Lingering Questions on Benghazi

This week's report on the Obama administration's actions in Libya was credible but incomplete.

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Getty Images

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." So begins the Accountability Review Board’s (ARB) long-awaited report on the Sept.11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. For three months, State Department and Obama administration officials have claimed that the forthcoming report would address the many unanswered questions about the attack, which left four Americans dead. But the report that finally emerged, while credible, is also incomplete.

The ARB’s findings support what security officials who served in Libya told the House Committee on Government Reform in October: The overall security at the compound was not suitable for the volatile and war-torn city of Benghazi.

Testifying before the House Oversight Committee, Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, who commanded a security team in Libya from Feb. 12 to Aug. 14, told us that "[d]iplomatic security remained weak" in the months leading up to the attack. Wood stated further that the diplomatic mission in Libya made repeated requests for additional resources, which were often denied by Washington.

Both Wood’s and the ARB’s findings contradict the testimony of Washington officials, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb, who defended the security levels at the consulate as adequate. At the same hearing with Wood, Lamb testified, "We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11." But the ARB report describes "systemic failures" and "leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels" that led to a level of security "inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place." Clearly, the level of security was not adequate.

The report also fails to explain why the security requests were denied, or why a diplomatic facility in a highly unstable city, with months of consistent security threats, was not considered a "high priority." The answers to these questions are fundamental to preventing a repeat of the past — and their disclosure is no threat to national security.

Soon after the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi, the State Department sought to normalize security operations in Libya, regardless of the real needs of our diplomats. This report does not identify those in the administration who felt that sacrificing security in the name of normalization was the optimal plan. It also fails to disclose the flawed reasoning behind the denied security requests and the embarrassing bureaucratic culture that pervaded security discussions inside the State Department.

Finally, the report does not tell the public who is responsible for the assault itself. Clearly, all the questions have not been answered because we still don’t know — or the administration won’t say — who was behind this terrorist attack. The public deserves to know the full truth about al Qaeda-linked groups in Libya and why the local militias we depended on in Benghazi failed to protect the compound.

While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was personally careful in her comments following the attack, she bears some responsibility for the statements of other State Department officials who told Congress and the American people that the consulate’s security was adequate. When the sworn testimony of State Department officials is undercut by an independent review like the ARB’s, it damages the reputation and credibility of the State Department as a whole. Until the full truth about the security failures in Benghazi finally sees the light of day, questions will continue to be raised and the process of learning from this tragedy will be hindered by the petty secrets the State Department has deemed too sensitive to disclose.

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