- - Thursday, January 9, 2014

It’s been 16 months since Muslim extremists sacked the American diplomatic mission and CIA annex in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, resulting in the brutal deaths of four brave Americans, including our ambassador.

Since then, truth has also been dying a slow death — starting with then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s eye-popping claim on five Sunday talk shows right after the attack that Muslim anger over a video caused a spontaneous protest, resulting in the death and destruction.

Let’s imagine the scenario. Ahmed Abu Khattala, purportedly a key organizer of the attack, sent his band of Muslim terrorists simultaneous text messages to vent their rage over the video, spurring them to grab their weapons and head over to the compound, where they lobbed mortar shells precisely on their targets — the embassy compound and CIA annex a mile away — for some nine hours. They were hopping mad, you see.

It’s preposterous, of course.

Compounding this obfuscation, the House of Representatives’ five separate committee investigations, each with only partial jurisdiction, has provided bits of information — nothing like the comprehensive picture needed to understand the what and why of that fateful night.

Fed up with this Keystone Kops spectacle, three members of the families who lost loved ones that night, joined by 75 other prominent Americans, including retired military, sent a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner on Jan. 6 demanding accountability.

Specifically, a Watergate-like select investigative committee with subpoena power is needed, they wrote, to “extract the truth from the Obama administration concerning the attack on our diplomatic and intelligence facilities in Benghazi, Libya; and, the brutal deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stephens, U.S. Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, and security officers Ty Woods and Glen Doherty.”

Is it really too much for the government to have access to the same kind of information as CNN’s Arwa Damon, who interviewed the aforementioned Mr. Khattala for two hours? As the letter notes, he was granting these “long interviews to reporters in Benghazi cafes, while the Obama administration — and you — have done nothing.”

What did the CNN audio-only interview reveal?

No Libyan or American officials had contacted Mr. Khattala to interview him. As for his willingness to meet with investigators, he told Ms. Damon, “Yes, no problem … but not as an interrogation, as a conversation like the one we are having right now.”

The CNN report continues, “He admitted to being at the compound the night of the attack, but denied any involvement in the violence. When he arrived at the perimeter of the compound, Khattala said he saw men carrying [rocket-propelled grenades] and medium guns, but that gunfire prevented him from getting close and entering the compound.”

Later, asked about officials’ beliefs that he was the ringleader of the attack, “Khattala and two of the men he brought with him to the interview ‘burst out laughing,’ Ms. Damon said.”

The utter absence of a comprehensive investigation must hit Mr. Khattala’s funny bone hard — about as hard as they hit Stevens, Smith, Woods and Doherty on Sept. 11, 2012.

Shortly after Ms. Damon’s interview, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, told CNN that he had asked in a letter to incoming FBI Director James Comey why the FBI had not interviewed Mr. Khattala. Others who signed the letter included Republican Sens. John McCain, Kelly Ayotte and Ron Johnson, and House Republicans Darrell E. Issa of California, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio.

Did that letter result in an FBI interrogation of Mr. Khattala? No.

Will this letter from 78 brave Americans result in a select investigative committee? Probably not.

It should, though — unless, as the letter suggests, Republican leaders are compromised by virtue of having been briefed about the “why” of the attack, which gets to “what” was going on in Benghazi.

It sure seems like someone is hiding something fairly big. As the letter from the 78 notes, Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, has documented the fact that “intelligence officers [are] being intimidated with multiple, punitive polygraph examinations and harassing nondisclosure-agreement demands.” As Mr. Wolf told me at the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi, one intelligence official who refused to sign the nondisclosure agreement had to hire a lawyer to protect himself.

The truth is not dead — yet.

Mary Claire Kendall is a Washington-based writer.