by Arnold Ahlert
Wednesday on Capitol Hill, three impeccable witnesses offered the clearest evidence to date that the Obama administration’s response to Benghazi before, during and after the terrorist attack that claimed the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, State Department employee Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen A. Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods, was a deadly combination of ineptitude, political calculations, and outright lying. Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant Secretary of State for counterterrorism; Greg Hicks, former deputy chief of mission in Libya; and Eric Nordstrom, former regional security officer in Libya, offered unshakeable testimony, despite efforts by several Democratic lawmakers to protect both the current administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, their party’s most viable presidential candidate for 2016. What the witnesses averred reveals a grim web of deceit likely orchestrated by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to cover up the order to ground U.S. rescue teams that could have easily saved our besieged countrymen in Benghazi.
Some of the most compelling and emotional testimony was provided by Hicks, who offered the House Oversight and Government Reform committee a damning blow-by-blow account of the September 11, 2012 attack: In Tripoli at the time, Hicks recounted how he had spoken with Stevens early in the evening, and there was no sign of unusual activity. After relaxing for a while, he got an alert that Benghazi was under attack. When he checked his cell phone he saw two numbers, one of which he didn’t recognize. He called that number first and got Stevens on the phone. “Greg! We’re under attack!” said Stevens, according to Mr. Hicks.
Later, when it became clear that Stevens was missing, the first concern was that he had been taken by terrorists. “We began to hear also that the ambassador’s been taken to a hospital,” said Hicks. “We learn that it is in a hospital which is controlled by Ansar al-Shariah, the group that Twitter feeds had identified as leading the attack on the consulate.” As this information was coming in, a “response team” from Tripoli arrived at the Benghazi airport, one that Hicks thought might become involved in a “hostage rescue” operation, even as officials worried they were being “baited into a trap.”
Hicks then spoke of the mortars that landed on the compound shortly after a group of Americans fleeing the consulate arrived at the annex. The first mortar landed among a group of Libyans who had helped bring the Americans to safety. “The next was short,” he said. “The next three landed on the roof.”
Those were the mortars that killed Doherty and Woods.
Hicks was visibly choked up when he recounted learning about Stevens’ death from the Libyan prime minister. ”I think it’s the saddest phone call I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.
In one of the most stunning portions of the hearing, Hicks confirmed the chilling refusal of the Obama administration to send in readily available U.S. assets to stop the consulate slaughter. This order to “stand down” was given not once, but at least twice. Hicks also revealed that an explicit order from the chain of command prevented a four-man special forces rescue team in Tripoli from getting to the Americans trapped at the annex. He noted the order came from ”either AFRICOM or SOCAFRICA” and that the team was “furious” when they were told to stand down. “I will quote Lieutenant Colonel Gibson,” said Hicks, referring to the officer on the receiving end of that command. “He said, ‘This is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more balls than somebody in the military." Hicks’ testimony on this point directly contradicts recent statements from the Obama-run Pentagon. “There was never any kind of stand-down order to anybody,” said Maj. Robert Furman, Pentagon spokesman, on Monday.
Yet Mark Thompson also testified that he tried to get a Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST) comprised of special ops and intelligence personnel deployed, and he, too, was told to stand down. According to a source interviewed by Breitbart.com, only President Obama, or someone acting on his authority, could have given the stand down order. As we know from testimony provided by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, President Obama met with the two officials on September 11 at 5 p.m. EDT for 30 minutes — less than an hour-and-a-half into the attack — and was supposedly never heard from him again for the rest of the evening. The very next day, Obama headed to a campaign fundraiser in Las Vegas.
The Obama administration undoubtedly understood that its decision to leave defenseless Americans, including our ambassador, to needlessly die at the hands of al-Qaeda-linked jihadists would not go over well for a commander-in-chief in the throes of a presidential election and a secretary of state angling for the Oval Office in 2016. Hicks’ testimony affirmed suspicions that administration officials conspired to conceal the nature of the attack by concocting an absolutely fictitious account of events involving a “spontaneous” attack prompted by an anti-Islam YouTube video.
