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“Embracing Debunked Conspiracy Theories”: How The GOP Became A Party Of Benghazi “Truthers”

After a year of demanding answers about the terrorist attack that took place in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, the right wing got them in the form of a well-reported exposé by The New York Times‘ David Kirkpatrick.

And they don’t like these answers at all.

From the night of the murders, Republicans have been shamefully trying to politicize the attack that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens, first as a means of stopping the re-election of President Obama, and then to damage the reputation of former secretary of state and possible candidate for president in 2016, Hillary Clinton.

Within hours of Stevens’ death, GOP nominee Mitt Romney accused the Obama administration of “sympathizing” with extremists, as the State Department tried to protect the lives of diplomatic personnel in the face of protests across Northern Africa ginned up in opposition to an offensive depiction of Islamic religious iconography being spread on YouTube. Sensing they had a crisis to parallel 1980′s taking of hostages in Iran, Republicans continued to wage a campaign designed to paint the Obama administration as weak on terror. The Romney campaign suggested that the president was refusing to label the attack as “terrorism” and Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suggested former UN Ambassador Susan Rice was lying and covering up the involvement of al-Qaeda when she offered CIA-approved talking points that the video played a major role in the attack.

Kirkpatrick’s reporting substantiates just about everything Ambassador Rice said as she appeared on several Sunday morning news shows just days after the attack:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that al-Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

This reporting closely echoes the original investigation ordered by Secretary Clinton and  led by Thomas Pickering, an esteemed diplomat who served under Presidents Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton.

It was clear that the video played a role, even before Kirkpatrick’s report. But it was unclear if it was the actual motivation for the attack or just a major factor in the unrest destabilizing the region. The Times‘ Middle East correspondent clearly asserts it was central.

It was also unclear if al-Qaeda had played a role in the killings. But this new report likely won’t settle that question, despite Kirkpatrick’s certainty, because the makeup of the terror network is so murky. ”There’s a long-running debate among experts about whether al-Qaeda is more of a centralized, top-down organization, a network of affiliates with varying ties to a core leadership or the vanguard of a broader movement better described as ‘Sunni jihadism,’” Politico Magazine’s Blake Hounshell points out.

All of this leads to a question Secretary Clinton asked when testifying in front of a Senate committee.

“What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?” Clinton said.

Republicans argue that this question disrespects the lives of those four Americans who died in Benghazi. They assert that the president expressly told the military to “stand down” instead of trying to help the men. They accuse Clinton of purposeful negligence and evasion. These claims have all been debunked — there was no stand-down order and Clinton was not directly responsible for the security of an impromptu trip Stevens decided to take on his own, yet she still took responsibility for the tragedy.

The government failed to secure diplomatic resources, as it has under both Democratic and Republican presidents. The involvement of the CIA means that some of the story will likely remain cloaked in secrecy. But no misconduct has ever been proven.

The right wing clearly is not interested in answers, only raising questions—entirely for partisan purposes.

In the aftermath of 9/11, as the Bush/Cheney administration refused a bipartisan investigation of the attacks for a year, anyone who challenged the official story of the attacks and suggested government complicity was labeled a “truther,” a smear that helped cost Van Jones a job in the Obama administration more than a half-decade later.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told Meet the Press on Sunday, “What we do know is September 11 [2012] was not an accident.”

He defended his year-long investigation into the tragedy in Benghazi, asserting the same disproven speculation that he has helped fester for months, and concluding, “they went out on five stations and told the story that was, at best, a coverup for CIA, and at worst, something that cast away this idea that there was a real terrorist operation in Benghazi.”

The congressman is still suggesting the military may have purposely refused to help Americans under attack and the administration is covering up the truth, though what it offered, even in the fog of the immediate aftermath of the murders, closely matches some of the best reporting on the subject.

If Issa made those claims about the original 9/11 attacks, we know what he would have been called.

But since much of his party has embraced vague conspiracy theories that suggest the president of the United States either wanted a terrorist attack weeks before an election or “covered up” a terrorist attack that he called a terrorist attack several times before that election, he’s just another Republican.

