There was never any doubt at the Pentagon, we learned this week. The country’s top military commanders clearly understood the assault on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, was a terrorist attack from the moment the first reports came in, just 15 minutes after the assault began on September 11, 2012.
Over 450 pages of testimony given at nine closed-door hearings in the House Armed Services Committee were unclassified this month. This testimony indicates beyond any doubt that the narrative of the Benghazi tragedy was changed within the White House. The question remains why and by whom.
Recall that the day after the attack the White House pointed to an offensive anti-Muslim video as the root cause of the assault that took the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. This narrative was unveiled on September 12 at a Rose Garden press conference by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—moments before the President boarded Air Force One for a star-studded fundraising event in Las Vegas.
The same narrative was later repeated by Obama at the United Nations, on ABC’s The View, and at Andrews Air Force Base in front of stricken family members of the fallen Americans. It was repeated six times on national Sunday television by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and countless times by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
Yet, testimony given by General Carter Ham, who at the time of the attack was head of the AFRICOM Command, paints a very different picture. When attackers overran the Benghazi consulate on September 11, Ham immediately informed Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey. Panetta and Dempsey subsequently headed to the White House for a 5:00 p.m. national security briefing with Obama, where they would brief him on the situation.
Under pointed questioning by Representative Brad Wenstrup (R–OH), Ham admitted that he discussed the likelihood of terrorism with Panetta and Dempsey, moments before they saw the President:
Wenstrup: “As a military person, I am concerned that someone in the military would be advising that this was a demonstration. I would hope that our military leadership would be advising that this was a terrorist attack.”
Ham: “Again, sir, I think, you know, there was some preliminary discussion about, you know, maybe there was a demonstration. But I think at the command, I personally and I think the command very quickly got to the point that this was not a demonstration, this was a terrorist attack.”
Wenstrup: “And you would have advised as such if asked. Would that be correct?”
Ham: “Well, and with General Dempsey and Secretary Panetta, that is the nature of the conversation we had, yes, sir.”
Demonstration or terrorism? “What difference, at this point, does it make?” Clinton famously hissed during a Senate hearing in January 2013. Well, the difference is important because the same White House that declared victory in the war against terrorism and pulled U.S. military assets out of Libya, also failed miserably to take responsibility for its own miscalculation.
As a result, there was no attempted military rescue or response, and false information was peddled to the American people to shift the blame. Every step of the way, the White House’s response to Benghazi has been appalling.
From the Pentagon to the CIA to the State Department, it was clear that an outpost of the United States had been attacked by terrorists. But the White House chose—for its own reasons—to turn a blind eye.