Friday, December 13, 2013
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – Sensing a moment of political vulnerability on national security, Republicans pounced Friday on disclosures that President Obama's administration could have known early on that militants, not angry protesters, launched the attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya.
In this Sept. 13 photo, a Libyan man investigates the inside of the U.S. Consulate after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, on the night of Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya.
The Associated Press
KEY EVENTS AND STATEMENTS
ABOUT BENGHAZI ATTACK
Sept. 12. President Obama, in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, uses the word “terror.” He says: “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.”
Mitt Romney accuses the administration of showing weakness in the face of the attack, prompting Obama to say his rival “seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later.”
Sept. 16. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice goes on television to say the attack was the work of individual clusters of extremists but began as a spontaneous protest. She says evidence gathered to that point showed no indication of a premeditated or coordinated strike.
Sept. 18. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says the White House doesn’t have any indication the Benghazi attack was premeditated, but adds it’s still under investigation and the assessment could change. Obama on the “Late Show” with David Letterman describes the anti-Muslim film and then says: “Extremists and terrorists used this (as) an excuse to attack (a) variety of our embassies, including the one – the consulate in Libya.”
Sept. 20. The president says that extremists used the anti-Islam video as an excuse to assault U.S. interests overseas, including the attack in Benghazi. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she’s appointing an independent accountability review board to review the circumstances of the attack.
Sept. 24. Romney leads Republican criticism of the administration’s foreign policy, accusing the president of minimizing the killings in Libya as a mere “bump in the road” rather than part of a chain of events that threatens American interests. Carney calls the accusations “desperate and offensive.”
Sept. 25. Obama, in an address to the United Nations General Assembly, says that attacks on U.S. citizens in Libya “were attacks on America” and calls on world leaders to join in confronting the root causes of the rage across the Muslim world. Romney calls the attack an act of terrorism and says the United States must use foreign aid to bring about lasting change in such places.
Sept. 26. Carney says that Obama considers the deadly assault a terrorist attack.
Sept. 27. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says there can be no doubt that terrorists had planned and carried out the attack, but Republicans lash out at the president and senior administration officials over their evolving description.
Oct. 5. UN Ambassador Rice denies she tried to mislead Congress, telling three Republican senators in a letter that her comments on Sept. 16 were based on the best information available at the time from intelligence officials.
Oct. 10. A top State Department official, Charlene Lamb, acknowledges at a House hearing that she had declined to approve more U.S. security as violence in Benghazi spiked. She said the department wanted to train Libyans to protect the consulate.
Oct. 15. Secretary of State Clinton takes responsibility for the attack, saying security at all diplomatic missions is her job, not that of the White House. She says: “I take responsibility. I’m in charge of the State Department’s 60,000 people all over the world (at ) 275 posts.”
Oct. 16. Libya becomes a major issue in the second presidential debate. It’s the first time Obama uses the exact phrase “terrorist attack.” The president says that the day after the attack, “I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.” Romney countered, “I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”
Within 24 hours of the deadly attack, the CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington that there were eyewitness reports that the attack was carried out by militants, officials said. But for days, the Obama administration blamed it on an out-of-control demonstration over an American-made video ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, led Friday's charge. "Look around the world, turn on your TV," he said in an interview with WTAQ radio in the election battleground state of Wisconsin. "And what we see in front of us is the absolute unraveling of the Obama administration's foreign policy."
As a security matter, how the Obama administration immediately described the attack has little effect on broader counterterrorism strategies or on the hunt for those responsible for the incident, in which the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed. And Republicans have offered no explanation for why the president would want to conceal the nature of the attack.
But the issue has given Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney an opportunity to question Obama on foreign policy and national security, two areas that have received little attention in an election dominated by the U.S. economy. Obama's signature national security accomplishment is the military's killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Obama, speaking Thursday on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," insisted that information was shared with the American people as it came in. The attack is under investigation, Obama said, and "the picture eventually gets filled in."
"What happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up," Obama said. "And you make sure that you find out what's broken and you fix it."
The report from the station chief was written late Wednesday, Sept. 12, and reached intelligence agencies in Washington the next day, intelligence officials said. It is not clear how widely the information from the CIA station chief was circulated.
U.S. intelligence officials have said the information was just one of many widely conflicting accounts, which became clearer by the following week.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN that the administration didn't understand the gravity of the situation in Benghazi and as a result bad decisions were made to promote the video as the root of the violence.
"By continuing to promote the video, by escalating the value and credibility of that video to a presidential level, by buying ads in Pakistan that actually fueled protests all across Pakistan -- and so, this is what's so disturbing to me: Were those decisions based on intelligence?"
Democrats have spent the past week explaining the administration's handling of the attack. On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said a period of uncertainty typically follows attacks.
"In the wake of an attack like this, in the fog of war, there's always going to be confusion," Clinton said.
On Tuesday, Obama and Romney argued over when the president first called it a terrorist attack. In his Rose Garden address the morning after the killings, Obama said, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for."