On Wednesday, departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally testified before Congress on the Benghazi attacks. Her procrastination was in sharp contradiction to her showy assumption of responsibility. Mrs. Clinton’s testimony was demanded by a report that attributed the attacks to “profoundly weak security” at the U.S. Consulate that resulted from “systemic failures” and a “lack of proactive senior leadership.” The report did not specifically indict her for incompetence, but it is her name at the top of the State Department’s masthead.
Her testimony was a messy yarn of half-confession, feigned displays of accountability and transparent misdirection. When Sen. Robert Johnson observed that her office’s steady stream of obfuscation created confusion, she tellingly responded, “What difference does it make?” She insisted, by turns, that all was handled by an internal investigation; that she was responsible but not really responsible; that she always maintained but also sometimes denied it was a terrorist attack; and that she was fully in charge but made very few of the now famously imprudent decisions. She finally resorted to the rhetorical sanctuary of the culpable but unrepentant: Wouldn’t it be more productive if we just moved on?
The fact remains that four months after the Benghazi terrorist attacks that left four Americans dead, justice remains promiscuously over-promised by the Obama administration and sadly undelivered. To date, not one suspect has been apprehended in connection with an act of war perpetrated on what counts as American soil.
This is especially frustrating since, just last week, a Tunisian court freed Ali Harza, a Tunisian citizen who is one of the very few to be charged in the assault (depending on who you ask, there are as many as 15 suspects at large). After being bombarded by probing questions from an understandably flummoxed press corps, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland took turns passing the buck to the FBI, which is currently investigating the attacks, and the government of Tunisia. She seemed unmoved by the repeated suggestions that these were issues solidly within the jurisdiction of the State Department itself.
The FBI is hardly to blame for events well beyond the scope of their control and limited resources. At the very least, however, the snail’s pace of progress is an indictment of this administration’s misguided decision to handle an act of war as a mere criminal offense. This was not a garden variety burglary but an act of war, meant to harm U.S. interests and destabilize Libya.
Now it turns out that President Obama’s initial response to to the attacks--to avoid labeling them terrorist and to cast blame for them on a Youtube video -- has had damaging practical repercussions. If Mr. Obama had properly called the attacks terrorism from the get-go, he would have been empowered to choose from a wider range of military options under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. Our ineffectiveness in response to the murders is at least partially a function of this administration’s hesitation to use the term “terrorist.”
Why was Ali Harza released? According to Ms. Nuland, it was due to a “lack of evidence.” As long as we insist on reducing a terrorist assault to an ordinary criminal transgression, we will continue to be hamstrung by technical obstacles. Mr. Obama’s almost willful paralysis is hard to explain, since he has previously proven comfortable with extrajudicial killings, using unmanned drones. At least one reporter should have asked Ms. Nuland why capturing the Benghazi murderers seems to be such a low priority for her superiors.
If all these details aren’t disquieting enough, consider the following: The CIA had actionable information on several suspects within an hour of the attack, some of which they culled from Facebook. The only person arrested in connection with the murders so far, amidst great media fanfare, was the maker of the now infamous Youtube video that played no real role. He was arrested for parole violations and for exercising his First Amendment rights.
In response to scathing report from the review board, Mrs. Clinton stayed true to form, responding with bureaucratic bullet points. She offered “29 recommendations” and “64 specific action items,” as if the sheer number of her proposals would bury her prior missteps, if not exactly redeem them.
From the outset, this sordid tale has been one of eluding accountability in the Obama administration. After four months, justice has not been done, and no one seems to bear any real fault. The outgoing secretary of state, despite her statements of personal responsibility, took far too long to testify about the matter before Congress. For those who wish us and our allies harm, this will only inspire confidence that they can continue to get away with their crimes without repercussion.
Ivan Kenneally is editor in chief of Dailywitness.com.