Fox News is attempting to revive the 2012 Benghazi attacks as a campaign issue with a new report that contrasts what it describes as statements from Hillary Clinton and the State Department that all possible efforts were made to save lives that night with statements from two anonymous members of the military on duty that night who disagree. In fact, reports from House and Senate committees as well as the secretary of defense and chairman of the joint chiefs at the time of the attack and their predecessors all back up the State conclusion that no other military response would have yielded better results.
Fox News Pits State Department Against Anonymous Witnesses To Raise Doubts About Whether Everything Possible Was Done To Save Lives
Fox’s Adam Housley: “Controversial State Department Accountability Review Board” And Hillary Clinton Say “Nothing More Could Have Been Done,” But Witnesses Disagree. Fox News opened its flagship news program, Special Report, with a report based on two anonymous witnesses -- one who was reportedly at an airbase in Italy and the other who claims to have been watching the response from a special forces command in the United States on the night of the attack -- who believe that there were actions the military could have taken to save lives. Correspondent Adam Housley contrasted these statements with “the controversial State Department Accountability Review Board investigation [which found the] interagency response to Benghazi was quote, 'timely and appropriate'” and “the claim by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department that nothing more could have been done.” The report did not mention the reports by any other agency or explain why the response would have been the fault of Clinton. From the May 11 report:
ADAM HOUSLEY: This man has asked that his identity be protected for fear of retribution and says other in his squadron have also wanted to talk about Benghazi from the very beginning. But none have been interviewed since the 2012 attack and all are afraid of retribution.
WITNESS: I'm not trying to give away information that could ever harm the military at all. That was never my intention, that was never my plan, but I feel like some things do need to come to light.
HOUSLEY: He says within minutes, his air squadron was told that a quote, “real-world mission” was going down. They raced to the field and were quickly briefed as planes were armed and prepared to launch.
WITNESS: There were people everywhere. That flatline was full of people, and we were all ready to go. All of us.
HOUSLEY: But according to the controversial State Department Accountability Review Board investigation, interagency response to Benghazi was quote, “timely and appropriate,” something our source vehemently denies. His squadron was stationed at Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy and according to men who were there, could have easily flown to the naval station Sigonella in Sicily and then on to Benghazi.
WITNESS: I definitely believe that our aircraft could have taken off and got there in a timely matter. Maybe three hours at the moment. In order to basically at least stop that second mortar attack and have those guys running for the hills and basically save lives that day.
HOUSLEY: He says the military excuse that a refueling tanker wasn't available isn't valid, because American jets routinely refuel by using what's called a quote, “a hot pit maneuver,” which allows the jets to land and get fuel without shutting off the engines. He says multiple occasions were available the night of the Benghazi attack.
HOUSLEY: Despite the claim by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department that nothing more could have been done, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit recently revealed that then Department of Defense Chief Jeremy Bash immediately offered assistance to the State Department on the night of September 11th, saying forces could move to Benghazi and quote, “they're spinning up as we speak.” [Fox News, Special Report, 5/11/16]
Congressional Committees, Secretaries Of Defense, Chairmen Of Joint Chiefs Agreed With State Department That All Possible Steps Were Taken
Republican-Led House Armed Services Committee: No “Response Alternatives” Could Have Changed Benghazi Outcome. The House Armed Services Report on the Benghazi attacks outlined the U.S. military response and found that no available alternatives would have produced a different result. From the February 2014 report:
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]
Bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee Report: No Evidence Military Relief Effort Was Prevented. According to the January 2014 report, “The Committee has reviewed the allegations that U.S. personnel, including in the IC or DoD, prevented the mounting of any military relief effort during the attacks, but the Committee has not found any of these allegations to be substantiated." [Senate Select Committee On Intelligence Report, 1/15/2014]
Then-Secretary Of Defense Leon Panetta: Military Took All Possible Steps To Save Lives. Panetta said that he had immediately ordered DOD assets to respond 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. From February 2013 congressional testimony:
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. [Hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, 2/7/13, via Nexis]
Gen. Martin Dempsey, Then-Joint Chiefs Chairman: “We Did What Our Posture And Capabilities Allowed.” Dempsey, who was chairman of the joint chiefs at the time of the attacks, has said that the “military was properly responsive” and “did what our posture and capabilities allowed.” From February 2013 written congressional testimony:
Our military was appropriately responsive. We acted quickly once notified of the attacks on the Temporary Mission Facility. ... We also repositioned forces based on direction from the President of the United States and Secretary of Defense. We deployed a Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team to Tripoli while a second team prepared to deploy. We directed the deployment of a special operations force in the United States and one already in Europe to intermediate staging bases. We also provided C-17 airlift for medical evacuation. We did what our posture and capabilities allowed. [Media Matters, 10/28/2013]
Admiral (ret.) Mike Mullen, Former Joint Chiefs Chairman: Military “Did Everything They Possibly Could That Night.” Mullen, who co-chaired the State Department's independent investigation of Benghazi, said that he had repeatedly reviewed the military's response that night and determined that in spite of the “questions being raised about it,” “The military did everything they possibly could that night. They just couldn't get there in time.” He explained during September 2013 congressional testimony:
MULLEN: It goes to our core, when people are in trouble, to do everything we possibly can to help them out. And there were many forces that moved that night, including a special operation force in Europe that ended up in a base in southern Europe, a large special operations force from the United States which moved under direction as soon as -- as soon as they were given orders. A group of Marines that essentially were sent in from Spain into Tripoli the next day. It literally became -- this is not something you can just wish to happen instantly. There's a lot of planning, preparation, as rapidly -- to do it as rapidly as one can do it. [Media Matters, 9/19/13]
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: Critics Have A “Cartoonish Impression Of Military Capabilities." Gates said that the idea that military assets should have been able to get to Benghazi during the attack was based on a “sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities” during a May 2013 interview:
GATES: I think the one place where I might be able to say something useful has to do with some of the talk of the military response. And I listened to the testimony of both Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey, and frankly had I been in the job at the time, I think that my decisions would have been just as theirs were. We don't have a ready force standing by in the Middle East, despite all the turmoil that's going on with planes on strip alert, troops ready to deploy at a moment's notice. And so getting someone there in a timely way would have been very difficult if not impossible....
And with respect to sending in Special Forces or a small group of people to try and provide help, based on everything I've read people really didn't know what was going on in Benghazi contemporaneously, and to send some small number of Special Forces or other troops in without knowing what the environment is, without knowing what the threat is, without having any intelligence in terms of what is actually going on on the ground, I think would have been very dangerous and personally I would not have approved that because we just don't -- it's sort of a cartoonish impression of military capabilities and military forces. The one thing our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm's way, and there just wasn't time. [Media Matters, 5/12/2013]