Hicks testified that he had personally told former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Benghazi raid was a terrorist attack at 2 a.m. that same night. He recounted that ”everybody in the mission” believed it was an act of terror “from the get-go,” a reality echoed by Libyan President Mohammed al-Magariaf, who said his government had “no doubt that this was pre-planned, predetermined.” Magariaf made this assertion the very day before UN ambassador Susan Rice went out to peddle the lie that a “spontaneous demonstration” had gotten out of hand due to an Internet video.
When Hicks heard Rice, he was appalled. “My jaw dropped, and I was embarrassed,” he said.
Hillary’s entire take on the matter can be whittled down to the infamous statement she made during the U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing on May 8, 2013. After being questioned as to why the administration misled the American people, Clinton became indignant. “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she said. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?”
Eric Nordstrom, who became emotional when he described his friends and other personnel who lost their lives in the attack, provided an answer to that question. “It matters to me personally and it matters to my colleagues–to my colleagues at the Department of State,” he said, his voice breaking. “It matters to the American public for whom we serve. And, most importantly, it matters to the friends and family of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods who were murdered on September 11, 2012.”
Nordstrom further testified in writing that Hillary Clinton waived security requirements for the Benghazi consulate despite high and critical threat levels in the six categories of security standards established under the Overseas Security Policy Board and the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999. The waiver can only be authorized by the Secretary of State, who cannot delegate that responsibility to someone else. ”If the Secretary of State did not waive these requirements, who did so by ordering occupancy of the facilities in Benghazi and Tripoli?” Nordstrom wrote.
Nordstrom also offered his take on the ARB. ”I found the ARB process that I was involved in to be professional and the unclassified recommendations reasonable and positive. However, it is not what is contained within the report that I take exception to but what is left unexamined,” Nordstrom wrote. “Specifically, I’m concerned with the ARB’s decision to focus its attention at the Assistant Secretary level and below, where the ARB felt that ‘the decision-making in fact takes place,’” he wrote.
Hicks testified that the State Department actively sought to intimidate witnesses in order to prevent facts surrounding the Benghazi attack from being leaked. He revealed that a top State Department official called him to demand a report from his meeting with a congressional delegation and expressed unhappiness that a State Department lawyer was not present for the session. “I was instructed not to allow the RSO, the acting deputy chief of mission–me–to be personally interviewed,” he said. Later in the hearing, Hicks noted that State seemed especially concerned with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who has done yeoman’s work tracking down the survivors of the attack, kept under wraps by the administration." We were not to be personally interviewed by Congressman Chaffetz,” said Hicks, who added that Cheryl Mills, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, ”demanded a report on the visit” that did take place.
The State Department was caught in another lie yesterday as well. While the hearings were getting underway, Republicans revealed that Ambassador Thomas Pickering, co-chairman of the ARB, refused to testify. State countered that Republicans refused to let him. Frederick Hill, spokesman for Committee chairman Darryl Issa (R-CA), produced a letter dated February 22 inviting Pickering to testify. “Ambassador Pickering initially told the Committee he was not available on that date,” Hill told ABC News. “When asked about a different date, he said he was not inclined to testify.”
The State Department isn’t the only entity interested in controlling the flow of information in this tragedy. House Democrats embarrassingly struggled to distract from the proceedings with absurd non sequiturs and personal attacks. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democratic at the Benghazi hearing, told one of the whistleblowers to “protect your fellow employees.” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) suggested it was unpatriotic to challenge the administration’s narrative. “I find it truly disturbing and very unfortunate that when Americans come under attack, the first thing some did in this country was attack Americans,” she said. “Attack the military; attack the president; attack the State Department; attack the former senator from the great state of New York, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) blamed Republicans and congressional budget cuts for the terror attack, even as he apparently remains oblivious to the reality that it was Democrats who insisted the lion’s share of the budget cuts induced by sequestration come from the military.
