Right-wing media are repeating the false claim that a Defense Department email sent to Hillary Clinton's deputy chief of staff showing U.S. military forces were ready to “move to Benghazi” the night of the September 11, 2012 attacks contradicts former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's testimony about the attacks. In fact, the congressional testimony that conservatives claim the email contradicts shows that military forces were deployed that night.
Conservative Activist Group Released New State Department Email, Claiming It Contradicts Administration Official's Benghazi Testimony
Judicial Watch: Email “Seems To Directly Contradict Testimony Given By Then-Secretary Of Defense Leon Panetta.” In a December 8 press release, the conservative group Judicial Watch released an email sent from the Department of Defense to Hillary Clinton's deputy chief of staff, which noted that U.S. military forces were available to “move to Benghazi” the night of the attack. Judicial Watch claimed that the “email seems to directly contradict testimony given by then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta before the Senate Armed Services Committee,” in which Panetta stated that no “immediate response” was available:
Judicial Watch today released a new Benghazi email from then-Department of Defense Chief of Staff Jeremy Bash to State Department leadership immediately offering “forces that could move to Benghazi” during the terrorist attack on the U.S. Special Mission Compound in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. In an email sent to top Department of State officials, at 7:19 p.m. ET, only hours after the attack had begun, Bash says, “we have identified the forces that could move to Benghazi. They are spinning up as we speak.” The Obama administration redacted the details of the military forces available, oddly citing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption that allows the withholding of “deliberative process” information.
Bash's email seems to directly contradict testimony given by then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2013. Defending the Obama administration's lack of military response to the nearly six-hour-long attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Panetta claimed that “time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.” [Judicial Watch, 12/8/15]
Right-Wing Media Echo Judicial Watch's Claim
Fox News: The Released Email “Appears To Contradict Testimony Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Gave.” In a December 9 article, FoxNews.com parroted Judicial Watch's claim that the newly released email contradicts the former defense secretary's testimony:
As the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was unfolding, a high-ranking Pentagon official urgently messaged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top deputies to offer military help, according to an email obtained by Judicial Watch.
The revelation appears to contradict testimony Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave lawmakers in 2013, when he said there was no time to get forces to the scene in Libya, where four Americans were killed, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
The email was sent out at 7:19 p.m. ET on Sept. 11, 2012, in the early stages of the eight-hour siege that also claimed the lives of Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith and two former Navy SEALs, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty, private CIA contractors who raced to the aid of embattled State Department workers.
Although the email came after the first wave of the attack at the consulate, it occurred before a mortar strike on the CIA annex killed Woods and Doherty.
In defending the Obama administration's lack of a military response to the attack, Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee nearly two years ago that “time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.” [FoxNews.com, 12/9/15]
Daily Caller: New Email “Certain To Reignite Debate” Over “Why The U.S. Failed To Respond Militarily” To The Attack. In a December 8 article, The Daily Caller suggested the email disproves Panetta's testimony and will “reignite debate” over “why the U.S. failed to respond militarily to the attack”:
American military forces were available for a rescue operation not long after the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, came under attack by terrorists Sept. 11, 2012, according to an email to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's closest aides.
Release of the Bash email is certain to reignite debate about why the U.S. failed to respond militarily to the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Forces Committee in 2013 that "time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.
Judicial Watch points to congressional testimony by Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, who says the four Americans might have been saved “if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split. They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them.” [The Daily Caller, 12/8/15]
The Blaze: The Email "Seemingly Contradicted" Panetta's Testimony. In a December 8 article, The Blaze wrote that though “much of the email was redacted,” it “seemingly contradicted testimony from the Obama administration that an immediate response was not feasible”:
Much of the email was redacted, but it seemingly contradicted testimony from the Obama administration that an immediate response was not feasible. Then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified in 2013 that “time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.”
Gregory Hicks, Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, had previously testified that even a single fighter jet scrambled after the attack “would have been scared to death” the enemy “that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them.”
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton released a statement Tuesday after the publication of the email.
