Conservative Media Use Trey Gowdy Interview To Push Debunked Benghazi "Stand Down" Claim

››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

Conservative media are seizing on comments made by Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi in order to repeat debunked claims that American military forces were ordered to "stand down" and not help rescue those attacked on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya. In fact, numerous congressional investigations found that no such order was given to American military forces.

Conservative Media: Gowdy Says Witnesses Confirmed Military Assets Received "A Stand-Down Order"

Washington Examiner: Gowdy Said "Witnesses Had Confirmed A Stand-Down Order Was Given To Military Assets In proximity To Benghazi." The Washington Examiner claimed in a January 13 article that Congressman Trey Gowdy said in a radio interview that "a number of witnesses had confirmed a stand-down order was given to military assets in proximity to Benghazi the night of the 2012 terror attack." The article continued:

Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, said Wednesday that a number of witnesses had confirmed a stand-down order was given to military assets in proximity to Benghazi the night of the 2012 terror attack, while others said no one issued such an order.

"The best I can do is tell you what the witnesses say, and then you can decide who you think is more credible," Gowdy said during an interview with Boston Herald Radio.

His comments came the same day the committee interviewed Jeremy Bash, a high-ranking Pentagon official who in 2012 authored an email indicating the military had forces "spinning" and prepared to head toward Benghazi when approved. [Washington Examiner1/13/16]

Newsmax: Gowdy Interview Revealed That "Witnesses Say A Stand-Down Order Was Given To Prevent Military Aid From Getting To Benghazi." Newsmax claimed in a January 13 article about Gowdy's interview that "witnesses say a stand-down order was given to prevent military aid from getting to Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 while the diplomatic compound and CIA annex were under attack." [Newsmax, 1/13/16]

But Gowdy Didn't Say That Military Assets Were Ordered To "Stand Down"

Gowdy Didn't Specify Whether Witnesses Said That Military Or Local Security Personnel Claim They Were Told To "Stand Down." When asked about whether a "stand-down" order was given in Benghazi in a January 13 interview on the Boston Herald's radio show Boston Herald Drive, Gowdy said that "there are witnesses who say there was one, there are witnesses who say there was not one." From the interview (emphasis added):

ADRIANA COHEN: Congressman Gowdy, can you give our audience an update on what it happening with the Benghazi investigation? We know that you recently obtained testimony from General Petraeus, and he said that there was no stand down order given during the attacks. Can you bring us up to speed?

TREY GOWDY: Yeah, we interviewed General Petraeus, we interviewed Secretary Panetta, we interviewed a witness yesterday that I don't think any other committees talked to. We're interviewing a witness in 21 minutes that no other committee has talked to. We're just doing it privately and I get the criticism of when you do things in private. People either don't know about it or the news vacuum is filled by, you know, Democrat press releases about how long it's taking or how much money it's costing. But I committed at the very front that I was going to do this the right way, the way that investigations should be done. And you know I would hasten to add that I don't think a single Democrat has asked the Department of Justice why they haven't brought Khattalah to trial yet. I haven't heard a single one complain about the amount of time it is taking theDepartment of Justice to bring the only person who's been apprehended in connection with Benghazi to trial. So, they're willing to give a pass when their guys are doing an investigation, they do nothing but obstruct when we're trying to do it. But I'm going to continue - we have about a dozen witnesses left to talk to. We are still waiting on documents from DOD, CIA, and the State Department. And then we're going to write a really fact-centric, fair report.

And you mentioned the stand down order, there are witnesses who say there was one, there are witnesses who say there was not one. And I wasn't there, and you weren't there, and your listeners weren't there. So the best that I can do is lay out what the witnesses say, and then you're going to have to make a determination as to who you believe is more credible. You should never let me tell you whether a red light - whether a light was red or green if I wasn't at the intersection. You should say, 'well how do you know that?' The best I can do is tell you what the witnesses say, and then you can decide who you think is more credible.

COHEN: Congressman Gowdy, when the investigation -- when Leon Panetta first gave testimony, he said that the question was asked to him by Congress, why weren't military assets deployed to rescue our men there. And he said, basically, that there wasn't enough time to get assets to the area. But since then, now on emails and reports have come out that there were assets readily available, the terminology was they were spinning up, ready to go, but that they weren't given the go-ahead by someone in the government, whether it's the State Department or the Pentagon. Is that true?

GOWDY: Part of what you said is true, part of what you said we don't know, and as fate would have it, that is the very witness that I am going to be examining now in 20 minutes, the author of that email. And it is impossible for me to believe that any committee was able to do its job without that email and without asking questions of that witness. I think it is fair for your listeners to focus on two points. Number one, were there assets in the region that could have reached Benghazi in time for the second attack. I don't think there's any argument the ambassador and Sean Smith, who died due to smoke inhalation - the only folks who could have gotten there in time, were the GRS, heroes who did go, but there were no assets that could have gotten there. The second attack, the one where we lost Glen Doherty, Ty Woods, that is an eminently fair question, but there are two questions. Number one, did we have assets in the region that could have responded? But an equally important question is, if the answer to that question is no, why not? With the Arab Spring, on the anniversary of 9/11, with Cairo having just taken place hours before, why were no assets moving toward that region? And both of those questions, to me, are equally important and you have to talk to the author of the spinning up email, which is exactly who we're talking to this morning. [Boston HeraldBoston Herald Drive1/13/16]

