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 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT