A congressional committee held a hearing on the security failures that led to the killings of four Americans at a US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11. The hearing included two witnesses from the State Department that agreed to begin to share key details on what occurred.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee that held the hearing, said in his statement the State Department had just yesterday begun to publicly acknowledge the truth that was long suspected. There had been no protest related to any anti-Islam video. What happened was a clearly planned attack by “terrorists on the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.” And he added the hearing had been scheduled to address the concerns of citizens with “direct knowledge of the events in Libya.”
The opening of the hearing featured a prime example of how the United States government engages in secrecy to shield itself from embarrassing information that might invite criticism or scrutiny. Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, Under Secretary for Management at the State Department, was asked directly by Issa whether he was prepared to share with Congress members unclassified “memos” or diplomatic cables. Kennedy said he would not share them because the “totality” of the documents make them restricted. Issa did not buy this mosaic theory intended to conceal information and he said to say an array of unclassified documents are restricted when combined together is to “make everything you do unavailable to Congress.”
Issa then announced a whistleblower had provided the cables Kennedy and the State Department refused to make public for the hearing on security failures. He passed them around to members of the committee. (The cables are now posted on the committee’s website.)
Members of the committee like Stephen Lynch, a Democrat from Massachusetts, raised issues around how embassy security is handled globally. He cited how the US has “old-world embassies located right on the street” in some countries in the Middle East that could very easily be hit by car bombs. And, he took issue with how Republicans had cut funding to security at US embassies.
It was Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Ohio, who had the fortitude to call attention to the real reasons why US personnel were vulnerable.
Here is the full statement he made prior to questioning Ambassador Kennedy:
Mr. Kennedy has testified today that US interests and values are at stake in Libya and that the US is better off because we went to Benghazi. Really? You’d think that after ten years in Iraq and after eleven years in Afghanistan that the US would have learned the consequences and the limits of interventionism. You would think that after trillions had been wasted on failed attempts at democracy-building abroad while our infrastructure at home Congress and the administration would reexamine priorities.
Today we’re engaging in a discussion about the security failures of Benghazi. There was a security failure. Four Americans, including our ambassador, Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed. Their deaths were a national tragedy. My sympathies are with the families of those who were killed. There has to be accountability and I haven’t heard that yet. We have an obligation to protect those that protect us. That’s why this Congress needs to ask questions.
The security situation did not happen overnight because of a decision made by someone at the State Department. We could talk about hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts for funding for embassy security over the last two years as a result of a blind pursuit for fiscal austerity. We could talk about whether it is prudent to rely so heavily on security contractors rather than our own military or State Department personnel. We could do a, “He said, She said,” about whether the State Department should have beefed up security at the embassy in Benghazi. We owe it to the diplomatic corp, who serves our nation, to start at the beginning and that’s what I shall do.
Security threats in Libya, including the unchecked extremist groups who are armed to the teeth, exist because our nation spurred on a civil war destroying the security and stability of Libya. No one defends Gaddafi. Libya was not in a meltdown before the war. In 2003, Gaddafi reconciled with a community of nations by giving up his nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. At the time, President Bush said Gaddafi’s actions made our country and our world safer.
Now, during the Arab Spring, uprisings across the Middle East occurred and Gaddafi made ludicrous threats against Benghazi. Based on those verbal threats, we intervened, absent constitutional authority I might add. We bombed Libya. We destroyed their army. We obliterated their police stations lacking any civil authority or armed brigades to control security. Al Qaeda expanded its presence. Weapons are everywhere. Thousands of shoulder-to-air missiles are on the loose. Our military intervention led to greater instability in Libya. Many of us, Democrats and Republicans alike, made that argument to try to stop the war. It’s not surprising, given the inflated threat and the grandiose expectations inherent in our nation-building in Libya, that the State Department was not able to adequately protect our diplomats from this predictable threat. It’s not surprising and it’s also not acceptable.
It’s easy to blame someone else, like a civil servant at the State Department. We all know the game. It’s harder to acknowledge that decades of American foreign policy have directly contributed to regional instability and the rise of armed militias around the world. It’s even harder to acknowledge Congress’ role and the failure to stop the war in Libya, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Pakistan, the war in Yemen, the war in Somalia and who knows where else. It’s harder to recognize Congress’ role and the failure to stop the drone attacks that are still killing innocent civilians and strengthening radical elements abroad.
We want to stop attacks on our embassies? Let’s stop trying to overthrow governments. This should not be a partisan issue. Let’s avoid the hype. Let’s look at the real situation here. Interventions do not make us safer. They do not protect our nation. They are themselves a threat to America.
After calling out Congress for being derelict in its duty, Kucinich asked Ambassador Kennedy what he knew about Al Qaeda’s growing presence. Kennedy had no answer. Kucinich also asked Kennedy how many shoulder-to-air missiles (MANPADs) were on the loose. Kennedy had no answer.
Another witness, Eric Nordstrom, Regional Security Officer for the State Department, answered ten to twenty thousand. And Lt. Col. Andrew Wood said Al Qaeda’s “presence grows every day. They are certainly more established than we are,” which served to accentuate Kucinich’s point.
The US did not make Libya safer by intervening. It only served to further ignite conflict and now there are militias running around with weapons that are on the loose and they are able to commit great acts of violence.
Here’s a clip of Rep. Kucinich’s statement: