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 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT