My first impressions of the Weekly Standard’s take on the Benghazi report

Steve Hayes and Tom Joscelyn at the Weekly Standard have attacked the House Intelligence Committee’s report on Benghazi. I’ve known Tom for years and have the greatest respect for his work. I’ve also long admired Hayes’ reporting. However, I find portions of their attack unpersuasive.

To be clear, I consider the Intelligence Committee’s report flawed in some important respects. However, I attribute the mains flaws to the desire to produce a bipartisan report, not to “intelligence failure,” lack of seriousness, or bad will, as the Hayes-Joscelyn article seems do so at various points. My view in this regard seems to correspond to that of some of the more seasoned and/or sober-minded Republican members of the committee, as quoted in the article.

The Hayes-Joscelyn article contains a broad range of criticisms. I plan to address several of them in future posts. In this post, I wish to focus on the line of attack that Hayes and Joscelyn emphasize the most — the report’s treatment of the claim that Benghazi security personnel were ordered to “stand down” early on during the attack.

Here, the article is more notable for what it doesn’t say than what it does. The article airs various grievances of the security personnel about the way the Committee treated them. They are upset, for example, that they were subjected to aggressive cross-examination.

In my experience as a lawyer, when witnesses complain about the way they were cross-examined, it’soften a sign that their testimony didn’t go well. Is that the case here? I don’t know; no transcript has been released. However, I do know that it’s naive to think one can go before a body investigating highly-charged issues relating to a deadly attack and criticize the response of others to that attack without facing tough, uncomfortable questions.

The real issue, though, is whether the security personnel offered credible testimony, or indeed any testimony, that they were given a stand down order. This is what the Hayes-Joscelyn article doesn’t tell us. Instead, it tells us that the one security officer who says he heard the words “stand down” doesn’t remember whether he testified to hearing them during his appearance before the Committee.

The Committee report states that the eyewitness testimony it heard “provides no support for the allegation that there was a stand down order.” Nothing in the Hayes-Joscelyn article actually contradicts this finding.

The article suggests that the Committee may not have asked the right question to the witness who says he heard the words “stand down.” It’s difficult to imagine that this witness was not given the opportunity to make this allegation, which has been such a central theme in the interviews he and others in his group have offered while promoting a book about the events of September 11, 2012.

I’ve been told that the testimony before the Committee made the absence of any stand down order clear. However, like Hayes and Joscelyn, I haven’t seen the transcript of that testimony. I understand that key excerpts were omitted from the final version of the report due, apparently, to concerns about revealing identities.

The other key Committee findings about the interaction of security team members with the CIA official now accused of giving a stand down order are (1) that this was simply a tactical disagreement about the speed with which the security team should depart for the State Department’s facility prior to securing additional security assets and (2) that the decision to wait was reasonable based on the information available at the time. Again, nothing in the Hayes-Joscelyn article casts doubt on these findings.

As I said, I expect to write more about the article. For now, I’ll leave it at this: it seems to me that the article’s discussion of the Committee’s treatment of allegations regarding a stand down order, like the allegations themselves, presents less than meets the eye.