President Barack Obama was nowhere to be found the long and fatal night of September 11, 2012 when Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were assassinated in an attack on the U.S. Mission Outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
Finally, five months after the terrorist assault, the American people and the families of those brave slain Americans find out that even though live video was being streamed back to Washington, even though requests for backup had been sent, the President left it to others to deal with the issue.
"He (Obama) knew generally what was deployed out there but as to specifics about time, etc. etc., he left that up to us," outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, February 07, 2013. Joining Panetta was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.
Panetta told the Senators he did not speak with President Obama or anybody in the White House the night the terrorist attack was carried out on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Panetta testified that Obama relied on officials at the State and Defense Departments to deal with the issue.
Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) asked Panetta if he "had any further communications with him (Obama) that night?" Panetta answered, "No."
Ayotte pressed further, "Did he ever call you that night? How are things going? What's going on? Where's the Consulate?" Panetta said, "No," but when information came in that Ambassador Stevens had been killed "we were aware that that information went to the White House."
Note the careful use of "the White House" – not "to the President." And, the vague "we were aware." Who passed on the information, and to whom was it delivered? There was a dead Ambassador, two former Navy Seals, and another diplomat, after all.
Recall, too, that earlier in the day of September 11, the Embassy in Cairo, Egypt had also been stormed, and other anti-American demonstrations were popping up across the globe. Further that this same Consulate in Benghazi had been attacked twice before and numerous communications had raised security concerns for the outpost and for the Ambassador and his staff. This was hardly a one-off, isolated occurrence.
In the same Senate hearing, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that the State Department never sent a request for military backup before, during or after attack occurred.
Citing the numerous requests for additional security in Benghazi, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) asked Dempsey, "Why didn't you put forces in place to be ready to respond?"
Dempsey said flatly, "Because we never received a request to do so…"
McCain cut him off apparently astounded by the answer, and fired back, "You never heard of Ambassador Steven's repeated warnings?"
Dempsey answered, "I had through General Ham (Commander of U.S. Africa Command). But, we never received a request for support from the State Department, which would have allowed us to put forces…"
McCain interrupted again, "So it's the State Department's fault?"
But, Dempsey wouldn't go there. "I'm not blaming the State Department," he said.
Pressed by McCain for who was responsible, Dempsey referenced the State Department's internal review. "I stand by the report of the Accountability Review Board," Dempsey said. But, that report was neither complete nor comprehensive.
It's worth remembering that when Hillary Clinton testified before both Senate and House Committees two weeks ago, she admitted that on the night of September 11 during the attack she spoke to various "senior staff" at the White House throughout the night, but she also did not speak with President Obama. "I spoke to President Obama later in the day," she testified.
How impenetrable must be the barrier – and how totally detached and uncaring is this President – if a seven hour terrorist attack on a diplomatic installation leading to the death of four Americans including the Ambassador, doesn't merit a personal conversation between the President and either the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense?