Five takeaways from the Benghazi hearings

Did Wednesday's Benghazi hearings reveal incompetence or cover up? Maybe a combination of both. Photo: AP

LOS ANGELES, May 9, 2013 — Foreign Service officers Gregory Hicks, former deputy chief of mission in Libya; Eric Nordstrom, former regional security officer for the State Department; and Mark Thompson, the deputy coordinator for operations at the State Department’s Bureau of Counter Terrorism testified yesterday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. These “whistleblowers” wanted to go on the record about the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, security officer Sean Smith, and Navy Seals Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.

Oversight chairman Darrell Issa opened the hearing by saying its goals were to get answers, learn lessons, and hold accountable those responsible for Libya in the hope that it would never happen again. Here are the five key takeaways from the more than five hours of testimony by the three whistleblowers.

1. Partisanship exists, but not from the Republicans.

Liberal media and Democrat Committee members wanted to lay blame at the Republican’s feet, dubbing the hearing as a “partisan witch hunt.” However, the partisanship was clearly on the side of the Democrat party. The Democrat members of the committee seemed intent on being contentious, derailing the discussion, and coming up with liberal sources like the New York Times, and the Washington Post fact-checking to try and discredit the whistleblowers. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) was visibly disrespectful during Issa’s opening statement, scowling and rolling her eyes. When it came her turn to question the whistleblowers, she decided to focus on defending former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Maloney felt it was “unpatriotic” to raise questions about then-Secretary Clinton’s actions and statements, even though those very actions and statements are being discredited with each new hearing.

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) was so dedicated to getting to the bottom of things that he spent his entire inquiry blaming the attack on budget cuts and trying to score some political points about sequestration and those stingy Republicans. Note to Rep. Clay: Benghazi occurred on September 11, 2012; the sequestration cuts did not occur until March 1, 2013. A bit of a gap in time, as well as Clay’s logic.

Finally, Rep. Steve Horsford (D-NV) chose to fixate on the security cuts made in prior administrations, and attempted to tie them into the Benghazi attack. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) rightly corrected Horsford and reminded him that Charlene Lamb, former assistant deputy Secretary of State testified before the Committee on October 10, 2012 that the cuts had nothing to do with refusing security requests at Benghazi.


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Even callers to the C-SPAN network, many of them Democrats or Independents, saw the ineptitude of the Democratic committee members and their failings in working with the goals of the hearing. One caller said that he finds it “scandalous” that the Democrat representatives did not ask one relevant or probing questions that could further flesh out the answers given.

2. It was indeed a terrorist attack.

After the 9/11/2012 attack, Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif went on the U.S. Sunday morning shows, saying he believed Al Qaeda was responsible for the deadly Consulate attack. El-Megarif gave credible reasons for believing this, and even sought to warn U.S. officials about this. According to Hicks, “the President of Libya took a great personal risk. And for him to go on world television and say it was a planned attack — it was a gift, from a policy perspective.”

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice quickly dispatched el-Megarif’s account. Rice went on those same morning shows with administration talking points that an anti-Muslim YouTube video caused the “spontaneous attack” on the U.S. consulate.


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Hicks’ response to Rice’s claims was “shocked. My jaw hit the floor as I watched this.” He further testified, “the video was not an instigator of what was going on in Libya. Every channel pointed to an attack at the consulate. There was no report of protest.”

In a conversation with his State Department superior, Hicks asked why there was a demonstration reported. “Her reaction was I don’t know. It was very clear from the tone that I should not proceed further,” he said.

3. It did not have to happen.

Let me repeat that: It Did Not have to Happen. Before his death, Ambassador Stevens, and Nordstrom, both made requests to the State Department to beef up security at the U.S. consulate. These requests were denied. During the attack, Hicks and Thompson both requested help. None was given. What was given was an order to “stand down”; but according to the whistleblowers, none of them knows who gave this order.

