What happens when a lie goes astray?
You may recall the right wing’s hysteria last week over the way that events had supposedly played out in Benghazi, Libya. Stoked by inflammatory, deeply irresponsible misreporting on Fox News, they insisted that this scandal was bigger than Watergate, and that for his cowardice President Obama would be disgraced as commander in chief and impeached and removed from office should he win a second term.
Oh, they were in fine, fine form, braying like so many hounds certain they have finally treed the fox.
President Obama, we were told, had AC-130 gunships within an hour of Benghazi but refused to use them to try to intervene on behalf of his ambassador. We had Special Forces units ready to go just two hours away, at Sigonella Air Base in Sicily, but a cowardly Obama again barred a rescue operation, fearful that it might endanger his re-election if it went astray.
And twice — TWICE!!! — former SEALs at a nearby CIA compound had requested permission to intervene in the assault on the U.S. consulate, but twice they had been ordered to stand down and do nothing. Finally, the ex-SEALS defied orders from Washington, made their way to the consulate and rescued some of their fellow Americans. Obama, in contrast, was ready to just let them all die.
Fox News also reported that upon returning to the CIA annex, those same ex-SEALs had “lasered” a mortar targeting their position in hopes that an AC-130 would arrive to take it out, but again no help came. That same mortar later killed two of those ex-SEALs.
But as predicted here, none of that turned out to be true. None. From beginning to end, and in all its details, that story has proved to be false.
– There were no orders from the CIA or anyone else to stand down. According to a CIA timeline released last week, once those at the CIA annex learned that the nearby consulate was under attack, an ad hoc rescue mission was quickly put together and launched within 25 minutes.
– As Pentagon spokesman George Little described it Friday, “there was no AC-130 within a continent’s range of Benghazi” that night. The closest gunship was in Afghanistan, some 2,500 miles away. The two surveillance drones that eventually reached the scene in Benghazi also had to be reassigned from elsewhere; neither was armed.
– Contrary to the Fox report, there were no Special Forces units available for insertion into the situation. Soon after word of the attack reached Washington, a special ops team was scrambled from a training facility somewhere in Central Europe — some sources have reported Croatia — and transported to Sigonella.
In addition, a second special ops unit was immediately alerted and transported from a military base here in the United States to Sigonella, as an option should a hostage situation develop. In other words, major preparations were underway to provide a military option should the opportunity arise to use it.
But as Little put it last week, the units “did not arrive until after the entire sequence of events was complete. … They were in Sigonella many hours after the attacks.” Two platoons of specially trained Marines had also been hustled to Sigonella, but again too late for intervention.
– Finally, there had been no “lasering” of the mortar position used to attack the CIA annex in the second phase of the assault. (That second phase occurred more than seven hours after the attack on the consulate had ended). There was no reason to use a laser in that fashion — the SEALs knew they had no air cover to intervene — and more importantly, no opportunity to do so.
According to the CIA, its personnel at the annex were not even aware that the mortars existed until mortar shells began falling on their position; from beginning to end, the deadly mortar attack lasted all of 11 minutes.
In conclusion, last week’s entire controversy was spectacularly, embarrassingly wrong-headed. No facts exist to justify the overheated rhetoric and allegations directed at Obama and top officials in his administration, but no apologies will follow either. Quite the contrary, I’m sure.
– Jay Bookman