A Wall Street Journal editorial asked questions that have already been answered regarding military deployments in response to the Benghazi attack when it rehashed false claims that U.S. military forces were not deployed to the region around Benghazi, Libya, and suggested that political considerations hampered a quicker response.
In a May 12 editorial, the Journal suggested that military forces were not sent to respond to the September attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi and dismissed explanations offered by the military and the Obama administration about why a quicker response was not possible:
One issue worth more examination is which U.S. and NATO military assets were available in the region to respond to the attack, and why they didn't. The White House and Pentagon insist there was nothing within range that would have made a difference, but we also know that military officers respond to the political tone that civilian officials set at the top.
Did the well-known White House desire to retreat from Libya influence the ability and willingness of military officials to respond in real time? The lives of Americans around the world could hang on the answer.
In fact, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under both Obama and George W. Bush, confirmed the Pentagon and administration assertions that military forces could not have responded to the attack in enough time to prevent any casualties. In a May 12 Face the Nation appearance, Gates argued that the notion that any military forces could have responded in time to possibly avert further attacks without being in harm's way was a "cartoonish impression of military capabilities."
Furthermore, it is known that "there was nothing within range that would've made a difference" because those assets were deployed. During a February 7 Senate hearing about the Benghazi attack Defense Secretary Leon Panetta explained that President Obama ordered him to "do whatever you need to do in be able to protect our people there." In that vein, Panetta ordered two anti-terrorism security teams stationed in Spain to deploy to Libya and another special operations team to deploy to the region. The anti-terrorism team headed to Libya arrived after the attack. From the November 2, 2012 CBS News timeline of the Benghazi attack:
Midnight (6 p.m. ET) Agents arrive at the annex, which receives sporadic small-arms fire and RPG rounds over a roughly 90-minute period. The security team returns fire and the attackers disperse.
Over the next two hours, Sec. Panetta holds a series of meetings and issues several orders: Two Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) platoons stationed in Rota, Spain prepare to deploy - one to Benghazi and the other to the Embassy in Tripoli; A special operations team in Europe is ordered to move to Sigonella, Sicily - less than one hour's flight away from Benghazi; An additional special operations team based in the U.S. is ordered to deploy to Sigonella.
Around 7 p.m. (1 p.m. ET): Americans are transported out of Tripoli on a C-17 military aircraft, heading for Ramstein, Germany.
Around 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET): U.S. special forces team arrives in Sigonella, Sicily, becoming the first military unit in the region.
Around 9 p.m. (3 p.m. ET): A FAST platoon arrives in Tripoli.
Broadcast and cable Sunday political talk shows featured previously debunked myths about the September 11, 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
ABC News is falsely suggesting there is a contradiction between the Obama administration removing references to terrorist groups in Libya from talking points about the September 11 attacks on diplomatic facilities in that country and pointing to President Obama's statements that those attacks were an "act of terror."
The original September 14 version of a set of talking points compiled by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis stated that "Islamic extremists with ties to al Qa'ida participated in the attack," and specifically suggested the involvement of the group Ansar al Sharia. Those specifics were subsequently removed, with the final version of the talking points stating only that "extremists participated" in the attacks.
In closed congressional testimony following his resignation as CIA director, Gen. David Petraeus reportedly said that these specifics had been "removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them." Administration officials have also said that there were other intelligence and legal concerns with naming the suspected perpetrators:
"The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack," said a senior official familiar with the drafting of the talking points. "There were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly."
Some intelligence analysts worried, for instance, that identifying the groups could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants -- a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Justice Department lawyers expressed concern about jeopardizing the F.B.I.'s criminal inquiry in the attacks. Other officials voiced concern that making the names public, at least right away, would create a circular reporting loop and hamper efforts to trail the militants.
Indeed, ABC News has reported that in an email in response to the initial talking points, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland "objected to naming the terrorist groups because 'we don't want to prejudice the investigation.'"
By contrast, in his September 12 and September 13 remarks, President Obama described the attacks as an "act of terror," but did not specify who the perpetrators of that act might be. Presumably such comments would not alert the perpetrators that they were being tracked or jeopardize the criminal probe in the same way that the naming of the specific group might.
Despite that clear distinction, ABC Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz and White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl both suggested that the White House is trying to "have it both ways."
Robert Gates is calling out conservatives for the "cartoonish impression of the military" they promote when baselessly criticizing the Obama administration for not sending additional support during the September attack on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Right-wing media have often criticized the administration for what Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan termed their decision to "do nothing" in the face of the attack, with some suggesting that by failing to send additional troops or fighter jets to respond, President Obama had deliberately "sacrificed Americans" as a "political calculation."
But Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense during the Bush and Obama administrations, debunked these claims and explained that he would have made the same decisions, during his May 12 interview on CBS' Face the Nation.
Gates explained that he "would never have approved sending an aircraft" due to fears it would get shot down, and that he would not have approved sending Special Forces due to a lack of information about what was happening on the ground:
GATES: I think the one place where I might be able to say something useful has to do with some of the talk of the military response. And I listened to the testimony of both Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey, and frankly had I been in the job at the time, I think that my decisions would have been just as theirs were. We don't have a ready force standing by in the Middle East, despite all the turmoil that's going on with planes on strip alert, troops ready to deploy at a moment's notice. And so getting someone there in a timely way would have been very difficult if not impossible.
And frankly I've heard, well, why didn't you just fly a fighter jet over there to scare 'em with the noise or something. Given the number of surface to air missiles that have disappeared from Qaddafi's arsenals I would not have approved sending an aircraft, a single aircraft, over Benghazi under those circumstances.
And with respect to sending in Special Forces or a small group of people to try and provide help, based on everything I've read people really didn't know what was going on in Benghazi contemporaneously, and to send some small number of Special Forces or other troops in without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, I think would have been very dangerous and personally I would not have approved that because we just don't -- it's sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces. The one thing our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm's way, and there just wasn't time.
The Pentagon has said that fighters could not have been sent to Benghazi because they lacked the refueling tankers that would have been needed to get them there and that Special Operations Command Africa instructed a team of Special Forces not to leave Benghazi because they would be needed to provide security in Tripoli. That second team would not have reached Benghazi before the attacks were concluded.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is mischaracterizing the aftermath of the September attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in an effort to promote her claim that Hillary Clinton's aides engaged in "obfuscation."
In her May 12 column, Dowd writes that Gregory Hicks, who was deputy chief of mission in Libya during the attacks and testified before Congress May 8, "believes he was demoted because he spoke up" about the Obama administration's characterization of the attacks in a meeting with Beth Jones, an undersecretary of state.
In fact, Hicks' change of position came after he voluntarily decided not to return to Libya; he subsequently testified that the "overriding factor" in that decision was that his family didn't want him to go back. According to the State Department, that decision took him out of the regular cycle in which Foreign Service officers are assigned, resulting in him being placed in a temporary position as a foreign affairs officer in the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs. According to State, Hicks retains the same rank and pay, and has submitted a preference list and is under consideration for his next assignment.
Dowd further claimed:
Hillary's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, also called Hicks to angrily ask why a State Department lawyer had not been allowed to monitor every meeting in Libya with Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who visited in October. (The lawyer did not have the proper security clearance for one meeting.) Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah, has been a rabid Hillary critic on Fox News since the attack. Hicks said he had never before been scolded for talking to a lawmaker.
But Hicks himself never described Mills as angry. In his testimony, Hicks acknowledged that Mills had offered no "direct criticism" of his actions, but cited the "tone and nuance" of Mills' voice during their conversation as indicating she was "unhappy" (Hicks later repeated a congressional Republican's description of Hicks as "upset.")
In painting this as part of a pattern of obfuscation, Dowd also ignored the administration's explanation for why Mills would have wanted a State Department lawyer present for Hicks' meeting with Chaffetz - a State Department official told Dowd's paperthat department policy requires one to be present during interviews for Congressional investigations.
Dowd's commentary follows that of Fox News hosts who have baselessly described Hicks as being "excoriated," "reprimanded," or "punished" by Mills - a characterization promoted by the false frame that Congressional Republicans pushed in their questioning of Hicks.
In coverage of a May 8 House Oversight Committee hearing, conservatives are pushing new myths about the Obama administration's response to the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Here is the truth about what really happened.
Eugene Robinson's Friday Washington Post column that throws buckets of cold water on the Benghazi "cover-up" is well worth a read, but it touches only briefly on one aspect of the Benghazi story that emerged this week that merits further exploration: the degree to which "whistleblower" Gregory Hicks was "muzzled."
Since testifying at the House Oversight Committee hearing on May 8, a media narrative has emerged that Hicks, after speaking to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) in Libya following the attacks, faced intimidation at the hands of the State Department, beginning with a phone call from Cheryl Mills, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Depending on which conservative media figure is talking, Mills is said to have "excoriated," "reprimanded," "punished," and even "demoted" Hicks right then and there. Going by Hicks' own testimony, none of that is true.
To recap: following the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Rep. Chaffetz traveled to Libya to interview witnesses and survivors. Hicks, who had become chief of mission following the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, was one of the people Chaffetz sought to interview. Right-wingers like Guy Benson, writing at Townhall.com, have alleged "US Ambassador Chris Stevens' second in command, Gregory Hicks, was instructed not to speak with a Congressional investigator by Sec. Hillary Clinton's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills."
