We are currently trying to understand the cause of what must be the worst terrorist attacks in American history. To get to the bottom of this threat to our national security, the Congress has gotten serious with 32 congressional hearings, 11 published reports, and 70,000 pages of documents provided by the State Department, all at a cost of $4.8 million to date. A former Secretary of State endured 11 grueling hours of testimony to get answers. Our representatives mean business and intend to protect us from future harm. Money is no object. If you include the cost of DOD complying with the requests of six congressional investigations, man-hours of State Department time to answer committee requests, and all such related expenses the cost could be as high as $20 million.
We can judge the gravity of the threat by comparing past efforts to investigate other American tragedies. We are now into a period of investigation exceeding 3 years (1100 days), longer than the effort to understand what happened at Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK, or the Iran-Contra scandal. Kennedy's assassination warranted a 30 month investigation; the conduct of the Civil War, 40 months.
But nothing can demonstrate that we have suffered the worst terrorist attack in our history more than the comparison to our response to the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, in which more than 3000 people were killed. After a 2 year investigation that catastrophic attack warranted a 571 page report.
Worst Terrorist Attack
Surely, what we are investigating must have resulted in the deaths of multiple thousands to justify this intense effort. But no, that is not the case. On September 11, 2012, the U.S. embassy in Libya was attacked, tragically killing four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Not thousands, four. The terrible deaths of these four patriots have now been investigated more than any other terrorist attack. By that measure surely therefore this must be the worst acts of terrorism in our history.
The focus of these investigations has been on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and her culpability in allowing this tragedy to unfold. The assumption here, not unreasonable, is that the buck stops with the relevant Department leader, just as a pilot is responsible for all that happens on his aircraft.
The tragi-comedy of this is revealed when we examine the GOP's response to 9/11. Not only do conservatives not hold George Bush or his staff responsible for allowing this attack, they make the opposite claim that Bush "made us safe." This absurd statement is made even though truly the worst acts of terrorism ever in our history happened on the Bush/Cheney watch, with Condoleezza Rice at the helm of the national security apparatus. So, who do we hold responsible when something goes wrong? Apparently Clinton but not Bush or Rice any of those working for Bush. Anyone other than the most rabid partisan can see the hypocrisy of this position.
Let us pause for a moment and look at whether Bush or his staff was responsible for 9/11 so we can put Clinton's role in perspective. Yes, he was and so too more broadly his Administration; we have overwhelming evidenced the attack was entirely preventable. That conclusion is from the chair of the 9/11 Commission himself. Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, appointed by the Bush Administration, said that "9/11 could have and should have been prevented."
OK, if we don't blame Bush, how about Condoleezza Rice? No, we blame Clinton for Benghazi, but we give Rice a free pass on 9/11. How can anybody justify this differential treatment? Makes no sense at all. Unlike with Clinton on Benghazi, Rice is demonstrably guilty concerning 9/11. Think not? Rice was Bush's National Security Advisor on 9/11, following which she made the outrageous claim that, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."
Really? Way back in 1998, intelligence agencies concluded that, "a group of unidentified Arabs planned to fly an explosive-laden airplane into the World Trade Center." Three years prior to 9/11, the United States warned that "Osama bin Laden might use civilian airplanes in terror attacks." A presidential briefing on August 2006, warned of the possibility that passenger airlines could be used in terrorist attacks by al Qaeda. Even more specific, on August 16, 2001, a month prior to the attack, the FBI arrested Zaccarias Moussaoui on immigration charges after he was reported to be acting suspiciously while training at a flight school. The FBI speculated that Moussaoui might have been interested in flying a jet into the World Trade Center. NORAD for years had run drills to react to "planes being used as weapons against the World Trade Center and other U.S. high-profile buildings."
With that in mind, re-evaluate the statement from Rice after the 9/11 attacks: "I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."
Somehow, with all this background and input from the intelligence community, Condoleezza Rice was shocked, just shocked, that planes were used as weapons; and that nobody could have predicted that. Even though many experts and analysts had indeed predicted just that. The level of incompetence is almost incomprehensible. Rice's punishment for her mistakes was a promotion to become Secretary of State. And the GOP attacks Clinton in that role; the irony.
Where in the face of this gross negligence are the committee hearings? Where are the 11 hours of Rice's testimony before an outraged Congress? Where are the reports, 70,000 pages of documents, the $20 million investigation? Where is the blame on Rice or Bush? On what basis is to acceptable to give Bush and Rice and pass on 3,000 deaths, but blame Clinton for four? So let's see: incompetence in the Bush administration led to the tragic death of thousands of innocent victims, but he "kept us safe." Clinton as Secretary of State was in the lead when four Americans died in the line of duty, and she is to blame. Oh the humanity! Oh, and will the GOP admit that Obamas has kept us safe since we have suffered no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during his nearly 8 years in office?
