Last week Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in regards to failures to quell the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
J. Christopher Stevens, who served as U.S. ambassador to Libya, and Tyrone S. Woods, who served as an embassy security guard, had requested security reinforcements during the attack. They did not receive the extra security they requested. Four Americans died in the incursion, including Stevens and Woods, as well as U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith and security guard Glen Doherty.
This failure to provide additional security to the consulate in Benghazi before and during the attack was at the forefront of the latest hearings. Senators therein questioned Panetta and Dempsey about their communication with President Obama during the attack. When pushed by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) both Panetta and Dempsey attested to the fact that they spoke with Obama only once for half-an-hour during the seven-plus hour attack:
SEN. GRAHAM: Your testimony, as I understand it, Secretary Panetta, that you talked to the president of the United States one time.
SEC. PANETTA: I talked to him on Sept. 11 with regards to the fact that we were aware this attack was taking place.
SEN. GRAHAM: One time.
SEC. PANETTA: Right.
SEN. GRAHAM: What time did you tell him that?
SEC. PANETTA: I think that was approximately about 5 o’clock?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, about 5 o’clock.
SEC. PANETTA: About 5 o’clock.
SEN. GRAHAM: General Dempsey, did you ever talk to the president of the United States at all?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I was with the secretary when — at that same time.
SEN. GRAHAM: Did you talk to the president?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yes.
SEN. GRAHAM: You talked to him how many times.
GEN. DEMPSEY: The same — one time.
SEN. GRAHAM: How long did the conversation last?
GEN. DEMPSEY: We were there in the office for probably 30 minutes.
SEN. GRAHAM: So you talked to him for 30 minutes, one time, and you never talked to him again, either one of you.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Until afterwards.
SEN. GRAHAM: Until after the attack was over.
GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s right.
Graham continued, asking the military men whether Obama was aware of the great threat on the consulate, to which Panetta replied: “We were deploying the forces. He knew we were deploying the forces. He was being kept updated.” Graham corrected Panetta, informing him that no forces were ever deployed.
Additionally, when asked by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), "Why didn't you put forces in place to be ready to respond?," Dempsey stated that he had indeed heard about Ambassador Stevens’ request for forces, but that the State Department did not send the request which, he claimed, would have then allowed them to send forces to the consulate.
It remains to be seen how delegating responsibility will prevent future attacks against Americans abroad.