments by the Democratic majority:

The Majority would like to commend our Republican colleagues on the Committee who supported this report for their earnest and thorough efforts with us to find out what really happened in Benghazi before, during, and after the attacks, despite the swirling controversy and pressures. To produce this report, we worked together on a bipartisan basis to dispel the many factual inaccuracies and conspiracy theories relating to the Benghazi attacks so that the public would have a fair and accurate accounting of the events.

I don’t see that the SSCI report breaks any new ground, but it is a good summary of the facts that have emerged over the last year and a half. The following seem to me to be the main points:

1) The principal scandal of Benghazi is the State Department’s failure to provide adequate security for its Benghazi facility, despite many warnings (some from Ambassador Stevens) about the dangerous, and worsening, environment there. Terrorist elements were rampant, and there had already been a succession of smaller terror attacks in Benghazi, including at least two such incidents at the State Department’s Temporary Mission Facility that was the main focus of the September 11, 2012 attack. In response to many warnings from the intelligence community and others, the CIA hardened its security at the CIA Annex located a mile or two from the State Department’s facility, but the State Department, inexplicably, did nothing.

It was this failure to provide adequate security that led directly to the deaths of Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith, who perished in the opening minutes of what turned out to be a nine-hour ordeal.

2) The State Department’s negligence with regard to security explains why Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Susan Rice and others peddled the transparently false claim that the Benghazi attack began as a demonstration over a YouTube video. They wanted the attack to sound spontaneous and therefore unforeseeable, whereas in fact it had been foreseen and warned about by many observers, including Ambassador Stevens, to the point where it should have been seen as almost inevitable.

3) Once the attack was underway, there probably was nothing that could have been done, militarily, to aid the State Department and CIA employees who were left to fend for themselves. (Certainly it was too late to save Stevens and Smith.) Hours after the attack was underway, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered a FAST unit and special forces operators to respond, but they either never got to Benghazi at all, or arrived a day later, long after the battle was over.

This in itself is something of a scandal. North Africa is currently one of the most important theaters of terrorist activity, and it shouldn’t be surprising that circumstances could arise that would require a rapid military response in that region. And yet, the U.S. military apparently was caught flat-footed. Back in Washington, the administration evidently was convinced from the beginning that reinforcements couldn’t arrive at the scene in time to be useful. But of course, there was no way to know how long the attacks would continue. It is something of a miracle that more Americans were not murdered, and the fact that we had no way to get reinforcements to Benghazi within nine hours is unacceptable. This is why the Republican contribution to the report criticizes military leaders, particularly the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

Fair enough: but it never seems to have occurred to Hillary Clinton to ask any military commander, If any of my people in North Africa or the Middle East come under attack, do we have a plan in place to protect and evacuate them?

4) The Obama administration has responded to Benghazi, like all other scandals, by stonewalling. Charlene Lamb, the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs, was probably State’s most important witness with respect to the decisions the department made about its Temporary Mission Facility, yet she refused to testify before the Senate committee. Committee Republicans write: “We believe Ms. Lamb’s testimony is critical to determining why the leadership failures in the State Department occurred and the specific extent to which these failures reached into its highest levels.” Yes, which is why Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton won’t let her testify.

We do know from email exchanges that have been produced that Eric Nordstrom, the Regional Security Officer in Libya, was one of those who begged Charlene Lamb’s office for more security in Benghazi. Lamb’s office responded in an email to Nordstrom, “Well, you know, this is a political game. You have to not make us look bad here, that we’re not being responsive.”

Emphasis added. After receiving that email, but prior to the September 11 attack, Nordstrom wrote to a colleague:

I doubt we will ever get [Diplomatic Security] to admit in writing what I was told [in] reference [to] Benghazi that DI/[International Programs] was directed by Deputy Assistant Secretary Lamb to cap the agents in Benghazi at 3, and force post to hire local drivers. … I hope that nobody is injured as a result of an incident in Benghazi, since it would be particularly embarrassing to both DS and DAS [Lamb] if it was a result of some sort of game they are playing.

No wonder Obama and Clinton were determined to obstruct the Benghazi investigation!

5) The lack of accountability within the State Department has been staggering. None of the relevant officials have been fired or disciplined in any meaningful way. On the contrary, the State Department employees who have experienced adverse consequences are the ones who cooperated with Congressional investigators and told the truth. The committee Republicans write:

The State Department’s inordinate effort to minimize management failures contrasts sharply with its public commitment to accountability. At the same time, a strong case can be made that State engaged in retaliation against witnesses who were willing to speak with Congress. No reasonable explanation accounts for the State Department’s unacceptable treatment of these witnesses, at the same time it returned to active duty witnesses such as Ms. Lamb who were shielded from, or actively avoided, Committee requests for interviews.

Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State appears to have been little more than a phase of her presidential campaign. She had zero qualifications for the post, and no discernible accomplishments while in office. Benghazi, for her, was an exploding cigar that threatened the political value she expected to obtain from serving, at least nominally, as Secretary of State. The SSCI report does not answer any of the questions about Secretary Clinton’s role: What personal involvement did she have (if any) in the decisions relating to security of State Department personnel in Libya? What inquiries had she made (if any) about contingency plans involving military action if diplomatic facilities in the region came under attack? Where was she during the nine hours while the battle raged in Benghazi? Was she even awake? Did she make any decisions or give any instructions on the night of September 11, 2012? If so, what were they? Hillary’s role in the debacle appears destined to remain shrouded in mystery.

6) Likewise, the Obama administration’s failure to punish any of those involved in the murders is, to me, inexplicable. The Republican committee members write:

Despite the President’s promise, not a single suspected attacker is in custody. Ahmed Abu Khattala, whom the press reports has been charged by the United States for his lead role in the attacks, continues to live freely in Libya while giving taunting interviews to major media outlets. … Other leading suspects, such as Faraj al-Chalabi and Ali Ani al-Harzi, also remain free, including after failed diplomatic efforts by the Secretary of State relating to al-Harzi’s capture and interrogation.

I don’t know how to explain the administration’s failure to go after those responsible for the murder of four Americans, except by the assumption that Barack Obama would rather keep Benghazi out of the headlines than avenge the attack.

There is much about Benghazi that we will never know, because of the Obama administration’s stonewalling and the press’s acquiescence. But what we do know is plenty bad enough.