Benghazi in Perspective
But let us put aside for the moment the tragedy of 9/11, and compare apples to apples. Let's look specifically at attacks on U.S. embassies and missions overseas. How do the terrible events in Benghazi compare to similar events historically? Who is to blame?
Others have carefully catalogued all the deadly attacks on diplomatic targets during the Bush Administration; these below are taken verbatim from Politifact.com, which in turn compiled these from the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database. I have included only those attacks that resulted in American deaths at embassies or consulates.
May 12, 2003: In a series of attacks, suicide bombers blew themselves up in a truck loaded with explosives in a complex that housed staff working for U.S. defense firm Vinnell in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (The contractors worked out of the U.S. embassy.) At least eight Americans were killed in the incident. Al-Qaida was suspected responsible for the incident. This was one of three attacks, involving at least nine suicide bombers and suspected to have involved 19 perpetrators overall.
Oct. 24, 2004: Edward Seitz, the assistant regional security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, died in a mortar or possible rocket attack at Camp Victory near the Baghdad airport. An American soldier was also injured. He was believed to be the first U.S. diplomat killed following the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Nov 25, 2004: Jim Mollen, the U.S. Embassy's senior consultant to the Iraqi Ministers of Education and Higher Education, was killed just outside the Green Zone in Baghdad.
Jan. 29, 2005: Unknown attackers fired either a rocket or a mortar round at the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad. The strike killed two U.S. citizens and left four others injured.
Sept. 7, 2005: Four American contractors employed with a private security firm supporting the regional U.S. embassy office in Basra, Iraq, were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy. Three of the contractors died instantly, and the fourth died in a military hospital after the bombing.
Sept. 17, 2008: Suspected al-Qaida militants disguised as security forces detonated vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, fired rocket propelled grenades, rockets and firearms on the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen. A suicide bomber also blew himself up at the embassy. Six Yemeni police, four civilians (including an American civilian), and six attackers were killed while six others were wounded in the attack.
Where were the investigations? Where were the congressional committees dedicated to finding the truth? Where was Fox News? And these only touch the surface because I exclude all but American deaths. In all, as we all know by now, during George Bush's presidency, the U.S. suffered 13 attacks on embassies and consulates in which 60 people died (some put the total at 87). What is important here: neither Fox News, nor any conservative media, mentioned not at all or only in passing any of these attacks and deaths. Compared to the never-ending coverage of the deaths of four Americans in Libya, I can find not one single Fox News or conservative media report on the 8 Americans killed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; not one story of Jim Mollen's murder, and none on the murder of Edward Seitz.
The deaths in Benghazi were covered in saturation nearly non-stop for almost two full years after the attacks. According to MediaMatters, Fox News ran 1,098 segments on the Libya attacks, at least 20 per month, with a peak of 174 in October 2012. Of these, 281 segments alleged a "cover up" by the Obama administration, without offering any evidence for the claim, and pushing the story long-past when the claim was proven false. There is and was no cover up. The House Armed Services Committee report concluded that the Obama administration was "not guilty of any deliberate, negligent wrongdoing." The GOP panel confirmed that "no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order" was given to the military. This is a Republican majority report. The bi-partisan Senate report on Benghazi came to the same conclusion that there was no cover up.
Equally corrupt, Fox aired 100 segments pushing the blatant lie that the Obama administration issued a "stand-down order" before there was any evidence for the claim and even after the accusation was known to be false. So Fox aired hundreds and hundreds of segments on an alleged cover up and stand-down order that they knew to be wrong. Compare this onslaught of false accusations concerning four American deaths to the complete lack of coverage or investigation into the deaths suffered during 13 attacks under Bush.
I have no issue with Benghazi being investigated; all the better to prevent future attacks. It is also understandable to be outraged at the deaths in Benghazi. But not if you felt no such outrage when embassy staff was killed under Bush. Or if you give Bush a pass on 9/11. This differential, selective outrage is the worst manifestation of political hypocrisy; and it is a disease largely of the right. There is no left-wing equivalent of what Fox News has done with Benghazi; nothing even close.
The Benghazi "scandal" is a fabricated creation of right wing media, untethered to reality or truth, fueling an outrage borne of ignorance and an ugly selective memory. The Benghazi hearings are a travesty, an orgy of the foulest political partisanship. This is our political world at its nadir. We need to investigate the investigators to prevent this cesspool of injustice happen again.
There is a ray of light, and inkling of hope, a positive outcome to all this. In her marathon testimony before a hostile Congress, Clinton was able to rise above the filth of the Benghazi Committee, and in doing so, strengthened her quest for the presidency. There is no sweeter revenge than having the very machine created to take Clinton down give her the momentum that will lead her to the White House. Even if we do not now, history will judge Bush, Cheney, Rice and others in the Administration for their deadly negligence; and Clinton will be sitting in the Oval Office as that history is told.