“The Obama administration and Clinton officials hid this compelling Benghazi email for years,” Fitton said. “The email makes readily apparent that the military was prepared to launch immediate assistance that could have made a difference, at least at the CIA Annex. The fact that the Obama Administration withheld this email for so long only worsens the scandal of Benghazi.” [The Blaze, 12/8/15]
Washington Free Beacon: “The Newly Disclosed Email Contradicts Testimony To Congress By Obama Administration Officials.” In a December 8 article, the Washington Free Beacon wrote that the new email showed senior defense department officials offered military assistance “immediately during the deadly” attack, and, citing Judicial Watch's statement, claimed that the email “contradicts testimony to Congress by Obama administration officials who cited the inability to immediately provide forces in response to the attack”:
Newly released emails show that a senior Defense Department official offered the State Department “forces that could move to Benghazi” immediately during the deadly 2012 attack there on the American consulate.
Jeremy Bash, the former Pentagon chief of staff, offered to provide forces at 7:19 p.m. on the evening of the attack, “only hours after they had begun,” according to Judicial Watch, which disclosed the email on Tuesday.
“We have identified the forces that could move to Benghazi. They are spinning up as we speak,” Bash wrote.
The newly disclosed email contradicts testimony to Congress by Obama administration officials who cited the inability to immediately provide forces in response to the attack.
“Bash's email seems to directly contradict testimony given by then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2013,” writes Judicial Watch. [Washington Free Beacon, 12/8/15]
WND: New Email “Counters The Government Mantra On Benghazi.” In a December 9 article, WND claimed the newly released email counters the administration's explanation that military assistance couldn't make it to Benghazi in time to affect the attacks, and said it “could prove a bombshell for Clinton's presidential campaign”:
Email from a former Department of Defense chief of staff to the leadership of the State Department counters the government mantra on Benghazi - the one that said the United States wasn't able to send help in time to save American lives during the terrorist attack - and makes clear: the Pentagon was actually poised to send in the military.
The email could prove a bombshell for Clinton's presidential campaign.
Both Clinton and Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director from 2009 to 2011 and as secretary of Defense from 2011 to 2013, said the United States did not immediately unleash a military strike against the Benghazi attackers because no U.S. forces were available in the vicinity to deploy. [WND, 12/9/15]
Fox's Heather Nauert Claims Email “Contradicts Claims By Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.” On the December 9 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox anchor Heather Nauert said the email “contradicts claims by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that there was no time to get forces to Libya to try to save people there” and called it a “possible smoking gun in the Benghazi investigation”:
HEATHER NAUERT: And a major story to bring you right now, a possible smoking gun in the Benghazi investigation. A newly revealed email from the Pentagon to Hillary Clinton shows that the U.S. military was, in fact, prepared to respond to the Benghazi terror attacks. This email reads, quote, “we have identified the forces that could move to Benghazi. They are spinning up as we speak.” Well that email contradicts claims by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that there was no time to get forces to Libya to try to save people there. It appears that all that was needed was a green light from the State Department. The 2012 attacks killed four Americans, including our ambassador, Chris Stevens. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/9/15]
In Fact, Panetta Noted In His Testimony That Forces Had Been Deployed That Night
Panetta: Several Units Ordered To Prepare To Deploy To Libya In Response To Attack But Did Not Arrive In Time. During the same February 2013 hearing in which he stated that “time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response” to the Benghazi attacks, Panetta said that he had immediately ordered DOD assets to respond:
In the months since the tragedy at the temporary mission facility and the nearby annex in Benghazi, we've learned that there were actually two short-duration attacks that occurred some six hours apart. And again, there was no specific intelligence that indicated that a second attack would occur at the annex, which was located some two miles away.
The bottom line is this: that we were not dealing with a prolonged or continuous assault which could have been brought to an end by a U.S. military response. Very simply, although we had forces deployed to the region, time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response.
Despite the uncertainty at the time, the Department of Defense and the rest of the United States government spared no effort to do everything we could to try to save American lives. Before, during and after the attack, every request the Department of Defense received, we did, we accomplished. But again, four Americans' lives were lost, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that that does not happen again.
Soon after the initial reports about the attack in Benghazi were received, General Dempsey and I met with President Obama, and he ordered all available DOD assets to respond to the attack in Libya and to protect U.S. personnel and interests in the region. It's important to remember that in addition to responding to the situation in Benghazi, we were also concerned about potential threats to U.S. personnel in Tunis, Tripoli, Cairo, Sana'a and elsewhere that could potentially require a military response.
