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The Real Scandal

Why are the Benghazi killers still at large?

Jan 27, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 19 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES and THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The ties between al Qaeda and the four organizations identified in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report are obvious and indisputable. What’s more, prior to the Benghazi attack, the U.S. government had no trouble identifying the groups involved as being part of al Qaeda. A July 6, 2012, report authored by the CIA, “Libya: Al Qaeda Establishing Sanctuary,” described the Jamal network, AQAP, and AQIM as “al Qaeda-affiliated” groups and warned that they “have conducted training, built communication networks, and facilitated extremist travel across North Africa from their safe haven in parts of eastern Libya.” 

On August 16, 2012, Ambassador Stevens sent a cable to the State Department’s headquarters summarizing a security meeting the previous day.  During that meeting, a CIA officer pinpointed “the location of approximately 10 Islamist militias and AQ training camps within Benghazi.” Also in August 2012, the Library of Congress published a report in conjunction with the Defense Department’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (“Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile”) that exposed al Qaeda’s clandestine network inside Libya and concluded that Sufian Ben Qumu and his Ansar al Sharia group have “increasingly embodied al Qaeda’s presence in Libya.”

Immediately after the attack, nothing changed. According to Feinstein, when then-CIA director David Petraeus testified before her committee on September 13, 2012, he was clear that “al Qaeda elements” were involved in the assault. On September 14, the original draft of the CIA’s talking points noted, “we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack.” A follow-up draft contained the same language before it was taken out—ostensibly to protect sources and methods but certainly not because it was inaccurate. In public statements well beyond those early days after the attack, members of the intelligence committees in both houses of Congress—and from both parties—pointed to al Qaeda involvement in the Benghazi attack.

Even so, the Obama administration persists in hiding behind a rhetorical smoke screen. It claims there is no evidence that “core al Qaeda” gave a secret, specific order for these groups to conduct this particular attack, at this particular time, in this particular manner. But we know that senior al Qaeda leaders wanted U.S. facilities attacked. We know this, because they said so, publicly. On September 10, 2012, the day before the Benghazi attacks, Ayman al Zawahiri released a 42-minute video in which he called on followers to avenge the death of Abu Yaha al Libi, a senior al Qaeda operative from Libya who had been killed in a U.S. drone attack in June.

Zawahiri called to the “Ummah of Islam and oh free and honorable ones in Libya” to seek revenge. “So, where are you from retaliating for your son and reviver of the biography of your Sheikh? His blood is calling you and is urging you and is inciting you to fight and kill the crusaders. So, don’t weaken.”

The Obama administration would have us believe that what happened in Libya the following day, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, was a coincidence. White House spokesman Jay Carney has scolded reporters for “conflating” the attacks in Benghazi with the anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001, as if the events are obviously unrelated. The administration is clinging to the fanciful notion that multiple members of al Qaeda’s international network—from Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere—wandered onto the scene and just happened to kill four Americans.

This is far from an academic point. The administration is using lawyerly misdirection to excuse its failure to capture or kill any perpetrators. In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee last fall, declassified last week and first reported by Kristina Wong of the Hill, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, said the U.S. military was not authorized to target the Benghazi attackers because they were not considered “al Qaeda” or “associated forces” and were therefore not covered by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by Congress after the original 9/11 attacks.

“The individuals related in the Benghazi attack, those that we believe were either participants or leadership of it, .  .  . don’t fall under the AUMF authorized by the Congress of the United States. So we would not have the capacity to simply find them and kill them either with a remotely piloted aircraft or with an assault on the ground.”

Thus the official position of the Obama administration—as conveyed under oath, in a classified setting, by the nation’s top uniformed military official: The Benghazi attackers are not covered by the AUMF because they are neither al Qaeda nor “associated forces.”

This is a reprehensible evasion. It explains why the United States has failed to bring the Benghazi perpetrators to justice. But it in no way excuses that failure.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard. Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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