On September 11, 2012, the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya was invaded. Four Americans — U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith and CIA contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods — were killed in the attack. The attack came during the 2012 Presidential campaign and the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, wasted no time in blaming President Obama for “sympathizing with the attackers.” This was the initial push, and the crazy train which followed has never slowed down.
In examining the claims made by the Benghazi conspiracy theorists, we can see a pattern. Blame must always lie at either President Obama’s feet or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s feet. Or both. And facts must never, EVER get in the way. What follows is an examination of the claims that have been made. Each is debunked with links to reputable sources, including reports of investigations by various agencies.
Claim: Administration officials watched the attacks unfold in real time but did nothing to intervene. The audio feed of the attack was being monitored in real time in Washington by diplomatic security official Charlene Lamb. Ten security camera feeds were delayed for 20 days. So, no, the attack was not being watched by anyone in real time from Washington.
Claim: A “stand-down” order was given. The CIA denied that any stand-down orders had ever been given. No additional evidence has ever emerged suggesting such orders were given, and reinforcements actually arrived from Tripoli in time for the second attack on the CIA facility. On 1 November 2012, U.S. intelligence officials released an account stating the CIA had in fact rushed security operatives to the U.S. mission compound in Benghazi within half an hour of the start of the attack
CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood:
“We can say with confidence that the Agency reacted quickly to aid our colleagues during that terrible evening in Benghazi,” [Youngblood] said. “Moreover, no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate. In fact, it is important to remember how many lives were saved by courageous Americans who put their own safety at risk that night-and that some of those selfless Americans gave their lives in the effort to rescue their comrades.” [FoxNews.com, 10/26/12]
Claim: Available assets were not deployed. All available assets in the area went into action when the compound fell under attack. The CIA base, which was about a mile away, prepared a rescue squad from their Global Response Staff. The February 17 Brigade, the Libyan intelligence service, and other local militias were called. None responded. The six-man squad headed out on their own. A senior intelligence official said that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the team members had been chomping at the bit to leave without backup.
Claim: Warplanes in the area could have been sent. The Department of Defense had no armed drones or manned aircraft prepared for combat readily available and nearby on September 11th. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), AC 130 ground attack gunships, or other similar planes were not in the vicinity, according to SoD Panetta. The Committee requested, and received, the locations of every AC-130 in the military’s inventory at the time of the attack. USAF F-16s, while closer (in Italy) were configured for training and were not combat ready. NATO allies also had no fighting planes ready to go, so none of them could respond for us. General Ham (see below) said that he personally “dismissed the prospect” of requesting an alert status for the F-16s in Italy, as he didn’t think he’d need them.
Claim: Ambassador Stevens was dragged through the streets and beaten to death. According to the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in January 2014:
“Local Libyans found the Ambassador at the Mission Facility and brought him to a local hospital. Despite attempts to revive him, Ambassador Stevens had no heartbeat and had perished from smoke inhalation.”
Stevens was in a safe room inside the compound and suffered from smoke inhalation. Two other reports — the Accountability Review Board and the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — concluded the same.
The Associated Press spoke to the doctor who treated him and CNN spoke to some Libyans who found Steven inside the compound. CNN obtained a video of those Libyans rescuing Stevens.
Claim: General Carter Ham was relieved of his command for attempting to provide military assistance during the Benghazi attacks. The “basic principle is that you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on; without having some real-time information about what’s taking place,” [Panetta] said during a joint question-and-answer session with Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey. “As a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, General Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation,” Panetta said 29 October 2012. General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also asserted that this rumor was false.
Claim: Rear Admiral Charles M. Gaouette was relieved of his command for attempting to provide military assistance during the Benghazi attacks. Adm. Gaouette had been relieved of his command, not for any reason connected to the September 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, but because a complaint about his “unprofessional demeanor” had been filed against him by the USS John C. Stennis’ commanding officer, Capt. Ronald Reis. A subsequent Navy investigation reprimanded Gaouette for repeatedly violating U.S. Navy policy by making and sending offensive comments and e-mail messages.
Claim: Susan Rice was sent on Sunday shows to lie. Rice made clear during her appearances that her comments were based on “our current best assessment” that the Libya attack was not premeditated, acknowledged that the perpetrators were “extremists,” and said that future investigations and analysis by intelligence services “will tell us with certainty what transpired.” Suggestions that the attack was linked to an anti-Islam video that had embroiled the Middle East came from talking points generated by the CIA.
Claim: Obama never called it “terrorism.” This is a bit of semantics gymnastics on both the part of the President and of those who say that he “sympathized” with the attackers.
No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. [Rose Garden Address, 9/12/12]
He said much the same thing at a campaign event in Las Vegas later that night.