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, December 30, 2013

December 31, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, GOP | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Pulitzer Prize Creative Fiction”: Thomas Pickering Dissects Congressional Follies, Media Coverage, And ‘Cover-Up’ Charges

No doubt the degraded quality of congressional oversight astonishes Thomas Pickering, the distinguished American diplomat who oversaw the State Department’s Benghazi review board — although he tries not to say so too directly. For his demanding and difficult effort  – only the most recent in a long history of public service under both Republican and Democratic administrations — Pickering has found himself under sustained attack by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the excitable partisan who chairs the House Government Reform Committee.

Last Friday, Issa subpoenaed Pickering to deliver a taped deposition to the committee behind closed doors, without offering a public chance to answer the charges already lodged by Republicans against the Accountability Review Board report authored by Pickering and retired admiral Mike Mullen.

Immediately prior to this latest skirmish, Pickering spoke with The National Memo about the ARB report, political maneuvering by the administration’s adversaries, and media coverage of the Benghazi “scandal.”  Asked whether he had ever experienced or seen anything resembling Issa’s conduct, Pickering said, “No, I haven’t.…I suspect that on this particular issue, this guy [Issa] is driven by whatever will maximize his capability to be tough on the administration. This seems to be one effort he’s kind of landed on to make that happen. But I’m only guessing here,” he added.

Meanwhile, Pickering hasn’t noticed much attention being given on Capitol Hill to the extensive recommendations that he and Mullen made to improve security in dangerous posts around the world. “I can’t tell you whether anyone [in Congress] has sat down and examined them and wanted to have hearings on [the recommendations]” – instead of the notorious “talking points” developed by the White House last September. “So far I haven’t seen any evidence of that.”

For Pickering, the subpoena issued by Issa must be especially confusing. Ever since the Government Reform committee announced its planned hearings on Benghazi last winter, its leadership has repeatedly failed to establish a time when the review board chairman  — perhaps the most important witness – could testify. Although at first Pickering says he thought they were “genuinely interested” in getting his testimony, he became “increasingly less inclined” to appear before the committee “as the thing became more politicized.”

Before the May 8 hearing, he made a final effort to arrange to testify publicly. But via the White House and the State Department, he learned that his presence was not desired. Before Issa issued his subpoena to Pickering on Friday, he and Mullen had sent a letter requesting an opportunity to testify publicly – and said that they are “not inclined to give testimony in a closed hearing before that [happens].”

Having listened to Issa and others take potshots at him, Mullen, and their report for several weeks, Pickering wants to rebut some of the misinformation they have propagated, for the record.  He wants to address claims that the military “could have relieved or in fact changed the situation by sending men or equipment or both the night of the event” – and specifically assertions by Gregory Hicks, the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, that four Special Forces soldiers should have been dispatched to Benghazi from Tripoli. Pickering says those four officers would have arrived in Benghazi too late to help and were needed in Tripoli anyway to treat the wounded, who were brought there after the Benghazi attack.

“The third question that has come up,” said Pickering, “is why we didn’t investigate the Secretary of State” and her deputies. The “simple and straightforward answer” is that “they played no role in the decision making which was relevant to the preparations for meeting the security crisis in Benghazi,” and the role they did play on the night of September 11 “was fairly clearly portrayed to us by other people who attended the meetings, and we had no questions about it. We thought that what they did made sense and fit exactly what should have been done.”

What Pickering may mention, if and when he does testify in public, is the role of Congress, which he considers primarily responsible for underfunding the protection of diplomatic posts abroad. Fortunately, legislative idiocy has not prevented the redirection of almost $1.5 billion in funds to improve security in dozens of posts, both physically and with additional security officers and Marine guards.

Aside from the weak oversight of Congress, Pickering also seems critical of the media coverage of Benghazi.  In preparing to chair the Accountability Review Board, Pickering said, he “asked for, received, and read all of the press reporting that the State Department could find and put together for me, covering the events in Benghazi and the aftermath, from the initial attack right through to the day we submitted our report.”

He undertook this required reading because “I thought there would be useful ideas, leads, analyses that had to be taken into account.  What I found in general was a very significant amount of wild, and I think fictionalized, made-up kind of information…

And in effect much of this alleged a kind of betrayal of those people, in one way or another, all of which I thought bordered on Pulitzer Prize creative fiction but didn’t bear any relationship to what we were able to determine, both from the documentary evidence, from the extensive film footage that we had an opportunity to review carefully, and of course the interviews we had with people who were on the spot.” Indeed, Pickering believes that the ARB report is “the best compilation I’ve seen of what actually took place.”

