The former head of the Central Intelligence Agency testified on Friday to the intelligence committees of the Senate and House of Representatives. General David Petraeus (ret.) resigned from the CIA last week after admitting that he had an extramarital affair with his biographer. Nevertheless, Congress wanted to obtain Petraeus’ testimony about the events surrounding the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Both sessions were behind closed doors, although attendees were accessible to address the press after the sessions.
The “official” reasons for the investigations were to determine why the attacks occurred, and why greater protection was not afforded to the consulate. Four Americans were murdered, Ambassador Chris Stevens, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith.
The “political” reason for the hearings was to determine why the Obama administration initially indicated that protesters of an anti-Islamic video, and not terrorists, conducted the attack. The video went viral on YouTube. Did the administration intentionally lie to or mislead the American people about the attack because it might hurt the president’s chances in the recent election?
Everyone now concurs that the attacks were the work of extremists in Libya, probably Al Qaeda. It has been reported that the initial assault on the consulate was not an “organized” effort, and the interlopers used small arms. But, the second assault on a CIA safe house to where the survivors of the first attack fled included much more deadly mortar fire. Some say the second episode was undertaken by “opportunistic extremist elements.”
Regarding protection, one would think that heavy security would be in order for a consulate in a Middle Eastern “hot spot.” Some question why Ambassador Stevens was even at the location at all. It is likely that security will be beefed up at all State Department outposts in Islamic countries in response to this attack.
Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) pointed out that “[Obama said he] did everything he could to protect the consulate.” Maybe so, “but it wasn’t enough because our people are dead.” Libyan militiamen were supposed to be providing security, but they “were nowhere to be found” after the attacks began. Rooney also indicated that Petraeus said protection at the consulate was inadequate from the start.
The political inquiry may seem somewhat irrelevant. But, Republicans are harping on the subject because it appears to be conspiratorial given that the events surrounded the elections. In particular, Republicans are focusing on Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations “for suggesting that the siege in Benghazi was a spontaneous protest rather than an opportunistic terrorist attack.” Her comments were made to all the major networks on the Sunday following the attacks.
Democrats tried to come to Rice’s defense after the hearing indicating that she “was following unclassified talking points approved by the C.I.A ...” And, Democrats said, “references to elements of Al Qaeda’s North African branch were changed in the talking points to the less specific ‘extremists.’”
Petraeus’ involvement with the Benghazi attack and an extramarital affair make this a very juicy story. The implication that the president lied about the nature of the attacks adds even more spice. Frankly, the fact that he lied, if he did, trying to protect his lead in the election, is almost as important as whether the attackers were terrorists or protestors. Many more questions still must be answered.