BENGHAZI HEARING OPENING STATEMENT
In his opening statement Thursday at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe blasted the Obama administration about its preparation and response to the Sept. 11 attack on U.S. diplomats last September in Libya. Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is the top Republican on the committee. Here is a text of his opening statement, as prepared for delivery.
“Thank you Mr. Chairman. I join you in welcoming our witnesses. Secretary Panetta, this may be one of your final times testifying before this committee—a joyous occasion, I’m sure. You and I served in the House together and have been friends for many years now. Thank you for your long and distinguished career of dedicated and effective service to our country.
“It is long overdue that this committee is holding a hearing to examine the facts surrounding the terrorist attacks in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 that left four Americans dead—Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty. Deaths that I believe could have been prevented.
“What has become clear over the last five months is that the United States was woefully unprepared for what occurred in Benghazi. What has also been clear is that following the attack, the Administration provided the American people inaccurate information about the true nature of the catastrophic events in Benghazi. In my discussions with the most senior administration officials, I’ve been told that on the night of the tragedy, although there was confusion about the nature of the first attack on the compound where the Ambassador was located, the second wave of attacks on the Annex were quote “…unequivocally a terrorist attack…” unquote. This was apparent because an angry mob does not use coordinated mortars and RPG’s.
“Despite this clear evidence, it took this Administration over a week to publicly admit what many of us already knew—that it was a terrorist attack, not simply a protest that turned violent as Ambassador Susan Rice adamantly and incorrectly insisted. While some may downplay this difference, I cannot. Al Qaeda affiliated terrorists were involved in the murder of four Americans, including our U.S. Ambassador to Libya. This fact should call into question the effectiveness of our counterterrorism strategy to date in North Africa and beyond.
“I hope our hearing today will provide the committee with a thorough accounting of the facts leading up to the attack as well as what has been done in months following to ensure such a tragedy doesn’t happen again. In the months leading up to September 11th, there were no fewer than four significant attacks against Western interests in the city.
· On April 10, a United Nations convoy was hit with an IED.
· On May 22, the International Red Cross was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade.
· On June 6, the U.S. consulate was attacked with a bomb.
· And, on June 11, the British Ambassador’s motorcade was attacked with an RPG.
“The British Government understood how dire the situation in Benghazi was at the time and closed their mission in Benghazi on June 12th. The International Red Cross suspended operations shortly thereafter on August 6th. On multiple occasions, Ambassador Chris Stevens requested increased security.
“While I understand that the State Department has the primary responsibility for the protection of American diplomats around the world, I also understand that the Defense Department plays an important supporting role to this effort. I expect our witnesses to explain today why—given the clear indicators and warnings that threats to U.S. interests in Benghazi and throughout North Africa were growing—was the Defense Department not placed on a heightened alert status or adequately postured to respond in a timely manner to a contingency of this nature, especially on the anniversary of 9/11.
“Our witnesses have repeatedly stated that there were no military assets available in the region that could have acted in time to potentially avert this disaster. Why not? The January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance directs that we will “rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific”, and goes on to say that in Africa and Latin America “we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives”. Benghazi highlights the strategic risks of this new strategy in places like Africa, risks certain to be magnified by looming defense cuts.
“This committee must get a thorough accounting of exactly what was known and when, what the Defense Department did to respond to the escalating situation in Benghazi, and why it was not better prepared. Additionally, our witnesses should address whether or not the current relationship between the State and Defense Departments is sufficient to meet the security demands of our overseas presence.
“I have made 127 country visits to Africa. What happened in Benghazi vividly illustrates what I have been calling attention to for many years—the growing threat to U.S. interests on the African continent from terrorist groups such as Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Boko Haram. General Ham, the commander of AFRICOM, said back in 2011 that terrorist organizations in East Africa, in the deserts of northern Africa and in Nigeria “have very explicitly and publicly voiced intent to target Westerners, and the U.S. specifically.” Secretary Panetta, the same year, you said, “The longer you delay, the longer you avoid trying to assign some assistance there, the more dangerous these groups become and the greater the instability that develops there. There are elements there [in Central Africa] that either have ties to al Qaeda or that represent the forces of terrorism on their own. And that’s what’s dangerous.”
“As bad as everything I’ve stated previously, what is worse is the cover-up. It was obvious from the information we had on September 11th that the second wave of attacks on the Annex was unequivocally a terrorist attack. Despite this information, U.N. Ambassador Rice lied to the American people on all five major Sunday news shows, implying that the attacks were in response to the anti-Islam video that had spurred protests across the region. In this sense, you are the wrong witnesses: unfamiliar with changes made in the CIA talking points; uninformed as to what and who at the White House was briefed on the attacks; and unaware of the fact that this Administration had to know this was a coordinated terrorist attack during the assault on the Annex.