Clinton's Benghazi testimony left more questions than answers

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We have four dead Americans!" Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton shouted at Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. "Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided to go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?"

Ms. Clinton had a point, of sorts, about "at this point." More than four months have elapsed since 9/11/2012, when Chris Stevens, our ambassador to Libya; Foreign Service Office's Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed during a seven-hour assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and its annex. Wednesday was the first time the secretary of state appeared before Congress to answer questions about what happened.

The State Department knew "in near real time" there had been no protest; knew within hours an al-Qaida affiliate claimed credit. So why for more than a week afterward did she and other senior officials claim a video ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad was responsible, Mr. Johnson was asking when Ms. Clinton interrupted him.

Other lawmakers wanted to know why the consulate was guarded by unarmed Libyan security guards rather than by U.S. Marines, as is customary for diplomatic installations. Why were Ambassador Stevens' pleas for more security ignored?

Ms. Clinton responded with indignation, histrionics (shouting and pounding the table with her fist), emotional appeals, evasions, and a few outright lies.

"I did not say ... that it was about the video for Libya," she said in response to a question from Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.

"This video is disgusting and reprehensible," she had said at a news conference the day after the attack. The U.S. will "make sure that the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted," Woods' father said Ms. Clinton told him at a White House ceremony for the Benghazi victims.

About 25 Americans who witnessed the attack were evacuated immediately afterward. They could have cleared up right away any confusion about a protest, Mr. Johnson said. Why didn't she or a senior aides interview them? She didn't want to interfere with the FBI investigation, Ms. Clinton responded.

Lawmakers could have asked, but didn't, why it took the FBI two weeks to visit Benghazi, and why they were on the scene for only a few hours, left sensitive documents behind. The New York Times interviewed a leading suspect at luxury hotel in Benghazi, but the FBI has been unable to locate him.

"The lack of retaliation sends a dangerous message to our enemies," said Newsweek columnist John Avlon. "Americans can be killed with impunity."

Security was lax because of budget cuts, Ms. Clinton said. In her testimony in October, the assistant secretary for diplomatic security said money was not an issue. The State Department's Accountability Review Board blamed a security posture "grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," on "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels." No mention was made of funding problems.

She hadn't been briefed on Stevens' requests for more security, Ms. Clinton said. If this were true, it would be an admission of appalling mismanagement, said former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams.

"It was a valedictory that showed her indignation and emotion as she ends this tenure on the public stage," said ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer. "A fired up Hillary Clinton takes on her critics," said Savannah Guthrie, co-host of NBC's "Today" show.

Bigfoot journalists reserved their criticism for the relatively few Republicans who asked her harsh questions. They ignore signs of a cover-up.

You may think as they do that negligence doesn't matter when it's Democrats who are negligent; that lies don't matter when Democrats tell them. But it makes a big difference whether the attack on the consulate was a one off triggered by a video, or a plot by a renascent al-Qaida.

Al-Qaida is all but defeated, President Barack Obama claimed during the election. That's obviously untrue. Next door to Libya in Mali, al-Qaida controls more territory than it ever did in Afghanistan. Either the administration gravely miscalculated al-Qaida's recuperative powers, or they've concealed the truth for political reasons.

The lies, and the stonewalling of requests for information suggest cover-up. That was understandable -- if despicable -- during the election, but the election's over. Does the administration understand the threat? Will it do what's needed to protect us? The answers should matter to more than just Republicans.

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Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476.This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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