Thompson testified that the Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST) — a special unit comprised of special-operations officers, FBI officers and diplomatic security personnel organized specifically for response to attacks, was not deployed on the evening of the attack.

“What transpired was a strong enough conversation from our department reps that they were convinced that was not the thing to do,” Thompson said.

Nordstrom testified that during his exit interview from the Libyan post in August of 2012, he discussed training deficiencies that needed to be addressed, and the importance of counterintelligence vetting of the Libyan locals who were assigned to the consulate. When asked to analyze the exit strategy given for such contingencies, and the strategy used in Benghazi, Nordstrom described it as “the best of bad plans.”

Nordstrom felt that the people who actually make the decisions were not being held accountable. “Decision making processes, they don’t cost money. There is something wrong with the way the security concerns are raised to the Secretary of State.” When Nordstrom did give recommendations for security concerns in Libya, he was told by superiors that his “tone was not helpful,” or would be asked, “Why do you keep bringing this up?”

Thompson reiterated that the resources were there, fully equipped, and designed to allow ambassadors to handle such a crisis. “We live by a code. That code says you go after people when they are in peril when they’re in the service of their country. We did not have the benefit of hindsight in the early hours. Those people who are in peril in the future need to know that we will go get ‘em, and we will do everything we can to get them out of harm’s way.

“That night unfolded in ways that no one could have predicted when it first started. It is my strong belief then, as it is now, that we need to demonstrate that same resolve, even if we’d had the same outcome.”

4. Sweeping under the rug.

Throughout his testimony, Hicks pointed out the focus of the administration and Accountability Review Board investigation seemed to be from the middle down, rather than from the middle up. The real decision makers are assistant secretaries and above, all the way up to the President. Yet, concerted effort was made to deflect blame from the State officials who made the actual decisions.

Before the attack, State Department decision makers put their heads in the sand and plowed forward with whatever agenda they had in mind. After the attack, the Obama administration, Clinton and Rice encouraged and spread the narrative about an offensive anti-Muslim video. None of the whistleblowers corroborate this information, and Hicks even pointed out that this was damaging to el-Megarif’s reputation and the U.S.’s ability to investigate the terrorist attack.

In response to Clinton’s cry during her testimony of, “What difference does it make?” Hicks replied, “What difference did it make? President Megarif was insulted in front of his own people, in front of the world, his credibility was reduced, his ability to lead his own country was damaged. He was angry. I definitely believed it negatively affected our ability to get the FBI team to Benghazi.”

5. Why did this happen?

This question remains unanswered. For now, the investigation is allowed to continue, and more cries are being heard to mount a select committee investigation into Benghazi. Further probing will hopefully shed light on the truth and who is telling it, as well exposing the lies and those who are spreading them. If it were up to Democrats and many in the news media, the lies would continue to control the narrative.

This we do know: For an administration that talks about working together and reaching out to leaders of other countries with smart diplomacy, they sure did botch this one.

Chairman Issa posted on Twitter after the hearing, “Benghazi hearing is over but the investigation is not. American people deserve the truth & we’re committed to that.” From the conversations on social media, through the C-SPAN phone lines, and other conservative media, we certainly hope so.

Eric Nordstrom’s emotional opening statement summed up the benefit behind the hearings. Nordstrom said that getting answers mattered to him personally, to his colleagues at State, and the American public, “to whom we serve. Most importantly, it matters to the friends and family of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods.”

Lest we forget, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the filmmaker who made the anti-Muslim video is still languishing in jail, for no other reason than exercising his First Amendment rights. Yet, the perpetrators of this terrorist attack are still at large. So more investigation is absolutely necessary, more answers need to be revealed, and justice needs to be served all around.

 


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Jennifer Oliver O'Connell

Jennifer Oliver O’Connell is the "In My Orbit" columnist for Washington Times Communities, writes on Los Angeles Faith and Community for Examiner.com, teaches Yoga, and coaches on careers and reinvention.

You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website: (http://asthegirlturns.com).

Contact Jennifer Oliver O'Connell

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