Media are also shamelessly entrenched in the campaign to suppress the facts surround the Benghazi attack. Politico reports that CBS News execs are getting “increasingly frustrated” with premiere investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson’s stories on Benghazi, which they consider “dangerously close to advocacy.”
Dangerously close to honesty is more like it, which is exactly what CBS is worried about. As Washington Post explains, “While other media, particularly Fox News, have been similarly skeptical about the official narrative about Benghazi, Attkisson and CBS might put the story in a different light,” the paper reports. “As a much-decorated reporter from a news outlet often derided by conservatives as a liberal beacon, Attkisson and her network flip the usual script on this highly politicized story. That is, it’s hard to peg her and her network as Republican sympathizers out to score political points against a Democratic president.” With Attkisson, a self-described “political agnostic,” questioning the administration, Bengahzi can no longer be dismissed by the left as a vast right-wing conspiracy. “People can say what they want about me, I don’t care,” Attkisson says. “I just want to get the information out there.”
Attkisson notwithstanding, it remains to be seen whether the remainder of the mainstream media will now demand answers from the Obama administration on why it chose to needlessly throw American servicemen to the wolves in Benghazi and why, exactly, it was necessary to contrive a totally false account of events. The Obama administration is fighting hard to distract from the severity of the scandal. White House press secretary Jay Carney claimed that continued scrutiny of Benghazi is nothing more than an attempt by Republicans to ”politicize” the issue. ”This is a subject that has from its beginning been subject to attempts to politicize it by Republicans, while in fact what happened in Benghazi was a tragedy,” he said, adding that the incident has been ”been looked at exhaustively." Carney further noted that the ongoing pursuit is ”part of an effort to chase after what isn’t the substance here.” The entire substance, according to Carney, is the reality that the consulate was attacked, four Americans were killed, and the president will make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Carney saved his most ridiculous assertion for last, claiming the administration’s editing of the talking points, in which wholesale changes and rampant deletions were made, (the details of which can be seen here) were “stylistic and not substantive.” “We’ve been very clear about the specific edits that were made at the suggestion of the White House.”
That is an utter lie. Version one of the CIA report included references to an “attack,” “Islamic extremists with ties to al Qa’ida,” the involvement of Ansar al Sharia and the fact that “wide availability of weapons and experienced fighters in Libya contributed to the lethality of the attacks,” which were all completely removed. Furthermore, at no time did any of the versions mention an anti-Islamic Internet video as being the catalyst for the attack.
The Obama administration can try spin this debacle any way it likes, but it can’t spin away four dead Americans, two separate “stand down” orders and the State Department’s advanced knowledge of inadequate security. They can’t change the reality that no rescue was even attempted over the course of a seven-hour battle, that brave Americans were left to fend for themselves, or that the administration sat on the details of this story for eight months — two most crucial of which occurred prior to the 2012 election. Even now the administration continues to stonewall every effort to get to the truth.
But with the truth finally coming to the surface, the remaining question observers are left with is why the Obama administration abandoned Americans who were easily within reach. While the lies used to cover up this disaster are easy to explain, the rationale behind the unconscionable stand down orders must still be determined. As the facts stand now, the likely explanations do not bode well for President Obama. The circumstances suggest the decision was made by a callous and desperate president struggling with a re-election campaign, a central plank of which was that al-Qaeda had been decimated and was “on the run” — not something affirmed by news of al-Qaeda operatives’ murder of our ambassador and military personnel. Or perhaps our commander-in-chief was too busy being our campaigner-in-chief and simply didn’t care about the carnage unfolding on his watch, which he declined to prevent. In any case, it is incumbent on the Obama administration to provide a rationale for its disastrous decision. As persistent Americans have shown, the investigation will not cease until that occurs.
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