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LYONS: Benghazi demands a select committee in Congress
Reports released recently by both the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Armed Services Committee have mostly discredited the Dec. 28 article on Benghazi by David Kirkpatrick in The New York Times. Both reports and the newspaper article have served the purpose of refocusing America's attention on this tragedy.
When combined with the Jan. 6 letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner signed by more than 70 people, including relatives of those killed, urging him to form a select committee to investigate the Benghazi tragedy, it should send the signal that this issue is not going away — no matter how many "Bridgegates."
The speaker's contention that having five separate standing committees investigating Benghazi should be more than sufficient does not pass the smell test. This has been a disjointed effort that has yielded few results. Mr. Boehner further claims that with the tight budget situation we are facing, it takes a lot of money to staff a full "Watergate-type" select committee.
However, the funding issue hasn't deterred President Obama from approving the transfer of $1 billion to the Palestinian Authority to keep the organization at the negotiating table. This is in addition to the $500 million that Secretary of State John F. Kerry has already turned over.Since there apparently is no shortage of slush funds for the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Boehner certainly should be able to find funds for a select committee with full subpoena power to investigate the deaths of four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador.
Polls by both Democratic pollster Pat Caddell and Republican pollster John McLaughlin released in October 2013 showed that 62 percent of Americans want a select committee to be appointed. Therefore, it can't be for political reasons that Mr. Boehner opposes the select committee proposed by Republican Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia in House Resolution 36, which has 178 co-sponsors. There have been reports that Mr. Boehner, as a member of the "Super 8" intelligence group, may have been briefed on special activities in Libya, including the transfer of arms to al Qaeda-affiliated militias authorized by the Obama administration. While this could be more than embarrassing, it's a separate concern from the "dereliction of duty" issue, which involves security failures at the Benghazi Special Mission Compound prior to and during the attack, and the absence of a military response.
For the record, two months after the compound was opened, an internal State Department assessment was made on the adequacy of its security. The assessment essentially stated that unless the security is significantly increased, the compound should be closed. This assessment is buried in the Accountability Review Board report. With this assessment, how could the State Department continue to not only deny requests for increased security, but actually draw down security assets in the country? For example, on June 7, 2012, Ambassador J. Christopher Steven's request for two mobile security detachment teams was denied by the State Department.
On Aug. 2, 2012, Stevens' request for 11 additional personal bodyguards was also denied by State, even though he called the situation unpredictable and violent. Compounding the situation, the three quick-reaction units under the command of Col. Andrew Wood, deployed in Tripoli, were withdrawn in August over the objections of both the embassy and Col. Wood. On Aug. 16, Stevens sent a cable to Washington warning that the Benghazi mission could not withstand a coordinated attack.
With an out-of-control security situation throughout Libya, particularly in Benghazi, the question has to be asked, why were there no contingency plans or forces pre-positioned, ready to respond to potential attacks on our facilities on the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11? According to a report in The Guardian, the readiness of the ambassador's five-member security detail raises questions. Four of the agents were with Stevens when the attack occurred, while the fifth was in the Tactical Operations Center. Three of the four with Stevens, according to the report, left their rifles, helmets and body armor in another area under orders by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which was confirmed by the Accountability Review Board report. This makes no sense, given that standard operating procedures in a hostile environment require that weapons be kept at the ready all times.
During a TV interview in October 2012, Lou Dobbs asked me what I thought happened. I stated that I think this was an operation that went terribly wrong. It was my view that the ambassador was to be captured and held hostage in exchange for the release of the so-called "Blind Sheik," Omar Abdel Rahman. With the deliberate drawdown of security assets in country and no military response, even though the United States had assets in theater, nothing else made sense to me.
Now we understand from Mr. Kirkpatrick's New York Times article that the newspaper had a reporter on-scene in the compound during the attack. Why was he pre-positioned there? Has he ever been called to testify before any committee? Are we to believe The New York Times simply sat on this story for 15 months?
There are many unanswered questions, even with the recent congressional committee reports that can only be obtained by the formation of a select committee with full subpoena power. Mr. Boehner must support Mr. Wolf's Resolution 36 and restore integrity to the office of the speaker. The four dead Americans deserve nothing less.
James A. Lyons, U.S. Navy retired admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.
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