Carroll County Times

Michael Zimmer: Questions persist on Benghazi

It has been one year since tragedy struck in Benghazi, Libya. Four brave Americans perished at the hands of terrorists bent on assaulting what's good about our country. We know some things about those attacks, but there remain unanswered questions.
You've probably heard the name of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Published reports indicated that he was brutally tortured before being murdered. Foreign Service Information Officer Sean Smith was killed in the series of attacks that lasted, according to congressional testimony, more than nine hours.
Former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were not at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi when the initial attacks were launched. They were CIA officers based at an agency annex in Benghazi. They rushed to the sound of the guns in an effort to rescue their fellow Americans. They evacuated as many as they could find back to their annex.
This involved a running gun battle. At the annex, waves of attacks continued. The attacks included automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades and mortar fire. Doesn't sound like a video protest that got out of hand.
We don't know why a 16-man special operations unit known as a Security Support Team was pulled from Stevens' security detail prior to the attacks. You may wonder whether budget considerations accounted for the decision to withdraw these troops. Charlene Lamb the Washington-based Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, testified to Congress that budget reasons did not account for the decision.
Eric Nordstrum also testified at this same hearing last year. He was the State Department Regional Security Officer for Libya prior to the attacks. He related repeated efforts by both him and Stevens to restore the SST.
There have been interesting explanations for why no armed military response was sent to Benghazi. Gregory Hicks gave moving congressional testimony earlier this year of his actions to get help to Benghazi during the attacks. He was the number two State Department official in Libya.
The plan he had developed was to fly four U.S. special operations troops from Tripoli, where Hicks was located, to Benghazi. Hicks testified that just prior to their departure they were ordered by their chain of command to stand down and remain in Tripoli.
According to Hicks, the rational given to these troops was that they were needed in Tripoli. This provoked a colorful response from the commander of those troops.
In Senate testimony, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked why no armed response was sent from outside of Libya to Benghazi. He responded that no such response would have been able to get there in time. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC then asked when the military knew how long the attacks would take place. Dempsey offered no reply to this question.
Perhaps you are asking what difference it makes, as Hillary Clinton asked in Senate testimony earlier this year. It makes a lot of difference to the loved ones of those killed.
It makes a difference in the level of trust members of Congress may have in the President. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. brought up Benghazi last week during a hearing on whether to authorize President Barack Obama to attack Syria. Duncan questioned the credibility of the administration in light of what happened to the brave Americans cut down in Benghazi.
Popular opinion as measured by media polls is heavily against launching missiles into Syria. How much does Benghazi and everything surrounding it impact on the President's credibility with the public?
As we honor the sacrifice of those who perished in Benghazi, let's press our elected officials in Congress to insist on a full accounting of what went wrong on Sept. 11, 2012. Knowing all the facts is surely the first step in preventing future attacks on Americans serving under challenging conditions.