November 6 is not only Election Day, it's also the eight-week anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Regardless of which candidate wins, the American people deserve answers to the many unanswered questions about the attack—and the events that preceded and followed it. The Benghazi debacle is a drama in three parts: the lack of security before the attacks, the flaccid response during the attacks, and the misleading narrative after the attacks. There are unanswered questions about each part. Here are some of the most important.
Before the attack, a wide array of U.S. officials provided stark warnings about inadequate security in Benghazi. They include Eric Nordstrom, former regional security officer for the State Department in Libya; Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a site security commander in Libya from February to August 2012; the unknown author of letters dated the day of the attack and found on the consulate floor; and, of course, the late Ambassador Christopher Stevens himself. Why didn’t they receive the assistance they requested?
During the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden claimed: “We weren’t told they wanted more security there.” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor later clarified that Biden was speaking “for himself and the president.” In fact, an August 16 State Department cable summarizing an emergency meeting at the U.S. mission in Benghazi was circulated to White House and NSC officials just three weeks before the attack. It reported that the regional security officer “expressed concerns with the ability to defend Post in the event of a coordinated attack due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support and the overall size of the compound.” Does the administration maintain that no one at the White House or NSC was aware of these urgent requests?
Several officials with responsibility for security in -Benghazi spoke of a “normalization” directive that included a conscious effort to reduce the security posture at the consulate. Who proposed “normalization” and who issued the directive to reduce security?
Citing sources on the ground in Benghazi, Fox News reported that Tyrone Woods was “painting” mortar sites with a laser from his rooftop position shortly before he was killed. A subsequent CIA timeline provided to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius contradicts this, saying that “the rooftop defenders never ‘laser the mortars,’ as has been reported.” Can the CIA make this claim with certainty? If Woods was painting the mortar sites as eyewitnesses claim, presumably at considerable personal risk, why was he doing so? Did he have reason to believe that reinforcements were coming?
President Obama says that he gave “three very clear directives.” They were: “Number one, make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to. Number two, we’re going to investigate exactly what happened so that it doesn’t happen again. Number three, find out who did this so we can bring them to justice.” To whom was the first of those directives transmitted and when?
A CIA statement claims that no one in the CIA chain of command denied requests for help. A statement from NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor claims no one at the White House denied requests for assistance. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that the military did not have “real-time information” to act on. Did military officials not communicate with top State Department officials such as Charlene Lamb, who testified under oath that she and others were following the attack in real time from their post at the State -Department? Was President Obama aware of requests for assistance from the men under attack in Benghazi? Panetta also said: “You don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on.” Does this statement imply that there were requests for help from the field that senior defense officials judged it imprudent to act on? In any case, isn’t going into harm’s way without complete information precisely the job of our most highly trained military personnel? Does the president agree with Panetta? Doesn’t announcing that the U.S. military needs perfect intelligence before engaging an enemy encourage similar attacks in the future?
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