To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. and No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world… [Golden, CO remarks, 9/13/12]
And he said it in an interview for 60 Minutes. Though the President never said the words exactly as the right would want to hear them, the connotation of the ones he did use is the same.
Claim: Hillary Clinton never took any responsibility for the attack.
“I take responsibility,” Mrs. Clinton said in a recent interview in her office. “I’m the Secretary of State with 60,000-plus employees around the world. This is like a big family…It’s painful, absolutely painful.” [The Wall Street Journal, 10/16/12]
Claim: The State Department had the ability to keep those Americans safe and no one acted. While it is true that a number of requests for additional staffing were sent to the State department, laying the blame for them not being answered at Clinton’s feet is disingenuous. There were, according to the House Republican’s report, two cable and two email messages that indicated the requests were received (March-July, 2012). In them, diplomats requested more security; officials replied that they preferred to train Libyan staff. But were these “signed by Hillary Clinton,” as Republicans claim?
The communications center at the State Department puts the secretary’s name on all telegrams and posts. Whoever is SoS at the time has their name on everything so, when Clinton was in charge, her “signature” was on all communications. But that doesn’t mean she signed them, just that her name was printed at the bottom of them. The claim that she saw them because she signed them is unprovable.
Messages to the State department are still referred to as “telegrams” even though they are emails (old habits die hard). They are always addressed: To “SECSTATE” in “WASHDC.” There are about 1.4 million cables every year that are addressed this way. Clinton’s name or title on these millions of messages doesn’t mean that she personally knew of their contents. In the case of Benghazi security, she testified under oath that she didn’t.
They are all addressed to me. They do not all come to me. They are reported through the bureaucracy. I was not aware of that going on (requests from Libya). It was not brought to my attention, but obviously it’s something we’re fixing and intend to put into place protocols and systems to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
In reality, however, Benghazi was only one of nearly 300 areas which were a concern. In the six months leading to the attack, there were approximately 281 threats to diplomats, embassies, diplomatic facilities, consulates, etc worldwide. But there were no specific indications that Benghazi was in any more danger than any of the other facilities.
Claim: Military assets in the area were deliberately moved to 1) demonstrate that Al Qaeda was in control and 2) we had made a correct choice to intervene the way we did in Libya. Rep. Jason Chaffetz made this claim on Fox News on May 6, 2013, saying that there were people who were “willing to risk their lives” to ride into action, but they were told to “stand down.” As with most claims made on Fox, this one sounds good but is false. The people Chaffetz is referring to are the team in Tripoli, headed by Gregory Hicks. Hicks testified before the State Department review board that the people they hoped to rescue were already dead when the team he had prepared was ready to go. Another team (7 security personnel) had left for Benghazi and arrived at 5:00 am at the CIA annex, long after the deaths at the consulate (see timeline). Hicks sent a second team in a C-130 transport plane from Tripoli to secure the Benghazi airport for the evacuation of those remaining. A Defense Department drone was in place as the first group was evacuated. Hicks testified that a Lt. Col. Gibson was “furious” that the C-130 was going to Benghazi because it was not authorized. Hicks sent the plane anyway. Nobody was ever told to stand down.
Claim: Hillary Clinton issued a press release at 10 p.m. EST, talking about a video when there was no evidence this was caused by a video. From Clinton’s press release that night: “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.” No specific mention of a video.
When Ahmed Abu Khattala was captured in June of 2014, he told American authorities that the anti-Islamic video had been the catalyst for the attack. Images of protestors in Egypt were seen by the Libyan fighters and the Benghazi group followed suit. Khattala was heard telling fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault “was retaliation for the same insulting video.”
Claim: The Obama Administration purposely blamed the attacks on the anti-Muslim video in order to avoid admitting that this was a pre-planned attack. There was much confusion in the days following the attack, as evidenced by various statements. While it is entirely possible that the Administration was purposely going with the politically expedient explanation of the reaction to a video, there is ample evidence that the Intelligence Community itself was confused over what happened.
Claim: Hillary Clinton faked her fall to avoid having to testify at the Senate hearing. Clinton, then 65, had been suffering from a stomach virus and had to cancel a trip to Morocco and the Persian Gulf because of it. Philippe Reines, a State Department spokesman, said Clinton became dehydrated because of the virus and she fainted, sustaining the concussion. He added that she has been under the care of doctors.
Politico reported on December 18 that State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that John Bolton’s suggestion that Clinton faked her injuries is “completely untrue.” Nuland added that Bolton and others who have questioned Clinton’s illness “are people who don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s really unfortunate that in times like this people make wild speculation based on no information,” she said.