Pickering won’t comment on the “talking points” controversy, which wasn’t relevant to the ARB investigation. But he resents broader allegations by the Republicans and their allies in the media — in particular “the allegation that I would be engaged in a cover-up…I hope people feel that I’m a more honest and hopefully more dedicated public servant than that. “

“Our interest was to do everything we could to find out what happened,” Pickering said, “and then on the basis of that [investigation] to make as clear recommendations as we could to help the State Department and other agencies so that it wouldn’t happen again. That was our motive, that was the driver, and that’s where we went. Any effort to cover up would have been a betrayal… We did everything we could in terms of the national interest in saving future lives.”  He believes it is vital to defend the credibility of the report and prevent it from being undermined. “That’s why I’m interested in talking to the American public now, because I think the report is a good report. And so far I haven’t heard anything that I believe we didn’t consider carefully.”

As for his critics, “I would hope they would read the report. If they have, maybe they need to read it again.” He laughed. “Both Mike Mullen and I believe that it’s important that we have this opportunity, either through Chairman Issa or some other committee, to deal with the people who have concerns about the report and tell them how we were thinking and why we reached the conclusions we did.”

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, May 19, 2013

May 22, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Benghazi Means”: Lost Is The Concept Of Content And Facts

Hillary Clinton was pissed. A Republican senator was accusing her of misleading the world about a raid on a diplomatic compound in Libya that killed four Americans.

“With all due respect,” the then-secretary of state snapped at Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, “The fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans?”

“What difference at this point does it make?”

In the overheated echo chamber of Washington, if not elsewhere, it made a difference during that January hearing. This was, after all, a mano-a-mano, nationally televised confrontation between partisan Republicans and a famously divisive Democrat concluding a celebrated tour as loyal aide to President Obama, the man who vanquished her for the 2008 presidential nomination.

And it makes perhaps even more of a difference after a Capitol Hill melodrama last week in which the deadly terrorist attack was recounted with fresh, even chilling, details that begged the ultimate question:

What does the tragic Sept. 11, 2012 death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others amount to, if anything, for either Obama or for Clinton if she runs for President in 2016?

What Republicans believed was a two-legged smoking gun came in the form of Gregory Hicks, the No. 2 diplomat at our embassy in Tripoli. Appearing before a House oversight panel, he was introduced with fanfare by Republican Darrell Issa of California, whose self-image as a national security expert may partly stem from parlaying a car alarm business into the largest personal fortune in Congress.

Hicks recounted a conversation with the leader of a Special Operations team in Tripoli, furious when ordered not to fly to Benghazi after the attack. He said he was rebuked by superiors for talking to a GOP congressman who visited Libya later.

Finally, he said, he was berated by Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff and famously loyal former President Bill Clinton aide, for excluding a State Department lawyer from a meeting because the lawyer didn’t have the correct security clearance.

The capper was when Susan Rice, the UN ambassador, suggested on Sunday talk shows shortly after the attack that it was a result of protests over an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube.

“My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed,” said Hicks, who claimed that he has been essentially demoted since (which the State Department flatly denies).

Hicks was preaching to what amounted to a Republican choir which sees calculated deceit in the Rice appearance. They can’t fathom the possibility that it was something else, namely a ham-handed mix of confusion, ineptitude and political spin.

That’s all seemingly lost in the fog of a Washington political war. Among the casualties are context and some facts:

History. American government facilities are a sadly regular target for terrorists. There have been many dozens of attacks on U.S. embassies, consulates, military compounds and personnel since the 1979 takeover of our embassy in Tehran. The most deadly one resulted in the deaths of 241 servicemen after the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut.

But it is also true that since gaining a House majority in 2010, Republicans have sharply cut State Department budget requests for more embassy security funding. For fiscal 2012, they shaved the request by $331 million.

Self-criticism. State initiated an independent review of Benghazi led by Thomas Pickering, a revered former diplomat, and Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It eviscerated the department for “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” that prompted “a security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”

“Cover-up.” This is a constant GOP refrain, even belittling the Pickering-Mullen review as letting Clinton herself off the hook. A recent joint report by Republican leaders asserted that “the leadership failure in relation to security and policy in Benghazi extended to the highest levels of the State Department, including Secretary Clinton,” who left at the end of January.

