Hillary Clinton sat before the House committee on Thursday, her face a mix of bemusement, boredom, and defiance, suffering through a seemingly eternal interrogation.
The committee has spent 18 months and over $4.5 million investigating the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the American State Department outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that killed a U.S. ambassador, two CIA contractors, and one other diplomat, yet another violent reaction to U.S. foreign policy.
As Clinton was Secretary of State at the time, the GOP has led a relentless assault to assign her the blame and destroy her political career, with some Democrats dragged along against their will. The committee is made up of seven Republicans and five Democrats.
Clinton took responsibility for the tragedy in January 2013.
The committee questioned why security wasn’t stronger, why the outpost wasn’t abandoned if it couldn’t be protected in a volatile area, and why the U.S. intervened in Libya in the first place.
Republican Peter Roskam called Clinton the “chief architect” of the intervention in Libya, the one who “drove it” and “persuaded people” to go along with her “plan.” As this seemed to border on questioning the legitimacy of U.S. military intervention in Africa, Roskam was quickly sushed by Democrat Adam Smith, who said such talk wasn’t relevant and that this was a hearing, not a foreign policy debate. Thus the real reason behind the attacks and the casualties–the U.S. presence in Libya itself–was neatly swept under the rug.
Further, the committee asked why the State Department covered up certain details of the event by censoring the CIA.
Indeed, the CIA reports to Congress concerning the attack were “extensively edited” by Clinton’s State Department. As ABC News reported:
The edits included requests from the State Department that references to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia be deleted as well references to CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack.
A State Department spokesperson worried in an email that being truthful about Al Qaeda affiliate involvement and warnings of possible terrorist threats “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that…?”
The Obama administration lied when it claimed the report to Congress was put together by the intelligence community and that the White House only changed one word, according to the ABC News report.
Apparently the CIA warnings were real enough for the State Department to wipe from the CIA report, but not real enough for Clinton to admit to; she consistently denied any intelligence warnings about a potential attack.
This is plausible deniability, a useful tool in the political handbook. Clinton can simply deny warnings existed or, barring that, that they ever reached her ears, a truly unbelievable notion.
This kind of corruption–distorting intelligence reports to protect the image of government officials–must be prosecuted and eliminated.
But one might wonder where this intense criticism of government departments and officials was in the Republican Party after the far more deadly terrorist attack eleven years to the day before Benghazi.
After all, the 9/11 terrorists were motivated by U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and Central Asia, according to Osama bin Laden and U.S. intelligence officials. Foreign military incursion breeds extremism, whether in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, or Libya. Perhaps Roskam wasn’t seriously questioning U.S. involvement in Libya, just the way it was managed–or mismanaged–by Clinton.
Unfortunately, the painfully obvious fact that the attack never would have occurred had U.S. military and intelligence personnel not been in Libya was left unexamined, in the same way most Americans–and Congress–left unexamined how our military and intelligence presence in other nations led to an attack on U.S. soil in 2001.
In another parallel, 9/11 was not solely an intelligence failure, but a failure of officials to act on intelligence. Donald Trump, the offensive and usually misinformed Republican presidential candidate, pointed this out to Jeb Bush recently, and Republicans have gone berserk over it.
Intelligence briefers reported to President George W. Bush in August 2001 that Osama bin Laden was determined to attack the U.S. by hijacking planes (see also The Concise Untold History of the United States, Stone and Kuznick). These warnings were ignored.
Bush disdainfully told his CIA briefer, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” Yet with a straight face, Bush told a news conference in April 2004, “Had I any inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country.”
Again, plausible deniability. A fancy phrase meaning “lies.”
If citizens care about transparency, the GOP’s assault on Clinton is doing us a favor. It is simply unfortunate that 9/11 birthed blindly patriotic sheep among Republicans and Democrats alike, who rallied behind Bush and granted him the power to do virtually whatever he wished at home and abroad, through war resolutions and the Patriot Act. He was the “chief architect” of two invasions, which resulted in a catastrophic death toll of innocent civilians, and the loss of many U.S. servicemen and women.
Where was the firestorm of criticism from the GOP–or the Democrats, at least, after 9/11? Where was the 18 month investigation? When will there be harsh punishment for officials who lie, by omission or otherwise, about what they knew, and when will more politicians acknowledge the root causes of anti-American terrorism?