This is not true. Hicks testified that the State Department had instructed him not to speak to Chaffetz without a State attorney present -- a condition Hicks says was unusual, but which the State Department says is standard procedure. In any event, Hicks ended up speaking to Chaffetz without the attorney present because, according to his testimony, the lawyer lacked the proper security clearance. Also, Hicks testified that he spoke with Mills only after speaking with Chaffetz.
One of the big bits of news to come out of the May 8 House Oversight Committee hearing was the claim that "whistleblower" Gregory Hicks felt he had been "effectively demoted" within the State Department for speaking out about the September 2012 attacks on the diplomatic facility in Benghazi. Hicks' attorney, Victoria Toensing, is making the right-wing media rounds, telling radio host Steve Malzberg that Hicks was forced out of his post in Libya after the State Department told him he could either take a desk job or lose his job altogether. Toensing's story, however, does not comport with what her client told Congress. Hicks testified that family considerations were the key factor in his decision not to return to Libya.
Here's the relevant portion from Toensing's appearance on Malzberg's May 10 program:
MALZBERG: So he got demoted, correct?
TOENSING: He did get demoted and you know what? That nasty State Department who has no integrity, shame on John Kerry for not taking charge of this, puts out "well he still has the same pay." And they lied this morning in the Washington Post, telling somebody who just prints what they said, that he sought the desk job that he describes as a demotion. No, he did not. Here's what happened. People need to know this. He was offered a choice: no job, or this job that doesn't mean anything. It's a desk job. It's like going from the -- like a co-anchor to the copy desk.
MALZBERG: So he was given two choices, you're saying, either "take a hike, you're fired," or "take this desk job."
TOENSING: I say it's like telling a starving man, "hey , you get this choice: You can either have no food or you get this rotten steak. What would you like? Would you like a rotten piece of beef or no food at all?"
And here's what Hicks said during the House Oversight Committee hearing (emphasis added):
REP. SCOTT DESJARLAIS (R-TN): So when you came back to the United States, were you planning on going back to Libya?
MR. HICKS: I was. I fully intended to do so.
REP. DESJARLAIS: And what do you think happened?
MR. HICKS: Based on the criticism that I received, I felt that if I went back, I would never be comfortable working there. And in addition, my family really didn't want me to go back. We'd endured a year of separation when I was in Afghanistan 2006 and 2007. That was the overriding factor. So I voluntarily curtailed -- I accepted an offer of what's called a no-fault curtailment. That means that there's -- there would be no criticism of my departure of post, no negative repercussions. And in fact Ambassador Pope, when he made the offer to everyone in Tripoli when he arrived -- I mean Charge Pope -- when he arrived, he indicated that people could expect that they would get a good onward assignment out of that. [transcript via Nexis]
As Toensing noted (and disputed), the Washington Post reported on May 8 that the State Department challenged Hicks' version of events. Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the department successfully worked with Hicks to find a new temporary position, that Hicks has the same rank and salary, and was under consideration for future assignments. As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson succinctly put it, Hicks "asked to come home, understandably, and the department parked him in a desk job -- with the same pay and rank -- until something more to his liking comes open."
From the May 10 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Since the April release of a House Republican report on Benghazi, Tom Pickering -- co-chairman of the State Department's Accountability Review Board on the Benghazi attacks last year -- has been interviewed only twice on major news programs.
CNN's Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger used right-wing scandal mongering to push the discredited allegation that talking points about the attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, were edited for political purposes. Borger's analysis ignored that the intelligence community signed off on these talking points and that General David Petreaus testified in November that references to Al Qaeda were removed to protect the integrity of the investigation and to avoid tipping off terrorists.
Borger claimed on the May 10 edition of CNN Newsroom that the Benghazi talking points "were edited to the point of inaccuracy" and went on to ask, "is that a cover-up? Is it a whitewash? We don't know the answer to that."
The answer to Borger's question, however, has already been answered in testimony by former Director of the CIA General David Petraeus. In November 2012, Petraeus told lawmakers that the decision not to publicize the suspected involvement of Al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers in the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was made so as not to tip off the terrorist groups. As The New York Times reported:
Mr. Petraeus, who resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital affair, said the names of groups suspected in the attack -- including Al Qaeda's franchise in North Africa and a local Libyan group, Ansar al-Shariah -- were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, lawmakers said.
The controversy over these talking points has been revived ever since ABC News released what it called an "exclusive" report on May 10. In fact, the report revealed nothing new and is just a revival of previously hashed-out myths and misinformation.