In consultation with General Dempsey and AFRICOM commander General Ham, I directed several specific actions. First, we ordered a Marine fleet anti-terrorism secure team, a FAST team, stationed in Spain to prepare to deploy to Benghazi. A second FAST platoon was ordered to prepare to deploy to the embassy in Tripoli. A special operations force, which was training in Central Europe, was ordered to prepare to deploy to an intermediate staging base in Southern Europe, Sigonella, and a special operations force based in the United States was ordered to deploy to an intermediate staging base in Southern Europe as well at Sigonella. [Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, 2/7/13, via Nexis, emphasis added]
House Armed Services Committee Report Found Military Response To Attack Was “Degraded” Due To “Location And Readiness Posture.” The House Armed Services Report on the Benghazi attacks, released in February 2014, outlined the U.S. military response, which it found was “degraded” because of location and minimal real time information:
Majority members believe the regional and global force posture assumed by the military on September 11, 2012 limited the response. Majority members recognize, of course, that it is impossible for the Department of Defense to have adequate forces prepared to respond immediately to every conceivable global contingency. Ensuring that preparations exist for some likely possibilities is not to be confused with the ability to anticipate all prospective circumstances, especially in highly volatile regions.
Majority members acknowledge that embassy security involves estimating and managing risk. Department representatives appearing before the committee pointed out that some danger will always be present, regardless of the preparations, especially in tension-prone areas of the world.64 Before the Benghazi attacks, there was also the presumption (in Libya and elsewhere) that indigenous forces would be more helpful in protecting Americans than proved to be the case.
Given the military's preparations on September 11, 2012, majority members have not yet discerned any response alternatives that could have likely changed the outcome of the Benghazi attack. While majority members are reluctant to disagree with specific tactical decisions made by professional career uniformed officers in the heat of battle and they believe the U.S. military performed well in responding to the attacks, it is nonetheless necessary to evaluate thoroughly the choices commanders made. [House Committee on Armed Services, Majority Interim Report: Benghazi Investigation Update, February 2014]
Pentagon Timeline Of Benghazi Attack Shows That Military Forces Were Deployed To Assist, But Could Not Reach The Location In Time. A January 23, 2013 article on CNN.com posted the Pentagon's official timeline of the Benghazi attack, which shows that military forces were deployed after the attack began, but could not reach Benghazi in time to assist during the attack:
September 11 (Events are listed using the time in Benghazi)
9:42 p.m. -- Armed men begin their assault on the U.S. Consulate.
9:59 p.m. -- A surveillance drone is directed to fly over the U.S. compound, but it is unarmed.
10:32 p.m. -- The Office of the Secretary Defense and the Joint Staff are notified of the attack by the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon. “The information is quickly passed to Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey.”
11 p.m. -- Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey meet with President Obama at the White House where they discuss the unfolding situation and how to respond. The meeting had been previously scheduled.
11:10 p.m. -- The surveillance drone arrives over the Benghazi facility.
11:30 p.m. -- All surviving U.S. personnel are evacuated from the consulate. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and State Department computer expert Sean Smith were killed in the initial assault.
Midnight to 2 a.m. -- Panetta and other senior leaders discuss possible options for further violence if it were to break out. Panetta gives verbal orders for Marine anti-terrorist teams from Rota, Spain, to prepare to deploy to Tripoli and Benghazi. Panetta also orders a special operations force team training in Croatia and an additional special operations force team in the United States to prepare to deploy to a staging base in southern Italy.
1:30 a.m. -- A six-man security team from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli arrives in Benghazi.
2:39 a.m. to 2:53 a.m. -- The National Military Command Center gives formal authorization for the deployment of the two special operations force teams from Croatia and the United States.
5:15 a.m. -- Attackers launch assault on a second U.S. facility in Benghazi. Two former U.S. Navy SEALs acting as security contractors are killed. They are identified as Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
6:05 a.m. -- A C-17 aircraft in Germany is told to prepare to deploy to Libya to evacuate the consulate personnel.
7:40 a.m. -- The first wave of Americans are evacuated to Tripoli via airplane.
10 a.m. -- A second group, including those killed in the attack, are flown to Tripoli.
2:15 p.m. -- The C-17 departs from Germany for the flight to Tripoli.
7:17 p.m. -- The C-17 leaves Tripoli with the American consulate personnel and the bodies of Stevens, Smith, Woods and Doherty.
7:57 p.m. -- The U.S. special operations force team based in Croatia arrives at a staging base in Italy.
8:56 p.m. -- One of the Marine anti-terrorist teams from Spain arrives in Tripoli.
9:28 p.m. -- The U.S.-based special operations force team arrives at its staging base in Italy. [CNN.com, 1/23/13]