05.08.14 9:45 AM ET
How Republicans Twist Benghazi
When will congressional Republicans tell us why they really want more Benghazi hearings? They insist the hearings are necessary to uncover the “truth” about the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission and to honor the memory of the four Americans killed there. But at this point, neither of those claims are true. House Republicans are just trying to exploit the tragedy for political gain.
Sure, there was a period of time after the attack when Republicans and Democrats alike were making a concerted effort to determine what really happened that night. We all wanted a thorough investigation into how the attack came about, why our military couldn’t save the victims, and who was at fault. The families of the four brave Americans killed in Benghazi—Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty—deserved an impartial inquiry.
And while nothing in Washington, D.C., is ever truly nonpartisan, members of both political parties led several congressional hearings on Benghazi. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence conducted a bipartisan investigation, with interviews of government officials and U.S. personnel on the ground during the attacks, and the review of “thousands of intelligence reports…and internal documents,” including emails, cables, and surveillance videos.
So what did it find? The committee’s 85-page report, released in January 2014, set forth in great detail the facts of the attack. The report concluded that the attack could have been prevented, and it faulted the State Department for failing to increase security. The intelligence community also was singled out for failing to properly assess the risks posed. However, the committee rejected Republican allegations of a political coverup.
The Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee also conducted a comprehensive review of classified and unclassified documents, and interviewed people with relevant information.
The committee’s report, released in February 2014, laid the blame for the attack on White House officials, who failed “to comprehend or ignored the dramatically deteriorating security situation in Libya.” The committee also faulted the State Department for reducing security at the consulate. However, the committee denied assertions that a “stand down” order had been issued to U.S. military personnel not to assist U.S. personnel during the attack.
So there you have it. Both the Senate and House reports have provided us detailed information about the time period leading up to the attack, the attack itself, and who was to blame. At this point, you might expect that, as after the release of the 9/11 Commission report, the focus going forward would be on learning from the mistakes found and implementing measures to prevent the future loss of American lives.
But that hasn’t happened here. Instead, Republicans have continued to search for reasons to demand additional investigations, even though all the relevant facts have been uncovered.
We saw that again last week, after the White House released an email written three days after the Benghazi attack by Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser. In the email, Rhodes urges Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, “to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy” when she goes on the Sunday morning talk shows.
This email is not a “smoking gun,” as Republicans assert. As a reminder, hours before the Benghazi attack, there was an assault on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo fueled by anger over an anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims. In the days after the Benghazi attack, it was still unclear whether the violence was a spontaneous reaction to a video, as in Cairo, or a preplanned act of terrorism.
But after the release of Rhodes’s email, which added no new facts about the attack itself, Republicans went ballistic. They dusted off their old Benghazi talking points from 2012 and declared that a special Republican-controlled House committee had to be appointed to “conduct a full and complete investigation.” And, despicably, they used the memory of the four slain Americans as cover for their election-year political strategy.
On Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said on Fox News: “We have four dead Americans…and what we have seen from the president and Senate Democrats has been stonewalling.” He also demanded answers to questions already addressed by the earlier congressional reports, such as why additional security wasn’t in place on the night of the attack. (Cruz clearly likes to talk more on TV than read reports.)
House Speaker John Boehner announced that the new hearings were necessary “to ensure the American people have the truth about the terrorist attack on our consulate that killed four of our countrymen.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor echoed Boehner, noting that “four brave Americans were killed in Benghazi.”
Want proof that the whole thing is nothing more than a political boondoggle? Now House Republicans are “jockeying” to get on the proposed Benghazi committee. Is it because they’re so passionate about the “truth” or because they think it will raise their profile, help them fund-raise, and boost their political aspirations? And this week the National Republican Congressional Committee launched a fundraising campaign called “Benghazi Watchdogs” to raise funds off the new hearings.
The four Americans killed in Benghazi deserve better. It’s time the GOP stopped using them as pawns to score political points and candidly told the American people that the new hearings are not about the victims or uncovering the “truth” but simply about advancing Republican political ambitions. They owe those killed in Benghazi at least that much.