The evidence is ambiguous at best and includes the mistake-filled fencing over whether Obama refused to call Benghazi a “terrorist” attack. Forgotten by many is that he used the term in his first public statement on Sept. 12. “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for,” he said in the Rose Garden.

Inexplicably, several key administration officials, including Vice President Biden and Rice, seem to have then dropped the term from their lexicons. Garrulous Biden improbably did not directly rebut Rep. Paul Ryan’s assertion in their vice-presidential debate that it “took the President two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack.”

Talking points. The capital chattering class has spent much time parsing the confounding intricacies of the talking points given Rice for the Sunday TV interviews in which she said, “What this began as was a spontaneous, not a premeditated, response to what happened, transpired in Cairo,” where protesters at the U.S. embassy were outraged over the crude anti-Muslim video.

Jonathan Karl of ABC News sent Obama critics into a tizzy Friday with a report about State Department and White House memos intended to revise the talking points prior to the Rice appearances. His disclosures were quickly embraced by Obama-Clinton critics as further proof of skullduggery.

But, when asked later by Politico, Karl conceded, “There’s no evidence that Hillary Clinton was aware of what was going on, or in any way tried to direct what was in these talking points.”

Despite the clear impression of confusion, imprecision and bureaucratic fumbling – which are hallmarks of every administration since, well, Washington – some conservatives are unconvinced. Every rhetorical inconsistency is now viewed in the most suspicious light, much as Democrats would do if the shoe were on the other foot with a Republican White House.

Thus, Peter Feaver, a national security aide to President George W. Bush who now teachers public policy at Duke, contends that the slew of debatable internal memos point “pretty convincingly to the conclusion that there was willful misleading going on in the earliest days.”

Really? Might it not simply be what Feaver admits can be “tolerable spin and understandable fog-of-war confusion in the face of conflicting reports”?

In the end, so much of the critics’ ire is directed at Clinton, a catalytic figure once again presumed to be the frontrunner for her party’s presidential nomination if she wants it.

That’s no surprise to journalist-historian David Maraniss, biographer of both Bill Clinton and Obama and a longtime Hillary observer.

Assessing her Benghazi performance, and the whole Washington scene, he finds “the same old murky convergence of Clintonian defensiveness, especially via Cheryl Mills, and GOP overreaction via Rep. Issa et al.”

Bingo, a sense of history and context.

Such a perspective explains why the whole contretemps is notable not just for the noise it generates in the Washington echo chamber but also for some conspicuous silence.

Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center, says Pew is in the field right now doing polling on the issue. But he suspects it is flying below the radar screen of most Americans.

Then there’s one of the most sober and thoughtful Republicans on foreign policy, former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, long a stalwart on the foreign relations committee.

Though Stevens was an admired former Lugar staffer, Lugar has neither condoned nor condemned U.S. actions in response to the Benghazi attack. And a former Republican staffer on that committee underscored his own bottom line:

“This is not Iran-Contra,” he said, alluding to the bonafide Reagan era scandal in which secret arms sales to Iran were used to fund anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua.

“These were people here in a dangerous position trying to do the best they could,” said the former staffer. “There were probably real communications issues. Rice knew when going on air this all didn’t add up. In retrospect she should have simply said, ‘It simply wasn’t clear what was happening.’ That would have taken care of it.”

Team Obama fumbled. And Republicans saw an opportunity to diminish Obama and Clinton. It was a twofer, with Benghazi serving as a potential real-time version of the nastily effective “Swift Boat” attacks on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.

But it’s not having that same impact, and thus it’s folly to think this hurts Clinton’s chances if she chooses to run. Tom Bowen, a shrewd Democratic consultant in Chicago, says, “The idea that one of the most popular secretaries of state to serve this country will be damaged by revisions of ‘talking points’ is foolhardy.”

Yes, four Americans killed in a terrorist attack is nothing to be flip about. But voters by and large understand that the world is a dangerous place — and there are plenty of narratives that fall far short of being deemed Nixonian.

There is a desperate lack of perspective in Washington and, quite improbably, the Benghazi episode suggests it’s actually getting worse.

 

By: James Warren, New York Daily News, May 12, 2013

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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