December 20, 2012
BENGHAZI
(Esam Omran al-Fetori/Reuters)

In the 39 pages of the unclassified report on the Benghazi, Libya, attack of Sept. 11, 2012, there was a clear-eyed assessment of the failures that led to the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. There were recommendations made to ensure that such a tragedy doesn’t happen again. And there were two words that never appeared in the report because they were not relevant to what happened that tragic night: Susan Rice.

Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte spent an inordinate amount of time hounding U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for what she said on the Sunday talk shows five days after the fatal event. Avoided were direct and uncomfortable questions aimed at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the security failures in Libya.

There was no such avoidance by the Accountability Review Board convened by Clinton and chaired by Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering with Adm. Michael Mullen as vice chair.  They found “[s]ystemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” and a “grossly inadequate [security posture] to deal with the attack that took place.” One State Department official resigned, and three others were relieved of their duties within hours of the critical report’s release. And Clinton adopted all 29 of its recommendations. The report was released the day before State Department officials testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

There are other things in the report that deserve highlighting.

The Board concluded that there was no protest prior to the attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity.

Lest you think that that is a repudiation of Rice, remember that on Sept. 28, Director of Intelligence James Clapper issued a statement reminding all that all reports were preliminary and “our understanding of the event continues to evolve.” He added, “As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists.”

The belief that a protest in Cairo over a defamatory anti-Muslim video made in the United States sparked the mayhem in Benghazi was also reported in the New York Times. “The fighters said at the time that they were moved to act because of the video, which had first gained attention across the region after a protest in Egypt that day,” The Times reported in October.

The report also punches holes in Graham’s breathless comments after meeting with Rice last month that “If anybody had been looking at the threats coming out of Benghazi, Libya, it [would] jump out at you this was [an] al-Qaeda storm in the making.” The same goes for McCain’s assertion that “Everybody knew that” the attack on the consulate “was al-Qaeda.” Both claims run between not exactly and wrong. 

The report explains on Page 2, “The Benghazi attacks also took place in a context in which the global terrorism threat as most often represented by al Qaeda (AQ) is fragmenting and increasingly devolving to local affiliates and other actors who share many of AQ’s aims, including violent anti-Americanism, without necessarily being organized or operated under direct AQ command and control.”

The report notes on Page 6, “[A]t no time were there ever any specific, credible threats against the mission in Benghazi related to the September 11 anniversary.” In addition, on that same page, “The Ambassador did not see a direct threat of an attack of this nature and scale on the U.S. Mission in the overall negative trend line of security incidents from spring to summer 2012.” That’s probably because, as the report points out on Page 16, the series of security incidents “took place against a general backdrop of political violence, assassinations targeting former regime officials, lawlessness, and an overarching absence of central government authority in eastern Libya.”

As the Benghazi probe authors note, the FBI is in charge of the criminal investigation of what happened there. “The key questions surrounding the identity, actions and motivations of the perpetrators remain to be determined by the ongoing criminal investigation.” Susan Rice won’t factor in that report either.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.