The new House report is tearing apart dozens of GOP claims about the 2012 attack. From Darrell Issa’s ‘stand down order’ to Lindsey Graham’s Hillary slam, see who was discredited.
The House Intelligence Committee’s report on the 2012 terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is undermining years of GOP talking points—and some Republicans, understandably, aren’t taking it well.Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, for one, says the committee, led by outgoing Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, was “co-opted by the CIA” and produced a “fundamentally misleading “ report. Even Rogers is backtracking, saying he didn’t examine the role of the State Department and the White House in the response to the attack.Back in May, Rogers warned that his colleagues “should not let this investigation get into conspiracy theories,” and the committee seems to have avoided them. Instead the report resolves many questions about the attack that cost the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, and discredits several of the most histrionic claims about it.
Here are five claims by current and former members of Congress about Benghazi that the report at least partially rebuts:
1. The safety of American personnel at the American consulate in Libya was undermined by a “stand down order.”
The report makes clear that despite what outgoing House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has insisted, there was no stand down order: “No CIA officer was told to stand down.” Instead, “there were mere tactical disagreements about the speed with which the team should depart prior to securing additional security assets,” and officers on the ground acted in “a timely and appropriate manner,” it concludes.
2. The Obama administration ignored calls for help and committed“fatal errors and possible crimes” in its response.
Rebutting repeated claims by fringe Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), the report finds that those on the ground in Benghazi “received all military support available…there was neither a stand down order nor a denial of air support, and no American was left behind.” Further, while the report raises concerns about the process behind writing the talking points then-U.N. ambassador Susan Rice used to discuss the attack on television, the report concludes: “U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions.”
3. CIA agents present were polygraphed repeatedly in an effort to determine if any of them were leaking to the media.
While Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) has comparedthe Obama administration’s “coverup” of Benghazi to Watergate, the committee “found no evidence that any officer was intimidated, wrongly forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement or otherwise kept from speaking to Congress or polygraphed because of their presence at Benghazi.” Needless to say, the report also concludes that unlike Watergate, the “Executive Branch agencies fully cooperated with the Committee’s investigation.”
Sorry, Lindsey Graham: “There was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks,” the report says, there was “no specific tactical warning” of any threat to the consulate in Benghazi. Despite the South Carolina senator’s claims, the committee found that while there was sufficient intelligence to discern that the security situation in Libya was deteriorating, no intelligence indicated “planning or intentions for attacks on the Benghazi facility on or about September 11, 2012.”
5. Americans begged for help at Benghazi and none ever came. The only rescuers were Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods, two former Navy SEALs.
Rep.Michele Bachmann, (R-MN) said Doherty and Woods “defied orders and chose to go to the aid of their brothers” when no other help was forthcoming. The report makes clear that Doherty responded to the attack as a part of a team under orders from the CIA station chief in Tripoli and that others came immediately to the aid of the Americans in Benghazi. Resources were promptly diverted to rescue those under attack, the committee found. Bachmann’s other claim—that the Benghazi attack might be the judgment of God—was not addressed by the report.
The anti-Bergdahl hysteria plays into six years of scurrilous insinuation that Obama is a secret Muslim who either supports or sympathizes with our enemies. Even “moderate” Mitt Romney, you’ll recall, claimed the president’s “first response” to the 2012 Benghazi attack “was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” This is just the latest chapter.
The partisan opportunism over the Bergdahl deal shouldn’t be surprising, but it is, a little bit. This wasn’t some wild radical idea of the Obama administration; it was driven by the Defense Department and signed on to by intelligence agencies. Although Congress is claiming it wasn’t given the requisite 30 days notice of a prisoner transfer (more on that later), this deal or something very much like it has been in the works for at least two years, with plenty of Congressional consultation.
And plenty of partisan demagoguery: in 2012 the late Michael Hastings reported that the White House was warned by Congressional Republicans that a possible deal for the five Taliban fighters would be political suicide in an election year – a “Willie Horton moment,” in the words of an official responsible for working with Congress on the deal. In the end, though, Hastings reported that even Sen. John McCain ultimately approved the deal; it fell apart when the Taliban balked.
Two years later, the right’s official talking points are mixed: Some critics focus on rumors (buttressed by Hastings’ own sympathetic reporting on Bergdahl) that he was a soldier disillusioned by the Afghan war who deserted his post. Wrong-way Bill Kristol has dismissed him as a deserter not worth rescuing, while Kristol’s most prominent contribution to politics, Sarah Palin, has been screeching on her Facebook wall about Bergdahl’s “horrid anti-American beliefs.”
But missing and captured soldiers have never had to undergo a character check before being rescued by their government. Should they now face trial by Bill Kristol before we decide whether to rescue them? Is Sarah Palin going to preside over a military death panel for captured soldiers suspected of inadequate dedication to the war effort?
