Battle Over Benghazi


The haunting image of the burned-out US consulate building in Benghazi stands as testament to the terrorist attack overseas on September 11th, 2012.

by Richard Gueren, Political Editor

Recently, all of Washington D.C. has been consumed by the events in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. In the attacks, 4 US Embassy workers were killed. Among the deaths were the US Ambassador in Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and security personnel members Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Ever since the deaths, there has been a tremendous politicization of the attacks. Five days after the attack, UN Ambassador to the US, Susan Rice, said on five Sunday talk shows that the attacks on the US Consulate were a “spontaneous” demonstration driven in large part by an “anti-Muslim” video that was widely being circulated throughout the region.

In the time following those statements, some Republican senators have wondered why the Obama Administration did not immediately call the attacks on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya a “terrorist attack”. In the weeks after the initial attacks, U.S. officials said the violence erupted “spontaneously” amid a large protest about a video produced in the United States that mocked the Prophet Mohammed. Former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on Capitol Hill Friday November 16, 2012 that the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September was an act of terrorism committed by al Qaeda-linked militants.

U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, spoke to reporters after the closed door meeting with Petraeus in the House of Representatives, which lasted about an hour and 20 minutes. King said Petraeus’ testimony that day differed from an earlier assessment the former CIA director gave lawmakers just days after the September 11 attack.

“He (Petraeus) … stated that he thought all along he made it clear that there was significant terrorist involvement, and that is not my recollection of what he told us on September 14,” King said. Republicans also wonder whether the Obama Administration was engaging in a “cover-up” by claiming it was “spontaneous” and not driven by “terrorists”. Therefore, after all the rhetoric, the main complaint from Republicans is why the Obama Administration did not call the incident on the consulate a “terrorist attack”.

On November 27, Susan Rice came to Capitol Hill to talk with the Senators who are asking questions about the Administration’s handling of the attack. “The clear impression we were given (in September) was that the overwhelming amount of evidence was that it arose out of a spontaneous demonstration, and was not a terrorist attack,” Sen. John McCain R-AR, said after the meeting. The Senators that Rice met with were South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, and Arizona Senator John McCain. “We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn’t get concerning evidence that was public leading up to the attack on the consulate,” McCain told reporters after emerging from the hour-plus session that he described as “candid”.

Graham: “Bottom line I’m more disturbed now than I was before that 16 September explanation.” He said in a later interview that Rice went “far beyond the flawed talking points” and should be held accountable.

“I’m more troubled today,” said Ayotte, who argued that it was clear in the days after the attack that it was terrorism and not a spontaneous demonstration prompted by an anti-Muslim video.

In the time following those statements, some Democratic senators have wondered why the Republicans are focusing on this one talk show appearance. “The focus on, some might say, obsession on comments made on Sunday shows seems to me and too many, to be misplaced,” spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a White House briefing. They argue that the Republicans are politicizing the attacks, and going after a woman who was dispatched by the Obama Administration to read CIA- approved “Talking Points”. They say that any questions Republicans have regarding the attack, should be brought to higher levels of the Administration.

“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” President Obama said at a news conference, adding “I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. Ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation, is outrageous.”

Democrats suggest that the senators should not focus on blocking Susan Rice’s possible nomination to Secretary of State. To that end, they argue that she read the “Unclassified” talking points and disregarded the “classified” talking points.

“Rice criticisms are completely unwarranted” says Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. She read the “unclassified” talking points, Conrad says, in order to protect any sources they had in Libya as they reported the newest information.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters that “it is so unfair to hold her responsible for something that she didn’t produce and which the intelligence community has specifically stood by.”

Stay tuned to figure out whether Obama will nominate Susan Rice or other candidates for the job. Expect an announcement on the cabinet post before the end of the year. Potential candidates include for the job include former US Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), and former Senate Majority leader George Mitchell.