Washington Times columnist Jeffery Kuhner accused President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of abusing their power which to the death of four Americans in Benghazi.
In his May 10 column, Kuhner claimed that Obama was "engaged in the systematic abuse of power" in his handling of the September 11, 2012, terror attack in Benghazi. He also claimed that Clinton sent Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens "on a suicide mission," while Obama failed to send help to Libya, leading to the deaths of two others. From The Washington Times:
From the May 10 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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A New York Times article directly refutes the claims of House Republicans, including Speaker John Boehner, that State Department officials knew immediately that the attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012 were connected to "Islamic terrorists." Fox News willingly repeated the attack on its evening programming May 9 -- but now that the Republican distortion has been exposed, will the network clarify its reports for viewers?
Boehner called for the release of a State Department e-mail sent in the wake of the Benghazi attacks that he claimed suggested the assault was perpetrated by "Islamic terrorists." At the House hearing on Benghazi on May 8, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), purporting to be reading from the email in question, quoted a State Department official as saying, "the group that conducted the attacks...is affiliated with Islamic terrorists." The phrase "Islamic terrorists" holds significance for Republicans who have suggested the administration knew from the outset that terrorists were behind the attacks but initially attempted to cover-up this knowledge for political reasons.
The May 9 editions of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox Business Channel's Lou Dobbs TONIGHT hyped the Republican line. According to a Nexis transcript search, Baier played clips of Boehner calling for the release of the e-mail, to which Fox guest and Fortune columnist Nina Easton responded, "I was happy to see Speaker Boehner call for the release of those internal e-mails. Anybody who thought that this was just a Republican hazing as the opposition party in power, I think those concerns were put to rest yesterday. I mean, there's so many unanswered questions."
Lou Dobbs also played Boehner's call for release of the e-mail, noting afterward that "somewhat predictably, no response from the Obama administration at this hour." Dobbs continued, claiming that Boehner's comments and the May 8 congressional hearings into the administration's response to the Benghazi attacks "open up new questions about the accuracy of the past testimony of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."
The New York Times, however, obtained a copy of the e-mail in question and reported that the phrase conservatives are putting in the mouth of the State Department official -- "Islamic terrorists" - is in fact not used to describe the perpetrators of the attack. Rather, the official describes the perpetrators as having ties to "Islamic extremists" -- a distinction with a difference, according to the Times report:
[A] copy of the e-mail reviewed by The New York Times indicates that A. Elizabeth Jones, the senior State Department official who wrote it, referred to "Islamic extremists," not terrorists.
The distinction is important, administration officials said, because while the White House did not initially characterize the attack as terrorism, senior officials, including Ambassador Susan E. Rice, acknowledged the possibility that extremists had been involved in the assault.
Fox News is no stranger to carrying water for the Republican Party, and the network has led the charge to push Benghazi cover-up conspiracies. But now that the latest GOP line on Benghazi has been exposed, will Fox inform its viewers?
We're at the point now where conservatives are going to have to start acknowledging that Barack Obama is the most talented politician in American history. By their own reckoning, the president's five years in office have been marked by so many Watergates, Iran-Contras, and combinations thereof that he should have been driven from office several times over by this point. And yet Obama was easily reelected and enjoys an approval rating in the mid to high-40s. How is this possible?
The explanation, it turns out, is the same explanation the right turns to whenever faced with political adversity: the media. It's all the media's fault. The corruption and various misdeeds of the Obama administration are manifest, but the public never catches on because the press covers it all up and throws out distractions to keep attention focused elsewhere.
When you actually write it out like that it sounds crazy. Because it is. It assumes a) close, unseen coordination between the administration and every major news outlet in America; b) close, unseen coordination between news outlets that are ostensibly competing against one another; and c) widespread moral vacuity among government officials and journalists that enables them to enthusiastically scrub away legal and ethical violations.
But that's what they're going with. Wednesday's House Oversight Committee hearing into the Benghazi attacks didn't quite live up to the pre-hearing promises of political "fireworks" and "bombshells." The morning after the hearing, FoxNews.com published an op-ed by Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center arguing that the Obama administration had "cover[ed] up four murders after the fact" in Benghazi and "with a few notable exceptions, the American media haven't just let them get away it. Heck, they've helped." Now, had the Obama administration actually tried to cover up the fact that four people were killed in Benghazi, that would be a hell of a scandal. But that didn't happen. To my knowledge, no one has even attempted that accusation before now. But that what's Gainor thinks Benghazi is about and he thinks the mainstream press (of which The Daily Show's Jon Stewart is a member, apparently) are the sort of moral monsters who would sign on for such a cover-up.