Libya Lies

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 22, 2012

A press corps that actually cares about doing its job would be focusing on this story a whole lot more than it focuses on Mitt Romney’s tax returns:

For nine days, the Obama administration made a case that virtually everyone understood was untrue: that the killing of our ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, was a random, spontaneous act of individuals upset about an online video—an unpredictable attack on a well-protected compound that had nothing do to with the eleventh anniversary of 9/11.

These claims were wrong. Every one of them. But the White House pushed them hard.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, appeared on five Sunday talk shows on September 16. A “hateful video” triggered a “spontaneous protest .  .  . outside of our consulate in Benghazi” that “spun from there into something much, much more violent,” she said on Face the Nation. “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

On This Week, Rice said the consulate was well secured. “The security personnel that the State Department thought were required were in place,” she said, adding: “We had substantial presence with our personnel and the consulate in Benghazi. Tragically two of the four Americans who were killed were there providing security. That was their function, and indeed there were many other colleagues who were doing the same with them.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney not only denied that the attacks had anything to do with the anniversary of 9/11 but scolded reporters who, citing the administration’s own pre-9/11 boasts about its security preparations for the anniversary, made the connection. “I think that you’re conveniently conflating two things,” Carney snapped, “which is the anniversary of 9/11 and the incidents that took place, which are under investigation.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. Intelligence officials understood immediately that the attacks took place on 9/11 for a reason. The ambassador, in a country that faces a growing al Qaeda threat, had virtually no security. The two contractors killed in the attacks were not part of the ambassador’s security detail, and there were not, in fact, “many other colleagues” working security with them.

The nature of the attack itself, a four-hour battle that took place in two waves, indicated some level of planning. “The idea that this criminal and cowardly act was a spontaneous protest that just spun out of control is completely unfounded and preposterous,” Libyan president Mohammad el-Megarif told National Public Radio. When a reporter asked Senator Carl Levin, one of the most partisan Democrats in the upper chamber, if the attack was planned, Levin said it was. “I think there’s evidence of that. There’s been evidence of that,” he responded, adding: “The attack looked like it was planned and premeditated, sure.” Levin made his comments after a briefing from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Representative Adam Smith, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, agreed. “This was not just a mob that got out of hand. Mobs don’t come in and attack, guns blazing. I think that there is a growing consensus it was preplanned.” And according to CNN, Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy “has said that the attack appeared to be planned because it was so extensive and because of the ‘proliferation’ of small and medium weapons at the scene.” Not only was the attack planned, it appears there was no protest at all. Citing eyewitnesses, CBS News reported late last week: “There was never an anti-American protest outside the consulate.”

So we are left with this: Four Americans were killed in a premeditated terrorist attack on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, and for more than a week the Obama administration misled the country about what happened.

This isn’t just a problem. It’s a scandal.

In addition to lying to the public, of course, the Obama administration is also busy trying to frustrate congressional efforts to exercise oversight. Why? Because some members of Congress are Republicans, and Heaven forbid that the Obama administration be subject to oversight from Republicans:

Senate Republicans are furious the Obama administration rebuffed their attempts to learn details of the Benghazi attack, only to give the coveted information to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Senators say they were rebuffed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when they pressed for more information about the attack that killed U.S. envoy Christopher Stephens in Libya.

“That is the most useless, worthless briefing I have attended in a long time,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters after the closed-door session.

GOP lawmakers were incensed to find many of the details they tried to learn Thursday were in a front-page article in The Times the following morning.

“I was very disappointed in the briefing yesterday, too. The bottom line is, we asked questions like, ‘How many people were at the Benghazi consulate?’ You pick up The New York Times and you get a blow-by-blow description of what supposedly went on,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Times published a timeline of the attacks chronicling militants gaining access to the U.S. compound after 9:35 pm on Sept. 11, American security forces attempting to retake it at 10:45 pm and American and Libyan forces regaining control of the main compound around 11:20 pm, before evacuating.

According to the timeline, Libyans found Stevens in the compound after midnight and took him to a hospital, and 20 embassy staff members were hit by mortar rounds around 2 am, an attack that killed two former Navy SEALs.

The official Senate briefing was less informative.

“It was like pulling teeth to get information yesterday,” Graham said of the meeting with Clinton and other administration officials. “A lot of senators were frustrated. And you pick up major newspapers in the country and you find details not shared with you.”

The Wall Street Journal published a similarly detailed account of the attack.

“We were told nothing. We were told absolutely nothing,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking Republican on the Armed Services Panel.

Remember what we were told we would get from this administration. Transparency. Truthfulness. “Reality-based” policymaking.

So much for that, eh?

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