Claim: Hillary Clinton said, “What difference does it make?” This is an out-of-context misquote that Benghaziacs still use. Actual quote: “What difference, at this point, does it make?” Here’s the full quote from Clinton’s testimony:
With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again…
In other words, we lost four Americans because of this so, instead of trying to cram things into talking points, let’s figure out what happened and why. That way we can prevent it from happening again. Pretty simple concept. It’s a shame that some are more interested in making Clinton sound uncaring than in making sure we don’t have another similar attack.
Claim: Nobody was ever fired over the attack. This is true. But, like most things concerning Benghazi, you are not getting the whole story. The State department’s review board, in December of 2012, removed four State department officials from their posts pending further review. That Accountability Review Board concluded, in August of 2013, that “no employee breached their duty or should be fired.” The four were not found blameless but were reassigned, according to protocol. So, while nobody was “fired,” four officials were disciplined and reassigned.
Claim: The U.S. was “the last flag flying” in Benghazi.
… although some countries and international organizations had reduced their presence in Benghazi, the United States maintained a diplomatic presence there similar to the UN, the European Union, and other Western countries such as Italy, France, Turkey, and Malta. (source)
Here is a Timeline of the Benghazi attack. It is crucial to understanding what happened. Unless otherwise linked, all quotes are from the State Department Report:
2:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (8:30 p.m. Benghazi time): U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens steps outside the consulate to say goodbye to a Turkish diplomat. There are no protesters at this time.
3 p.m.: Ambassador Stevens retires to his bedroom.
Approximately 3:40 p.m. A security agent at the Benghazi compound hears “loud noises” coming from the front gate and “gunfire and an explosion.”
About 4 p.m.: This is the approximate time of attack. “The compound where our office is in Benghazi began taking fire from unidentified Libyan extremists.”
About 4:15 p.m.: “The attackers gained access to the compound and began firing into the main building, setting it on fire. The Libyan guard force and our mission security personnel responded. At that time, there were three people inside the building: Ambassador Stevens, one of our regional security officers, and Information Management Officer Sean Smith.”
Between 4:15 p.m.-4:45 p.m.: Sean Smith is found dead.
About 4:45 p.m.: “U.S. security personnel assigned to the mission annex tried to regain the main building, but that group also took heavy fire and had to return to the mission annex.”
About 5:20 p.m.: “U.S. and Libyan security personnel … regain the main building and they were able to secure it.”
Around 6 p.m.: “The mission annex then came under fire itself at around 6 o’clock in the evening our time, and that continued for about two hours.”
6:07 p.m.: The State Department’s Operations Center sends an email to the White House, Pentagon, FBI and other government agencies that said Ansar al-Sharia has claimed credit for the attack on its Facebook and Twitter accounts.
About 8:30 p.m.: “Libyan security forces were able to assist us in regaining control of the situation. At some point in all of this – and frankly, we do not know when – we believe that Ambassador Stevens got out of the building and was taken to a hospital in Benghazi. We do not have any information what his condition was at that time.”
About 10:00 p.m (EST): Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issues a statement.
Sept. 12: Clinton issues a statement confirming that four U.S. officials, not one, had been killed. She called it a “violent attack.” Later, she delivers a speech at the State Department.
Sept. 12, 6:06 p.m.: Beth Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Near East, sends an email to top State Department officials that reads in part: “[T]he group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic extremists.”
Sept. 13: At a daily press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was asked if the Benghazi attack was “purely spontaneous or was premeditated by militants.” She declined to say, reiterating that the administration did not want to “jump to conclusions.”
Personally, I think the GOP obsession with Benghazi boils down to two things. 1) They hate Obama and Hillary so much that they think that hatred is all the “proof” they need of wrongdoing. 2) This is what they would do if the situation were reversed. How can I say this? It’s what they did after 9/11 — covering up, passing the buck, evading blame. So, if they work this way, they cannot fathom anyone else not doing the same. When one is constantly lied to — by one’s own party and Fox News, its PR arm — then one believes that everyone is lying to them. This creates paranoia, which is the compost for conspiracy theories.
Is it really worth the millions it costs the taxpayers to fund this dog and pony show? I don’t think so. I agree with Hillary Clinton: at this point, what difference does it make? We take what we’ve learned and make sure that our other embassies and consulates are safe. Nothing we do now can ever bring back those four Americans who lost their lives in Benghazi. We’ve discovered, to the best of our ability, why we lost them.
The families of Ambassador Stevens and Officer Sean Smith have asked that we stop. Is this all worth the pain they suffer from hearing about their loved ones’ death all the time? We know what we need to know. Everything else is just partisan politics. But, with Hillary a 2016 Presidential candidate, the Republicans know that they must smear her and Benghazi is one way to do that. That they cause people pain in doing so means nothing to them. The end always justifies the means.
Featured Image via screen capture of video by Crooks and Liars