Senate testimony: Obama uninvolved as Americans were killed
By Diana West: Below is my write-up from Dispatch International of jaw-dropping Senate testimony from both SecDef Panetta and JCC Gen. Dempsey that, following an initial briefing at 5pm on 9/11/12, neither President Obama nor anyone from his White House staff ever once checked in with either Panetta or Dempsey during the night and early morning of 9/11/12 and 9/12/12 while US personnel and interests were under attack in Benghazi.
I have informally polled some experts and reporters (sometimes one and the same) as I have come across them since Panetta and Dempsey testified and they are roughly divided as to whether Panetta and Dempsey are telling the truth.
WASHINGTON, D.C. As President Obama builds a cabinet for his second term, his nominees for the top spots are coming before the U.S. Senate for confirmation. Some – such as the new Secretary of State John Kerry – are sailing through. Others – such as former Sen. Chuck Hagel (Nebraska Republican) are foundering.
One reason for Hagel’s delay is that the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held its vote on Hagel’s nomination hostage to an appearance by current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Why? Senate Republicans wanted to ask Panetta about the terrorist attack on the US compound in Benghazi last 11 September in which four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, were killed. One the many enduring mysteries about that night is why no U.S. or allied forces ever arrived in Benghazi to aid Americans under fire during two coordinated attacks which altogether lasted nearly eight hours. Two of the four Americans who lost their lives, former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were killed defending the secret CIA “annex” during the final hour of the attack.
Last week, Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey came before the Senate committee to discuss Benghazi. Under sometimes-tough questioning, their testimonies were as remarkable for what the two men admitted to as for what subsequently went under-reported, if not completely unreported following the hearing. What they both attested to – and what was only spottily covered in the media – was that from where they sat at the Pentagon, President Obama was virtually uninvolved if not detached from the unfolding Benghazi attack.
The senators saw to it that there could be no doubt about this shocking admission. After the two defense officials said they informed the president shortly after the attack in Benghazi began at around 5 pm Washington time, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire Republican) asked, “Did you have any further communication with him [Obama] that night?”
Ayotte: Did … he ever call you that night to say how things were going, what’s going on?
Panetta: No. But we were aware that as we were getting information on what was taking place there – particularly when we got information that the [ambassador’s] life had been lost – we were aware that the information went to the White House.
Ayotte: Did you communicate with anyone else at the White House that night?
Ayotte: No one else called you to say how were things going
Both defense officials went on to reveal under questioning from Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas Republican) that neither one of them ever heard from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the course of the attack either. Nothing from the woman at the helm of U.S. foreign policy while the U.S. compound in Benghazi was overrun, the CIA annex was coming under precise mortar fire, and a senior U.S. diplomat was missing for hours until his dead, and possibly violated body was found. (Stevens’ autopsy report has not been released.)
This absence of direct input from the president and secretary of state into the military response to a terrorist attack on U.S. interests on the anniversary of 11/9 seemed to flummox the senators. They kept returning to the topic as if to make sure that they and the American people grasped the situation. “So you talked to him [Obama] for 30 minutes, one time, and you never talked to him again, either one of you, until afterwards,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham (South Carolina Republican) to Panetta and Dempsey. The two defense officials concurred.
Graham then moved on to an even more contentious topic: the failure of the U.S. military command to respond to American distress calls from Benghazi. Panetta and Dempsey both hewed to the administration’s assessment that no “appropriate” military assets were near enough to Benghazi to be deployed in time to save American lives. AC-130 gunships, Dempsey said, were too far away; however, he also ruled them out at any distance as a “good platform” from which to defend the consulate due to the risk of “civilian casualties“. Similiarly, F-16s stationed at Aviano, Italy were left idle, despite the fact that the U.S. military has routinely and non-lethally dispersed militants on battlefields with overflights of screaming jets. Dempsey stated it would have taken as much as 20 hours to get an F-16 from Italy to Libya. The flight time for such aircraft, however, is about 90 minutes.
So what would have been an appropriate “platform”? Sen. Graham inquired. Dempsey replied: “Boots on the ground ahead of the event.” After further back-and-forth, Graham brought up the saying that the U.S. military leaves no man behind. “Don’t you think that saying’s been undermined here?” Then, with his allotted time running out, Graham changed topic: “Did you know how long the attack was going last, Secretary Panetta?”
Panetta: No idea.
Graham: Well, it could have lasted for two days. Now, my question is, was one airplane anywhere in the world deployed in aid of the consulate?
Dempsey: If you’re talking about strike aircraft, no, senator.
Graham later asked whether “anybody” – any single Pentagon asset – was “in motion before the attack concluded”. The answer was no, not until aircraft were dispatched to evacuate attack survivors. The survivors, incidentally, are thought to number some 30 people who remain to this day incommunicado to press and Congress. As many as three survivors remain hospitalized at a military hospital near Washington five months after the attack.
Graham returned to the subject of America’s absentee commander-in-chief. “Are you surprised,” he said, “that the president of the United States never called you, Secretary Panetta, [to] say how’s it going?”
Panetta: We were deploying the forces, he knew we were deploying the forces, he was being kept updated …
Graham (interrupting): I hate to interrupt you but I got limited time. We didn’t deploy any forces.
Panetta (interrupting): No, but …
Graham (interrupting): Did you call him back …
Panetta (interrupting): The event was over … before we could move any assets.
Graham: It lasted almost eight hours and my question to you is during that eight hours did the president show any curiosity about how is this going, what kind of assets do you have helping these people? Did he ever make that phone call?
Panetta: Look, there is no doubt in my mind that the president of the United States was concerned about American lives …
Graham (interrupting): With all due respect, I don’t believe that’s a credible statement if he never called and asked you, are we helping these people, what’s happening to them?
Panetta: As a former chief of staff to the president, the purpose of staff is to be able to get that kind of information and those staff were working with us.
Graham then asked Panetta if he thought Obama’s behavior was “typical” of a president with citizens under fire. The president is “well-informed about what is going on, make no mistake,” Panetta replied.
Which leaves the question hanging.