Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

What really happened in Benghazi?

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu November 1, 2012
Attackers set the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on fire on September 11, 2012. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other U.S. nationals were killed during the attack. The Obama administration initially thought the attack was carried out by an angry mob responding to a video, made in the United States, that mocked Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. But the storming of the mission was later determined to have been a terrorist attack. Attackers set the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on fire on September 11, 2012. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other U.S. nationals were killed during the attack. The Obama administration initially thought the attack was carried out by an angry mob responding to a video, made in the United States, that mocked Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. But the storming of the mission was later determined to have been a terrorist attack.
HIDE CAPTION
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Bennett: President Obama needs to come clean about the Benghazi disaster
  • Bennett: It appears that high-ranking officials knew about the attack the night it happened
  • He asks whether the president tried to secure American personnel
  • Bennett: The death of four Americans at the hands of terrorists deserves serious scrutiny

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- The Obama administration fiddled while Benghazi burned and four Americans died.

Late last week, Jennifer Griffin of Fox News reported that CIA operators caught in the attack in Benghazi requested military backup but were denied by higher headquarters.

If true, this would exhibit fatal inaction and negligence on the part of the administration or the military's chain of command, or worse, some sort of cover-up.

William Bennett
William Bennett

On Friday, President Obama was asked directly by Denver's KUSA-TV's Kyle Clarke whether our forces were denied backup during the attack. The president dodged the first question. Clark followed up, "Were they denied requests for help during the attack?"

"Well, we are finding out exactly what happened," the president responded. "I can tell you, as I've said over the last couple of months since this happened, the minute I found out what was happening, I gave three very clear directives. Number one, make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to."

This is different from what the president said in his Rose Garden speech on September 12, when he mentioned nothing about securing personnel the evening of the attack, or what he said to "The View" or Univision in the weeks after the attack.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



We now know that President Obama met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Vice President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at 5 p.m. ET on the night of the attack. We also know that the first e-mail announcing the attack came in at 4:05 pm ET, about a half hour after the attack started, and that there was a drone overhead monitoring the attack and diplomatic security official Charlene Lamb was monitoring the audio feed of the attack in real time in Washington.

That night, the Commander's In-extremis Force, a special rescue team of commandos, was moved from Europe to Sigonella, Italy, about a two-hour flight from Benghazi. Also that evening, a "FAST team" (Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team) of Marines in Rota, Spain, was deployed to protect the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

The Pentagon was aware of the attack and put forces into motion. All information seems to indicate President Obama or the highest-ranking officials in the White House and Pentagon knew of the attack the same evening it occurred. Which begs the all-important question: Why was no additional military aid sent to secure our personnel, like the president claimed he directed?

Shortly after the fighting started in Benghazi, the embassy in Tripoli (400 miles away) sent its own separate aid, dispatching an aircraft carrying 22 men. They didn't arrive in Benghazi until hours into the battle and were not nearly as qualified or as equipped as the Special Forces standing by in Europe.

The battle raged for seven hours, resulting in the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. It finally ended at dawn the next day when Libyan militia forces showed up to aid the Americans.

Asked to explain the inaction on the part of the Pentagon, Panetta said, "The basic principle is you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on, without having some real-time information about what's taking place."

Contrary to Panetta's claim, we know with certainty that there was real-time information coming into Washington and the Pentagon during the attack. We are therefore left with two conflicting explanation's for the administration's inaction -- either the president's directive to secure our personnel wasn't heeded, or he didn't exactly give such a directive.

After all, as former Marine captain and former assistant secretary of defense, Bing West, has so well chronicled, directives of such serious importance would be recorded and sent throughout the chain of command.

The administration insists that aid was not declined. "Neither the president nor anyone in the White House denied any requests for assistance in Benghazi," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told Yahoo News this past Saturday.

We will wait and see what unravels in the coming days, but regardless, the public deserves to know why, with real-time intelligence of the attack, Panetta and defense officials did not immediately send military aid to secure our personnel.

It's been more than a month since the Benghazi attacks and many of the crucial details are still unknown. Some of the mainstream media have been reticent to cover in-depth the story in Benghazi. Since the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney has been noticeably silent on Libya; he shouldn't be. Without the Republican House investigating it, one wonders whether Benghazi would be a story at all.

The death of four Americans at the hands of terrorists deserves serious and sustained attention. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The administration's first explanation, a spontaneous mob reaction to a YouTube video, has already been shattered. Now we are left putting together the real story piece by piece.

Either there was serious malfeasance on the part of this administration or a knowing cover up with shifting stories and blame. Either way, the American people deserve to know the full story of the disaster in Benghazi.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT