The newly-released 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi documents the experience on the ground the night of the September 2012 terrorist attacks, effectively debunking a number of old media myths surrounding the tragedy.
The book, written by journalist Mitchell Zuckoff and five former CIA contractors who defended the diplomatic post and nearby CIA annex during the assault, is an interesting eyewitness portrayal of the attacks and the heroism the men displayed. But while the book has received ample media attention, outlets are largely ignoring several key points from 13 Hours' narrative that undermine false media narratives about the attacks.
On CNN's The Lead, host Jake Tapper interviewed three of the authors and specifically focused on what he called the “biggest point of contention” between the authors and administration officials, which is their description of the so-called “stand down” order. According to the contractors, though they were ready to leave the CIA annex to defend the diplomatic post almost immediately following the initial distress call, they were asked to wait for approximately 20 minutes as their CIA base chief attempted to contact local a Libyan militia for assistance and develop a plan. They disagreed with the delay and wanted to move in more quickly.
This disagreement was eventually politicized and inflated by media and political figures, who insisted that members of the Obama administration, or then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had ordered rescue efforts to “stand down” permanently and leave Americans to die. But as the contractors explained to Tapper, though they believe they could have done more to save American lives that night had they been allowed to leave immediately, they did not view the decision as one of “malice” towards Americans, nor did they place the blame for the decision on anyone higher up than the base chief.
As the New York Times noted, their story “fits with the publicly known facts and chronology” we already knew about the non-existent “stand down” order. For example, the Associated Press reported last year on the disagreement between CIA leaders and security contractors about the delay to try to gather support from militia allies, citing Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland pointing to the disagreement as a possible source of the “stand down” myth.
The “stand down” order dispute has defined the majority of media coverage on the book. Fox News, which produced a special based on the book, has used the “stand down” reporting in 13 Hours to suggest they've been right all along about it. But Fox figures are moving the goalposts -- they network's obsession with a “stand down” order has revolved around the idea that the administration ordered a forces to not respond that night, which does not resemble the story laid out in the book.
While media have been focused on whether the contractors were ordered to “stand down,” 13 Hours actually debunks other myths surrounding the attacks.
For example, the Daily Beast's Eli Lake suggested back in November 2013 that the administration's timeline of the night -- which depicts a lull in fighting between the initial assault on the diplomatic post and a second assault on the nearby CIA annex later that night -- might be incorrect. Instead, he claimed, “eyewitnesses assert that there was no lull in the fighting,” which might raise questions about the military's response.
But 13 Hours does depict two assaults, separated by several hours, with distinct periods of quiet in between. The initial attack on the diplomatic post began around 9:30pm, according to the book, and ended around 11:30pm, with a “lull in action.” Later, when the men returned to the CIA annex, there were two brief ten-minute firefights around 12:30am and 2:30am, but the second mortar attack on the annex didn't begin until shortly after 5am.
Similarly, the book debunks the claim that the contractors used lasers to identify targets for air support that never came. This claim originated with an October 2012 FoxNews.com article that vaguely stated that at one point a “security officer had a laser on the target that was firing” but was quickly distorted by other conservative media. Rush Limbaugh, for example, claimed that Tyrone Woods, one of the annex security team members, was using a laser to “paint” targets in the hope that air support would strike them down, and in so doing alerted the enemy to his location and was killed when no air support arrived to cover him:
LIMBAUGH: He found where the mortar fire was coming from. He painted it with his laser. Now, folks, talk to anybody in the military. There's only one reason you do that. He was painting where that mortar fire was coming from because he figured there was air support that was then gonna take that mortar location out. That's why he was lasering it. He was effectively lighting it up.
He thought there was air support. He thought there was cover. Because all he did was tell the terrorists at the mortar control place where he was! They were able to find him, and it was that mortar fire that killed him. Now, why would he light it up? Why would he paint it if there was no assistance? He clearly thought there was.
In fact, the book makes clear that the lasers used by the annex team had nothing to do with air support, and were not used on the mortar targets which killed Woods at all.
One of Woods' teammates, called “Tanto” in the book, used a laser sight mounted on his assault rifle to identify targets. According to the book, he “switched the beam to a setting that was invisible to the naked eye, but appeared as a bright dot on any object it hit when seen through night-vision goggles.” He used the laser to help the team identify approaching figures walking towards the annex right before the first late-night firefight at the annex, at around 12:30am, so they could aim their fire. The team knew there was no air support. The mortar fire which ultimately killed Woods did not start until around 5am, and caught the team by surprise.
The right, and Fox News in particular, have twisted the facts about the Benghazi tragedy to fit an often-changing political agenda, aimed at smearing the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton. The men on the ground in Benghazi that night have offered their story to set the record straight; now, it just remains to be seen whether media will finally report the full truth.