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Trudy Rubin: GOP turned Benghazi into a campaign tool

  • Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Published Friday, May 16, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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Here’s the real Benghazi scandal: Republicans have turned the deaths of four brave Americans into a campaign tool to galvanize their base.

Eight congressional investigations, along with an independent review board, have laid out the facts about the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate. There have been 13 public hearings, the release of 25,000 pages of documents, and 50 briefings on the security failures that led to the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. None offered a shred of evidence that White House political considerations led to their deaths.

Yet last week, heading into campaign season, House Republicans voted to waste more taxpayer money on a new special select committee on Benghazi. It aims to revisit issues already resolved by the previous probes.

The GOP has made no secret of its hope to somehow blame the killings on President Obama or Hillary Clinton – a pitch designed to turn out primary voters. To get the flavor, you only need to visit the website of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which urges donors to become a “Benghazi Watchdog right now.” It brags that “this is going to be a national effort for a national investigation” and pleads, “Help fight liberals by donating today.”

Yet none of the previous hearings, some chaired by Republicans, has produced a crumb of proof that White House political considerations led to the deaths in Benghazi. Nor do Republicans have such new evidence in hand.

The supposed impetus for the new committee was a freshly discovered White House e-mail that sets out a strategy for Susan Rice’s TV talk-show appearances soon after the killings. The e-mail asks Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to stress that “these protests” were linked to an anti-Muslim Internet video. This, Republicans claim, proves the administration was trying to hide an al-Qaida role in the killings, which would have undermined Obama’s claim to be winning the war on terror.

But some U.S. intelligence suggested at the time that the video might have played a role in the Benghazi demonstrations, as it did in Cairo protests. Moreover, it was unclear at the time whether al-Qaida-linked militants played a role.

The only questions about Benghazi that matter are: Why was security so poor? And could more have been done to save the victims? Those questions have already been laid to rest.

In their independent review, retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs, blamed serious management deficiencies among top security officials at the State Department for the failure. Three were forced out, and perhaps the sweep should have included Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary for management.

Part of the problem was lack of communication between the CIA, whose personnel made up the bulk of the presence in Benghazi and had better protection, and the State Department, which had only a temporary consular facility staffed on a rotating basis.

A critical key to the tragedy lay with unfortunate decisions made by the admirable Stevens. As a Senate Intelligence Committee report revealed, this top diplomat and Arabic speaker twice turned down the U.S. military’s offers of more security personnel for his mission. He recommended training local Libyan guards to conduct security, and they proved sadly unreliable.

None of these facts plays into the conspiracy theories that fuel the new investigation.

Legislators who truly care about Stevens and the three other victims should stop this charade.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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