Multiple Congressional Investigations Explained That American Military Assets Were Not Ordered To "Stand Down"

Republican-Led House Armed Services Committee Report Concluded No Stand-Down Order Issued To Military. On February 11, 2014, the House Armed Services Committee released a report on its investigation into the Benghazi attacks, which concluded that "There was no 'stand down' order issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi." As The Washington Post explained, the report further determined that "no U.S. military assets could have arrived in Benghazi in time to affect the outcome of the attack, according to committee staff members who briefed reporters on the report." [Media Matters2/11/14]

House Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence: Evidence Provides "No Support For The Allegations That There Was Any Stand-Down Order." On November 21, 2014, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) released the findings of its investigation into the Benghazi attacks, which found "no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support." The report further explained that there was no "stand down order from CIA headquarters or from Tripoli Station," and citing the House Armed Services Committee report, found that "the CIA received all military support that was available." From the HPSCI report:

The evidence from eyewitness testimony, ISR video footage, closed-circuit television recordings, and other sources provides no support for the allegation that there was any stand-down order. Rather, there were mere tactical disagreements about the speed with which the team should depart prior to securing additional security assets.

The 21-minute period between the time the Annex personnel first learned of the attack and when they departed reflects the time the Team needed to put on gear and the time during which the Chief of base in Benghazi tried to secure local militias to assist in the mission. Annex leadership also considered the impact of the departure of the security officers on the security of the Annex. The Annex has minimal security forces available for the 93 minutes that the team was gone, and there was neither a requirement not an expectation for the CIA security personnel to defend the State Department's facility in Benghazi. Nonetheless, some Annex team members wanted urgently to depart the Annex for the TMF to save their State Department colleagues. The Chief of Base in Benghazi, however, ordered the team to wait so that the seniors on the ground could ascertain the situation at the TMF and whether they could secure heavy weaponry support from local militias.

Based on all of the available evidence, the Committee concludes that the Annex team left in a timely and appropriate manner. None of the officials who testified believed that the 21-minute delay was due to a stand down order from CIA headquarters or from Tripoli Station. [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 11/21/14]

Senate Select Committee On Intelligence: Allegation That U.S. Personnel "Prevented The Mounting Of Any Military Relief Effort" Is Unsubstantiated. A Senate Committee on Intelligence review of the Benghazi attacks found no evidence of a "stand down" order given to responding units during the attacks, and that the allegations that intelligence or military officials "prevented the mounting of any military relief effort during the attacks" were unsubstantiated:

The Committee explored claims that there was a "stand down" order given to the security team at the Annex. Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the Mission compound, 12 the Committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party. The Committee has reviewed the allegations that U.S. personnel, including in the IC (Intelligence Community) or DoD, prevented the mounting of any military relief effort during the attacks, but the Committee has not found any of these allegations to be substantiated. [U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1/15/14]

Conservative Media's "Stand Down" Myth Stems From CIA Security Contractors' Disagreement Over Waiting For Help From Libyan Forces

AP: Testimony From Benghazi Witnesses Revealed Disagreement Over Speed Of Rescue For Americans At Diplomatic Compound. A December 2013 report by the Associated Press headlined "CIA Benghazi team clash led to 'stand down' report" revealed congressional testimony from Benghazi witnesses that led to the myth that military assets were ordered to "stand down." The AP additionally reported that "none of those who testified said a quicker response would have saved the lives of Stevens and communications specialist Sean Smith":

CIA officers revealed a clash over how quickly they should go help the besieged U.S. ambassador during the 2012 attack on an outpost in Libya, and a standing order for them to avoid violent encounters, according to a congressman and others who heard their private congressional testimony or were briefed on it.

[...]

None of those who testified said a quicker response would have saved the lives of Stevens and communications specialist Sean Smith at the temporary diplomatic facility.

The senior CIA officers in charge in Libya that day told Congress of a chaotic scramble to aid Stevens and others who were in the outpost when it was attacked by militants on the 11th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Those CIA leaders decided they and their security contractor team should wait before rushing from their annex into the violence roughly a mile away. They said they were trying to first gather intelligence and round up Libyan militia allies armed with heavy weapons, according to the testimony by the CIA officers in charge.

Some CIA security contractors disagreed with their bosses and wanted to move more quickly.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who heads a House intelligence subcommittee that interviewed the employees, said he believes this disagreement was the source of allegations that the CIA ordered security personnel to "stand down" and not help the people inside the diplomatic mission, and perhaps was the source of accusations the administration failed to answer a call from the CIA security team for combat aircraft.

[...]

A senior intelligence official confirmed that the CIA officers on the ground in Benghazi responded to the diplomats' call for help by trying "to rally local support for the rescue effort and secure heavier weapons." When it became "clear that this additional support could not be rapidly obtained," the team moved toward the diplomatic compound. [Associated Press, 12/14/13]

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