Ben Boychuk and Pia Lopez

Head to Head: Has Obama responded appropriately to Benghazi attack?

Published: Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 15A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:05 pm

THE ISSUE: A Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Since the attack, the White House has offered differing accounts of what happened.

BEN BOYCHUK: No

In more than a month and a half since four Americans died in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate and a CIA safe house in Libya, the Obama administration still hasn't come clean.

The first week's spin from the White House would have been laughable if not for the enormity of the crime. Administration officials, from the president on down, ascribed the attack to spontaneous protests against a YouTube video mocking Islam's prophet, Muhammad.

Susan Rice, Obama's envoy to the United Nations, appeared on every Sunday morning program on Sept. 16 to insist the Benghazi attack was not premeditated.

"It was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo," Rice said, referring to an earlier demonstration in Egypt, where a mob breached the walls of the U.S. Embassy, burned the American flag, and raised the black flag of al-Qaida.

Obviously, Rice was wrong. Knowing what we know now, it's fair to say she was lying. A spontaneous, seven-hour gunfight with automatic weapons, rockets and mortars? Even the Libyans dismissed that absurd scenario. Rice later blamed faulty talking points from the intelligence community.

Arguably worse than Rice's prevarications are the more recent reports that the CIA security on the scene were told to "stand down" not once, but twice. Who gave those orders? Why?

According to another report, ex-Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, one of the men killed in action, had a ground laser designator illuminating one of the terrorist mortar positions. Surely an experienced special operator wouldn't expose himself that way without reason. Was he expecting air support? Why wasn't it provided?

The press has been remarkably uncurious, under the circumstances.

Surely the events surrounding the murder of an American ambassador – the first since 1979 – warrant more attentive coverage. Yet the same Sunday talk shows that were so solicitous of Rice a few weeks ago have been all too eager to change the subject to more pressing concerns, such as Mitt Romney's unconscionable animus against Big Bird.

Instead of providing clarity, the administration has dug in its heels.

"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," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Pentagon reporters this week.

But if the news reports are true and officials at the State Department, the Pentagon, and perhaps even the White House were actually watching the battle in real time, then they knew what was going on – and did nothing.

We don't need a lengthy investigation. We need full disclosure. Win or lose next week, this administration still has plenty of explaining to do.

PIA LOPEZ: Yes

Terrorist attacks against the United States, unfortunately, are not unusual during our presidential election season.

What is unusual about the attack in Benghazi, however, is the hyper-politicized reaction. Instead of heralding the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans who were killed – who understood with open eyes the dangers they faced, willingly went to Benghazi and gallantly fought their attackers – critics fueled by the anti-Obama echo chamber are treating these four men as victims of their own government.

That is truly despicable.

At a time when Americans should be focused on finding the attackers, figuring out how to prevent future attacks and debating our Middle East policies, we get harping over comments by our representative to the United Nations. She was simply repeating information provided to her by CIA professionals on "currently available information," with the expectation that more would come later.

National security professionals, of course, know that "first reports are always wrong," as Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism adviser who has served four presidents, has written. Yet, Ben says with absolute assurance "she was lying."

Ben has gone far beyond Monday morning quarterbacking, cherry-picking items to assert the Obama administration "did nothing" as the attack was occurring.

When the CIA says "no one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need," Ben confidently asserts the opposite.

When Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says we had FAST platoons in the region and ships deployed off of Libya "prepared to respond to any contingency," Ben assumes Panetta must be lying when he says events "happened within a few hours" and were over before they had the "opportunity to really know what was happening."

Haven't we learned anything from the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon before the 1976 election and, particularly, bombings leading up to the 1984 presidential election?

Terrorists bombed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in April 1983, leaving 63 dead, including 17 Americans. Six months later, terrorists attacked peacekeeper barracks, killing 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French paratroopers. Then, six weeks before the election, terrorists bombed the U.S. Embassy that had moved to East Beirut, killing 24 people, including two American servicemen.

Asked that morning if the embassy was adequately protected, President Ronald Reagan replied, "Well, these are things that are going to be part of our planning, whatever we can do. But we can't, on the other hand, crawl in a hole someplace and stop performing."

The American people deserve to know what happened in Benghazi. But as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey said last week in urging Americans to wait for FBI and Accountability Review Board investigations, "It's not helpful, in my view, to provide partial answers."

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