By Fr. George Welzbacher
November 11, 2012
As we go to press on the morning of Election Day the Lord alone knows how the dice will fall. But I assume that by the time you have this bulletin in your hands the results will have been certified. Not, however, that we can take such good luck for granted. We hope that we will at least be spared another 2004, with its weeks of waiting to find out just who had been chosen to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. But no matter on whom the choice will fall the man who takes the oath of office next January 20th will be faced with enormous problems, problems demanding solution. Among them are an economy breathing on half a lung; an astronomical national debt; a military depleted and long denied the resources that it must have in order to fulfill its mission in a world in which the whole Middle East now seethes with hatred for the U.S.A. and China is arming itself to the teeth. Then there is the looming insolvency of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, with a whole world of problems centered on the question of what to do about Obama Care, including the infamous mandate that constitutes an assault on the First Amendment—if the Obama Administration is returned to power, this last is a matter that will have to be settled in the courts.
Besides all of this a new dark cloud, ugly and swiftly expanding, has appeared on the horizon, a scandal out-scandalling Watergate: The Benghazi Consulate Catastrophe, a scandal that is likely to preoccupy the presidency if Mr. Obama is returned to the White House, and a scandal that will be the subject of deep and abiding concern for those Americans who respond to conscience. This catastrophe raises a host of questions: why did the Obama administration turn a stone-deaf ear to repeated pleas from our embassy in Libya for enhanced security for the embassy itself in Tripoli and for the consulate with its annex in Benghazi, a city the CIA had already identified as crawling with Al Qaeda affiliates? Worse yet, why was a sixteen-man security team WITHDRAWN from the embassy in mid-August over the vigorous objections of its commander? And why, after the September 11th attack on the consulate had begun (about 3:40 p.m. in Washington time), was the CSG, the Counter-terrorism Security Group, the committee designed specifically to coordinate response to such attacks, not convoked? After all, within two hours of the attacks inception it had been formally identified by the C.I.A. as a TERRORIST assault; it thus fell within the purview of the CSG. And when the annex a mile away from the consulate came under subsequent fire from mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, why was there no response to the urgent pleas for back-up from the two former Navy Seals standing guard at the annex? Standard operating procedure would have called for a Spectre gunship to take out the enemy mortar emplacement that those two heroes had fingered precisely with targeting laser beams. Such response was readily available from the Sigonella airbase in Sicily not much more than an hour away. If such aid had been sent, those two heroic former Navy Seals, it is very likely, would still be alive today. And finally why, when the precise character of the assault had been identified early on as terrorist-orchestrated, did the Obama administration persist in a campaign of deception day after day, describing the attack as a spontaneous spin-off from a popular demonstration protesting an American video, when no such demonstration had in fact taken place? And after such government as can be said to exist in today’s Libya had explicitly confirmed that this was indeed a well organized terrorist attack.
These are questions that conscientious Americans must not allow to be swept aside, no matter which candidate for the presidency shall have been elected.
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May I share with you here the informal bill of indictment that appeared on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal for the weekend of November 3rd and November 4th.
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The Fog of Benghazi
The Wall Street Journal
Saturday—Sunday 11/3 & 11/4/, 2012
The ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were murdered September 11 in Benghazi. That we know. But too little else about what took place before, during and after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission is clear.
The White House says republicans are “politicizing” a tragedy. Politicians politicize, yes, but part of their job is to hold other politicians accountable. The Administration has made that difficult by evasive, inconsistent and conflicting accounts about one of the most serious American overseas defeats in recent years. Unresolved questions about Benghazi loom over this election because the White House has failed to resolve them.
Why did the U.S. not heed warnings about a growing Islamist presence in Benghazi and better protect the diplomatic mission and CIA annex?
From the start of the Libyan uprising in early 2011, the Central Intelligence Agency built up an unusually large presence in Benghazi. By this September, two dozen or so operatives and contractors monitored Ansar al-Shariah and other militant groups. Deteriorating security after the war was no secret. U.S. intelligence noted militant camps in the mountains near Benghazi, including “al Qaeda leaning” fighters, according to Tuesday’s New York Times.
Over the summer, the Red Cross and the U.K. closed their offices in Benghazi after attempted terrorist attacks and assassinations. A bomb went off outside the U.S. mission on June 6 but hurt no one. Ambassador Chris Stevens told his supervisors in an August cable about a “SECURITY VACUUM” in Benghazi. A different classified State cable sent in August, and obtained by Fox News this week, noted the growth of al Qaeda training camps and expressed concern about the Benghazi mission’s ability to defend against a coordinated attack. It said it would ask for “additional physical security upgrades and staffing.”
In a House hearing last month, career State Department officials said various REQUESTS FOR SECURITY REINFORCEMENTS TO LIBYA WERE TURNED DOWN. A 16-member special security team in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, WAS PULLED OUT in August. The inability of Libya’s weak central government to protect American diplomats was overlooked.
Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have claimed “responsibility” for Benghazi, without saying precisely for what. During the second Presidential debate on October 16, Mr. Obama was asked: “Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?” HE CHANGED THE SUBJECT.
What exactly happened on the day of 9/11? During the OVER SIX HOURS that the compounds in Benghazi were under siege, could the U.S. have done more to save lives? What was President Obama doing and ordering his subordinates to do in those fateful hours?
An October 9th State Department briefing offered the first precise timeline, nearly a month later. There was NO DEMONSTRATION outside the consulate the evening of the 11th—“NOTHING UNUSUAL during the day AT ALL outside”, a State official said.
THAT may not be [quite right]. Early that morning, Embassy guards noticed a Libyan police officer in a building across the street “photographing the inside of the U.S. special mission,” according to a letter dated September 11 from the embassy to the Libyan government, calling it “troubling.” The letter was discovered last week at the still unsecured compound by two journalists and published on Foreign Policy’s website Thursday.
At 9:40 p.m. local time (3:40 p.m. EST), a security officer at the Benghazi CONSULATE heard “loud noises” outside the gate and “the camera on the main side reveals a large number of men, armed men, flowing into the compound,” according to the State Department timeline.
Within half an hour, the consulate was on fire. At about 10:45 p.m., help arrived from the CIA annex about a mile away. The CIA offered its first account of that evening this Thursday night, nearly two months after the fact. Agency personnel were dispatched WITHIN 25 minutes of the initial attack on the consulate. By 11:20 they evacuated the consulate. Stevens and Sean Smith, a State employee were dead.
The fortified annex then came under steady small-arms fire for 90 minutes starting around midnight, according to the CIA timeline, but it was never breached. The fighting lulled for four hours. Before dawn, a sudden mortar attack killed two CIA security officers on a rooftop, according to CIA officials. By then, a Quick Reaction Force had arrived from Tripoli to evacuate the annex. The CIA briefers said the agency did not deny aid to the consulate. But the Journal reported on Friday that the CIA and State “weren't on the same page about their respective roles on security” in Benghazi.
The latest account also leaves unanswered what other options Mr. Obama and his security team considered. The U.S. failed to bring drones, gunships or other close air support to defend the ANNEX from the militias who were outside its gates FOR OVER FOUR HOURS. The fighting at the CONSULATE may have taken place too quickly to bring in outside military support. According to officials who spoke this week, fighter jets in Italy would have created too much collateral damage in a civilian neighborhood. An unarmed U.S. drone was diverted to Benghazi but had trouble distinguishing between the terrorists and U.S. allies who came to the compounds’ aid. An armed drone wasn’t in the area. A large special operations force from Fort Bragg arrived in Sicily too late to help, according to a National Public Radio report Thursday.
Mr. Obama was informed of the attacks at around 5 p.m.—11 p.m. in Libya—during a previously scheduled meeting with his military advisers, and he ordered military assets moved to THE AREA, according to ABC News. During the attacks however, the Administration didn't convene the Counter-terrorism Security Group, which was created to coordinate a response to a terrorist attack, according to a CBS News report.
Late last week, Mr. Obama was twice asked by a local Denver television anchor whether Americans who asked for help in Benghazi were turned down by the chain of command. He didn't answer.
Lacking “real-time information,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last week, “you don't deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on.” Officials this week insisted military intervention was either too risky or impossible to organize in time.
Yet it's still reasonable to ask why the U.S. wasn’t PREPARED for such a contingency. Since 9/11 (of 2001) the U.S. has been at war with the people who attacked in Benghazi, even though many liberals don't like to say so. One of them is the current Commander in Chief, who still refuses to talk about his Administration's response to 9/11.
Why has the Administration's story about what took place in Benghazi been so haphazard and unclear?
In his September 12 Rose Garden statement, Mr. Obama said “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 this at the end of his remarks, well after his specific comments about Benghazi.
Unnamed Administration officials that same day told Reuters that an al Qaeda regional offshoot and members of Ansar al-Shariah were probably involved. “It bears the hallmarks of an organized attack,” one U.S. official said. Intelligence officials briefed Members of Congress later that week that terrorism was the likeliest culprit.
Yet by the end of that week, the White House offered a different account: That the Benghazi attack grew out of a spontaneous demonstration against an anti-Islam video on YouTube. On September 14, Obama spokesman Jay Carney sad, “We don't have and did not have concrete evidence to suggest that this was not in reaction to the film.”
Two days later, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on a tour of the Sunday talk shows to repeat the video-caused-the-protest story. On CBS's “Face the Nation,” she contradicted Libya’s Mohamed Magarief, who on the same show blamed a “preplanned” attack by “foreign terrorists. The White House and Ms. Rice have since claimed they were merely following talking points provided the “intelligence community.”
Yet Reuters revealed last week that government officials saw a possible al Qaeda connection EVEN AS THE ATTACKS WERE TAKING PLACE. Emails from State's regional security officer to the White House Situation Room, the Pentagon, the FBI and others noted that Ansar Al-Shariah had taken responsibility. The Daily Beast's Eli Lake reported that FBI officers who interviewed security officers who worked at the consulate knew as early as September 14 that the attack was no protest.
It took eight days for the Administration to formally declare that the four Americans, “were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy,” in the words of Matt Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center. But SIX DAYS LATER Mr. Obama was asked by Joy Behar on “The View” if “it was an act of terrorism”? He said the government DIDN'T know. In his September 25 U.N. address, Mr. Obama made several general references to the YouTube video but made NO mention of TERRORISM in the context of Benghazi.
His campaign stump speech to this day includes the lines that “al Qaeda has been decimated” and the U.S. is “finally turning the page on a decade of war to do some nation-building right here at home” (Thursday in Las Vegas).
* * * * *Mr. Obama has made the defeat of al Qaeda a core part of his case for re-election. Yet in Benghazi an al Qaeda affiliate killed four U.S. officials in U.S. buildings, contradicting that political narrative.
The President may succeed in stonewalling Congress and the media past Election Day. But the issue will return, perhaps with a vengeance, in an Obama second term. The episode reflects directly on his competence and honesty as Commander in Chief. If his administration is found to have dissembled, careers will be ended and his Presidency will be severely damaged—all the more so because HE REFUSED to deal candidly with the issue BEFORE the election.
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