Like a monster in a Hollywood horror flick, just when you thought the issue was dead, Benghazi is back. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying today before committees in the House and the Senate about the security breakdowns that led to the death of four Americans at a U.S. consulate in Libya, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Benghazi was a big issue during the presidential campaign, as Republicans tried to pin the death of Stevens and others on President Obama and Clinton, for failing to properly protect State department employees. Obama said he was offended at the suggestion that he would knowingly fail to protect members of his administration.
Stevens died of smoke inhalation when he was trapped in the burning building after armed men had stormed the compound.
This will likely be Clinton’s last appearance before Congress as Secretary of State. She is scheduled to step down from her post next month. Congressional Republicans have been waiting for months for their chance to tear into her over Benghazi.
“It’s been a cover-up from the beginning,” Sen. John McCain of Arizona said yesterday. He is the newest member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the Obama administration’s chief critics.
Last month, an independent panel that conducted an investigation into the incident found that while systematic failures in leadership and management led to “grossly inadequate” security, there was no single person who failed to do their job in the days leading up to the attack.
The Accountability Review Board criticized State for failing to respond to the warning signs that should have alerted officials that the consulate was vulnerable to attack. Among the key mistakes mentioned, the board said that security depended heavily on local Libyan militias and that the State Department ignored requests for additional security assistance in the period leading up to the attacks.
But the panel, led by retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, also praised the U.S. personnel in Libya for their swift response to the attack, which they said likely saved the lives of two other seriously injured personnel.
“Systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place,” the panel said.
Despite the deficiencies, the board said no individual officials ignored or violated their duties and recommended no disciplinary action. But it also said poor performance by senior managers should be grounds for disciplinary recommendations in the future.
Three State Department officials have been fired over the incident.
Clinton issued a statement thanking the panel for the report and saying that the department has already started implementing some of the suggested changes:
“The Accountability Review Board report provides a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix. I am grateful for its recommendations for how we can reduce the chances of this kind of tragedy happening again. I accept every one of them.”
While Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration were required by law to conduct the internal investigation when a State Department official is killed, they weren’t required to release it publicly.