At Thursday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stonewalled repeated attempts by committee Republicans to get real answers to what happened in Benghazi, Libya, during the attacks on our consulate and a diplomatic annex that cost the lives of four Americans on September 11, 2012.
Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) wanted to know when Panetta met with Obama and what follow-up conversations he’d had with the president while the attacks were underway. Panetta acknowledged that he and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, met with Obama at 5 p.m. Eastern Time — about 90 minutes after the attacks began — and that Obama told them to take whatever steps were needed to protect American lives.
So far, so good.
The problem is that, according to their testimonies, neither Panetta nor Dempsey had any contact with Obama or his staff after that, and Obama never sought to contact them, even though the attacks continued for nearly eight hours.
It gets worse. Panetta and Dempsey were forced to admit they never once spoke with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the crisis, and that the State Department never asked the Defense Department to clean up the site. This led Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to remark that he was surprised to see CNN crews on the compound the next day rummaging through classified documents. So why didn’t the Defense Department show up for another 23 days? Because the State Department never asked, Panetta said lamely.
Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) got Panetta to acknowledge that he “knew” the secondary compound where the CIA was apparently handing out weapons to Turkish officials — weapons that were then given to jihadis in Syria — was under a premeditated, coordinated terrorist attack the minute he learned that RPGs and other heavy weapons were being used.
And yet the Defense Department never got off the ball, and Panetta never ordered the military to deploy any assets whatsoever to come to the rescue of the two U.S. Navy seals who were desperately calling for help (and killing jihadis).
Dempsey testified that the earliest they could have gotten “boots on the ground” in Benghazi (had anyone given the orders) would have been 13 to 15 hours after the initial alert. And despite his claims that U.S. forces were “in motion” from the beginning, he admitted that they never even attempted to reach Benghazi — because no one ever ordered them to go there.
After Dempsey acknowledged that he never gave orders to launch a single U.S. aircraft to provide assistance to our people on the ground, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked what had happened to the military code of honor: “We’ve got your back.” Embarrassment all around on that one.
So what about General Carter Ham, commander of AFRICOM? Panetta said months ago that he was the “senior officer in theater” and was doing all that he could to help. But at Thursday’s hearing, Dempsey said that Ham was “at the Pentagon with us.” Was Ham relieved of his duty, as some have alleged, because he ordered his men into action but was overruled by higher-ups at the Pentagon? Go figure! Nobody at the hearing asked that question.
Thursday’s hearing was another pathetic Washington, D.C., effort at CYA. When Lindsey Graham asked point-blank who was in charge, Panetta and Dempsey hemmed and hawed. Then Panetta finally blurted out, “We are all in charge.”
Gee, if everyone’s in charge, I guess no one’s in charge. And that’s why four Americans are dead — including two Navy Seals who resisted a concerted terrorist onslaught until midnight Eastern Time, when apparently they ran out of ammo.
What a disgrace.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is the founder and president of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (iran.org), and the author of “Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran.”