By: Fern Sidman
As facts about the September 11th attack on the United States embassy in Benghazi, Libya continue to unravel at a furious pace, scathing accusations of culpability are being hurled by both prominent Republican leaders and Democrats regarding exactly who is at fault for the heinous murders of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel.
On Sunday morning, October 14th, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (R) leveled conspiracy charges against the White House for attempting to cover up the attack. Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Senator Graham said he knows for a fact the administration was told within 24 hours of the incident it was carried out by al-Qaeda operatives.
For days and weeks following the attack, the White House had exclusively assigned blame for the deadly attack on “an excessive response to an anti-Islam video” amongst Muslim demonstrators who were protesting outside of the embassy. The controversial video entitled, “Innocence of Muslims” which appeared on YouTube in English and Arabic-dubbed versions, depicted a deranged, womanizing Prophet Muhammad facing a hypothetical trial. No mention of a premeditated and heavily armed strike on the embassy by al-Qaeda forces in Libya were made by President Obama, despite the fact that Congressional testimony revealed that the White House had been informed on day one by intelligence gathering agencies that the attack was an act of carefully coordinated terrorism by al-Qaeda.
During a round of television news talk show appearances, United Nations US Ambassador Susan Rice had reiterated the White House’s position on this issue by saying the attack could be attributed to a “spontaneous outbreak” of violence by demonstrators who were provoked by a “hateful” movie denigrating the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
“They’re trying to sell a narrative, quite frankly, that the mid East, the wars are receding, and al-Qaeda’s been dismantled,” the South Carolina Republican said. “And to admit that our embassy was attacked by al-Qaeda operatives and Libya, leading from behind, didn’t work, I think undercuts that narrative. They never believed the media would investigate. Congress was out of session. It just caught up with them.”
Echoing Senator Graham’s charges of a White House cover up on the Benghazi affair was former Republican presidential candidate and House Speaker Newt Gingrich who blasted the Obama administration’s handling of the terrorist attack. He said in a “tweet” that the growing scandal is “bigger than Watergate,” adding that, “No one died at Watergate! The Obama lies about Benghazi and Biden’s deliberate lies Thursday night should be a bigger scandal than Nixon,” declared Gingrich.
Early in the televised vice-presidential debate on October 11th between Joe Biden and Rep Paul Ryan (R), Vice President Biden told his audience regarding the Benghazi attack, “We weren’t told they wanted more security; we did not know they wanted more security.”
“It is clear the Obama team decided to have the vice president lie about an event that killed four Americans, including an ambassador,” Gingrich continued in his tweet. Moreover, he believes that the facts surrounding the September 11th terrorist strike should be a major focus of the remaining two presidential debates. “We’ve now had over a month of dishonesty and cover-up from Obama team about Benghazi,” Gingrich wrote on Saturday. “Getting to truth should be the number one goal in the next two debates.”
The White House was under intense pressure on Friday to disclose whether any senior administration officials were aware of requests for increased diplomatic security in Libya ahead of the fatal September 11th attack in Benghazi. White House press secretary, Jay Carney, came under fire by the media during Friday’s news briefing about what precisely Biden had meant when he made that comment. The Romney campaign has seized upon testimony given to a congressional committee the day before the debate that suggested requests for beefed-up diplomatic security had indeed been made to the Obama administration prior to the attack.
Carney said that Biden’s “we weren’t told” remark related specifically and only to the White House. “The vice-president was speaking about himself and the president and the White House. He was not referring to the administration.” He added that there were countless diplomatic facilities around the world and it was left to security experts in the state department to ensure adequate protection for embassy staff abroad.
Carney then attempted to shift the focus of the controversy back on to the Republicans by charging that Republicans in congress dramatically reduced the budget for diplomatic security “in order to cut taxes for the wealthiest 2% in this country.” Carney said that under the budget proposal of Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, non-military discretionary funding would be cut by 19% by 2014, which the Obama campaign has calculated would lead to a cut of $300 million in embassy security.
Repeatedly circumventing questions from reporters about whether President Obama had been informed about several previous threats to attack the Benghazi consulate in the days leading up to the September 11th attack, Carney said, “I cannot get into the specific details of a classified briefing. There was no actionable intelligence that suggested there would be an attack at the Benghazi facility.”
Dan Senor, a senior Romney adviser, questioned the administration’s grasp of vital national security issues. He said Biden’s comment had pointed to “the larger failures of the administration to be completely transparent about the terrorist attacks in Benghazi and the security situations leading up to the attacks.”
On Wednesday, the Congressional Oversight and Government Reform Committee was presented with a diplomatic cable sent on August 2nd by Ambassador Stevens to the State Department in Washington asking for an additional 11 security personnel to be added to the rotation of 24. Though the 11 were to replace temporary security staff who were leaving, Stevens made clear in the cable that violence and terrorism were a threat amid a volatile political landscape.
He wrote: “Due to the level of threat in regards to crime, political violence and terrorism, post feels this is an appropriate number of LES [locally employed staff] security personnel needed to further embassy diplomatic outreach missions. Violent security incidents continue to take place due to the lack of a coherent national Libyan security force and the strength of local militias and large numbers of armed groups Host national security support is lacking and cannot be depended on to provide a safe and secure environment.”
The Republican dominated congressional committee had also heard testimony from Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, former head of a US military team in Libya, who corroborated Ambassador Stevens’ assessment, by saying, “the security in Benghazi was a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there.” He added that the head of US security in the region had pushed for more people “but was never able to attain the numbers he felt comfortable with.”
Shortly after the September 11th attack it was reported that the White House proposed to cut $129 million from the allocation for “Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance.” The cut can be seen on page 148 of the 394-page sequestration report.
While acknowledging that Congress has the power of the purse, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, excoriated and slammed Republicans for not having a full hearing on the subject and said Democrats held a hearing on how Medicare would be affected by a theoretical Romney/Ryan budget without GOP participation.
On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she takes “responsibility” for the attack in Benghazi. She told CNN, “I’m in charge of the state department’s 60,000-plus people all over the world at 275 posts.” In an attempt to shield President Obama from the fallout over the growing scandal, she said, “What we had to do in the state department was keep focused not on why something happened – that was for the intelligence community to determine – but what was happening and what could happen. And that’s what I was very much working on, day and night, to try to make sure that we intervened with governments. We did everything we could to keep our people safe, which is my primary responsibility.”