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1007 words - April 30, 2013 | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
"Concerted efforts by Republicans to politicize (the attack) have distracted from the real work that has been done through the Accountability Review Board (ARB) to find out what happened and what steps need to be taken to improve the security at our embassy facilities," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on April 24. A little more than one month after announcing the sending of Deborah Jones as the United States' new Ambassador to Libya, the Obama administration and the US Department of State are still dealing with the aftermath of the September 11, 2012 terror attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Firstly, what the Republicans have denounced as "a disturbing picture of diplomatic security" caused renewed controversy over the alleged responsibilities of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the executive as a whole. Requests for additional security at the Benghazi Consulate would have Secretary Clinton's signature, this way showing the administration knew about the security problems there and chose cuts instead. The White House stressed "these cables were reviewed, as appropriate, at the Assistant Secretary level," and rejected the Republicans' claims because "it is standard protocol that cables originating from the department in Washington go out under the authority of the current Secretary of State with their signature, i.e. their name, typed at the bottom." It contradicted with what a newly-released Interim Progress Report based on an investigation across five House Committees summarized in three main accusations:
1) Reductions of security levels prior to the attacks in Benghazi were approved at the highest levels of the State Department, up to and including Secretary Clinton. This fact contradicts her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on January 23, 2013.
2) In the days following the attacks, White House and senior State Department officials altered accurate talking points drafted by the Intelligence Community in order to protect the State Department.
3) Contrary to Administration rhetoric, the talking points were not edited to protect classified information. Concern for classified information is never mentioned in email traffic among senior Administration officials.
Secondly, another essential aspect of the issue that gained importance over the last few weeks in the wake of the Boston bombings on April 15 has been the alleged incapacity of the Obama administration to arrest those responsible for the Benghazi attack. On March 13, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon met with Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in Washington D.C. He reaffirmed the Obama administration's commitment to "ensuring that the perpetrators of the attack are brought to justice." Stressing the importance of Libya's cooperation with the ongoing investigation, neither Mr. Donilon nor any other official have brought new evidence which could help solve the case, though Mr. Zeidan assured Secretary of State John Kerry that the Libyan authorities "are keen on reaching the truth and to see that justice is achieved," On April 14, a news source reported that a Libyan security official said that Sufyan bin Qumu, the leader of an Islamic extremist militia in Libya suspected of involvement in the attack, had been shot. The US Department of State (DOS) kicked the ball into touch, saying we have "to refer you to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but this is an individual we are aware of,"
Thirdly, a number of lawmakers were allegedly denied access to the Benghazi survivors. On March 18, Mr. Carney affirmed "the White House is certainly not preventing anybody from having access to any of the survivors of the Benghazi attack," However he specified that "some of them (are or were) in highly sensitive positions," meaning that any access to them might require high-level security clearances. According to an accredited reporter who attends the DOS daily press briefing, lawmakers from relevant committees who do, in fact, possess the requisite security clearances were denied access. The DOS underlined that all standard procedures have been followed. The White House issued similar statements, saying "cooperation with and briefing of members of Congress continues in the investigation, as appropriate." There have been eight hearings, 20 briefings, 25,000 pages of documentation, DOS Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said on April 29.
Yet the ongoing absence of relevant answers from the Obama administration has raised Republicans and media's curiosity. Questions like, on March 20, "did then-Secretary Clinton ever visit with the survivors from Benghazi or the evacuees at Walter Reed or elsewhere?" prompted DOS Spokesperson Victoria Nuland's laconic answer saying "I don't have anything to share with you on that one way or the other." Frank Wolf, a Republican Congressman who has represented the 10th district of Virginia since 1981, has been particularly active on the issue. On his website's page dedicated to the Benghazi attack, Mr. Wolf wrote that "the months since the attack have been marked by unanswered questions that have brought the Congress and the American people no closer to understanding what happened that day."
The congressman drew much attention on the issue when he delivered, along with retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin and President of the Center for Security Policy Frank Gaffney, a letter signed by more than 700 retired Military Special Operations (SOF) professionals urging their representatives to support H. Res. 36 to create a select committee on Benghazi. Over 120 Members of Congress have co-sponsored the Resolution so far, which aims at ending what they described as a "cover-up". Asking 16 questions, the letter reads "there has been no serious effort to determine critical details of this attack," and urges the House Select Committee to get "a detailed account of the events in Benghazi as soon as possible."
Mr. Wolf strives to put the Benghazi attack back at the top of the Obama administration's agenda. Now, the issue gets even more complicated with several unidentified individuals who claimed that they are DOS employees who consider themselves whistleblowers and who cannot speak publicly after they were allegedly threatened of negative consequences on their career. Will they speak up?
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