Other Republicans accuse the president of breaking the long-standing rule against “negotiating with terrorists” to free hostages. They’re wrong on two counts: The U.S. has frequently negotiated with “terrorists,” to free hostages and for other reasons. President Carter negotiated with the Iranians who held Americans in the Tehran embassy in 1979, unsuccessfully. President Reagan famously traded arms to Iran for hostages. The entire surge in Iraq was predicated on negotiating with Sunni “terrorists” who had killed American soldiers to bring them into the government and stop sectarian violence.
Besides, this isn’t a terrorist-hostage situation, it’s a prisoner of war swap, and those are even more common: President Nixon freed some North Vietnamese prisoners at the same time former POW Sen. John McCain came home from Hanoi. Even hawkish Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit last year. Such prisoner exchanges are particularly frequent when wars are winding down, as Ken Gude explains on Think Progress.
It’s true that Bergdahl was never officially categorized as a “prisoner of war,” since the Pentagon apparently stopped using that designation years ago. But he was defined as “missing/captured,” which is essentially the same thing. And while the Taliban fighters who were released were likewise not formally designated prisoners of war, either, because of the odd, formally undeclared status of the war with Afghanistan, that’s what they were. As President Obama said Tuesday morning, “This is what happens at the end of wars.” Imagine the outrage if the president brought the troops home from Afghanistan but left Bergdahl behind.
Even some Democrats who had doubts about the 2012 Bergdahl release deal, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, support the exchange executed last weekend. “I support the president’s decision, particularly in light of Sgt. Bergdahl’s declining health. It demonstrates that America leaves no soldier behind,” she said in a statement. Former CIA director Leon Panetta opposed the earlier deal because he felt it didn’t do enough to prevent the five Taliban leaders from returning to combat; this deal holds them in Qatar for at least a year. Panetta also lauded the deal Monday night because of Bergdahl’s use to intelligence agencies.
It may be that the terms of the Bergdahl deal merit Congressional investigation, particularly about whether Congress was sufficiently consulted on the deal. Partly because of the ongoing efforts to free Bergdahl, Congress agreed to reduce its own requirements for notification of Guantanamo releases. But Obama, in a signing statement, signaled he believed even the relaxed law tied his hands, arguing that the president needed the flexibility to act quickly in certain situations when negotiating a transfer of Guantanamo prisoners. Yes it’s true that Obama and other Democrats criticized George W. Bush’s wanton use of signing statements. This one can be debated. But Republicans didn’t wail en masse over Bush’s signing statements or his national security secrecy the way they are doing now.
Congressional investigations are one thing; shrill partisan hackery is another. “There’s little that’s actually new here,” says Mitchell Reiss, a State Department official under President George W. Bush who also served as national security adviser to Mitt Romney. Reiss is right about the Bergdahl deal, but he’s wrong about the larger political atmosphere. What’s “new” here is a president who’s had his competence, his patriotism, even his very eligibility for office questioned from the outset.
During an appearance on MSNBC on Friday, NBC News reporter Kristen Welker grilled White House Press Sec. Jay Carney about how the White House views the establishment of a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack. Carney said that the investigation is unnecessary and even Republicans have confessed that the effort is not aimed at uncovering the truth but to increase campaign donations and excite the GOP base.
“House Republicans, in what is a blatantly political and partisan effort, voted to start another investigation into this matter,” Carney began, “presumably because the six previous investigations by Congress, by Republicans, were somehow not adequate.”
“It’s unfortunate that House Republicans continue to pursue this in a highly partisan manner,” he added. “And, in fact, they themselves have acknowledged how political it is and how oriented it is toward trying to raise money and motivate their base for a midterm election.”
The chairman of the select committee soon to be established to investigate the Benghazi attack, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), joined CNN host Jake Tapper on Wednesday to discuss how that investigation might unfold. After conceding that Gowdy was not in Congress at the time, Tapper pressed him on why Republicans seem more concerned about the intelligence failures that led to the Benghazi attack and not those that led to the Iraq War.
Tapper began by playing a portion of a clip from former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell who said that his local station chief provided him with three possible explanations for the attack in its immediate aftermath, one of which was an inflammatory video.
Gowdy said that Morell personally made changes to the Benghazi talking points, which were aimed at casting the White House in a “more favorable light.” When Tapper asked if he did not believe Morell was telling the truth, Gowdy paused but eventually said that he did not.
“Republicans in general did not seem to have this appetite to find out what went wrong when incorrect intelligence was used to push the war in Iraq,” Tapper observed. “Do you see why some people might say, ‘Why is this more important than that war which resulted in the deaths of more than 4,500 American soldiers and countless innocent Iraqis?”
Gowdy appeared not to answer that question, and repeated a line in which he had used earlier in the day on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “At the end of the day, you may say he’s not very smart, but no one’s going to say that I’m not fair,” Gowdy asserted. “This is not going to be a kangaroo court, and if I thought it were I would not have participated.”