Written by Arnold Ahlert
Where are the survivors?
The unseemly efforts undertaken by the Obama administration, Democratic collaborators and a calculatingly uninterested mainstream media to avoid answering one of the fundamental questions of the Benghazi debacle will no longer suffice. Republicans in both the House and the Senate have made it clear they have run out of patience with the administration’s effort to keep the survivors isolated. If they are successful, this scandal may finally get the kind of national attention it so richly deserves.
The effort to keep the Benghazi survivors under wraps is nothing new. On December 12, 2012, Breitbart News revealed that Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R- UT) had been “thwarted” by the State Department from seeing any of these Americans, some of whom had been badly injured. “My understanding is that we still have some people in the hospital,” Chaffetz said at the time. ”I’d like to visit with them and wish them nothing but the best but the State Department has seen it unfit for me to know who those people are–or even how many there are. I don’t know who they are. I don’t know where they live. I don’t know what state they’re from. I don’t even know how many there are. It doesn’t seem right to me.”
One would think that such an allegation would command the attention of investigative journalists across the nation. One would be wrong. Other than media referring back to the Breitbart story, there wasn’t one other news outlet interested in either the survivors or the disturbing reality that the State Department was keeping them secret.
Questions about them were revived when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton successfully stonewalled clueless Republicans during her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last January. At that time it was reported that five of the 20-30 people who survived the attack were State Department Diplomatic Security agents evacuated to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. When Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) questioned Clinton, she revealed that she had only talked to one unnamed survivor, and that she felt it was “inappropriate” to talk to the others until they had been interrogated by the FBI. Not a single Republican bothered to ask why contact with the State Department would have tainted an FBI investigation. Clinton, who helped perpetrate the administration lie that the Benghazi attack was precipitated by an incendiary video posted months beforehand on the Internet, walked away unscathed.
After Clinton’s appearance, Sen. John McCain claimed he wanted to hear directly from the survivors, saying they should come to Capitol Hill and report their own versions of what occurred on September 11. ”They should certainly [do so]. If not come up to Capitol Hill at least be identified and take their statements as to what they saw,” he said. He continued. ”We still want the questions answered. We’ll do everything we can to get answers to questions. The American people deserve them. Like Hillary said, ‘there are four dead Americans.’”
In February, Breitbart reported that Bill Bransford, a Washington, D.C. attorney at Shaw Bransford & Roth P.C. who specializes in federal employment law, contended that the survivors cannot legally reveal to the press or most members of Congress that they were even witnesses to the carnage. “First of all, I’m assuming that most of these people who witnessed the attack, except for the State Department folks, would be intelligence people, and they are not covered by the whistle blower protection laws,” Bransford explained.
He further revealed that State Department employees must sign non-disclosure agreements. “If somebody violates one of these non-disclosure agreements, the consequences could include interfering with a criminal investigation, obstruction of justice, criminal charges for releasing classified information, and those are pretty serious,” he warned. Yet Bransford also said that State Department employees are covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act, but that a revision of the law, the Whistle Blower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, was so new, some of the changes may not yet be in effect.
Bransford added that it is likely some survivors could talk to certain congressmen authorized to hear their stories, but that the congressmen “are precluded from further releasing the information. They know that it’s classified and they can’t release it to the media. They couldn’t get up on the floor of the Senate or at a hearing and make a speech about it because it’s classified and they seem to respect that,” he said.
Breitbart also reported that Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where most of the survivors were taken, “is not only heavily guarded on the outside but on the inside as well, some say” and that “what appeared to be Secret Service personnel [were] moving in and out of a closed wing of the floor that was off-limits to everyone else.”
The fate of the survivors was pushed to the fore again on March 11, by CBS New’s Sharryl Attkisson, one of the few investigative reporters who still takes her job seriously. Attkisson again reminded Americans that the survivors remain off limits, even as she revealed that an undisclosed number of witnesses who also have not spoken publicly remain at the U.S. compound in Tripoli. In addition, she reported that CBS “had filed multiple Freedom of Information requests for Benghazi-related material but none has been provided.”
Four days later, the momentum began to shift. Stung by revelations that recuperating survivors still remain at Walter Reed, Republicans warned that unless the White House provides more information about the Benghazi attack, subpoenas could be issued to bring the survivors before Congress to testify. GOP leaders also threatened to hold up the confirmation of Deborah Jones, Christopher Stevens’ replacement as U.S. Ambassador in Libya.
The warning is a follow up to a March 1 letter sent to newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry by Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Jim Gerlach (R-PA) demanding the names and contact information for each survivor “so that we can make appropriate arrangements.” Those survivors reportedly include State Department and CIA officers, along with government contractors. Wolfe also argued that the survivors should not just be questioned, but given kudos for their bravery during the attack. “We should be honoring them,” Wolf said. “We should be thanking them.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is also composing a letter for Kerry, demanding access to the survivors, as well as the FBI files of their stories, “to see what they said.” Graham wants to know if any of their testimony formed the basis of the Obama administration’s blatantly false talking points immediately following the attack.
So far, Kerry has played the part of innocent naif. “Why have we not heard from any of the Benghazi survivors? I can’t tell you the answer to that,” he told Fox News two weeks ago. “I can tell you that I have visited with one of the survivors … who is a remarkably courageous person, who is doing very, very well.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WW), a senior member on the Intelligence Committee, neatly summarized the priorities of his fellow Democrats, who apparently believe protecting the Obama administration takes precedence over everything else. “Benghazi is over and done with,” he said. “As far as [Republicans] are concerned … this has always been a political issue and that is the way they will continue to [pursue] it.”
Not quite. On the same day Rockefeller’s remarks were published, a suspect in the Benghazi attacks, Faraj al-Shibli (also spelled “Chalabi”), was detained in Libya following his return from a trip to Pakistan. Libyan government officials allowed U.S. interrogators access to the man, who was a member of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group that tried to overthrow Gadaffi in the 1990s. Al-Sjibli has reportedly had contact with Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al Qaeda members in Pakistan. He is the only known suspect in custody in connection with the attack, although his role remains unclear.
Two day later, Sen. Graham thrust the survivor issue front and center. In an interview with Fox News last Friday, he alleged that the survivors of the terrorist attack, who have been kept under wraps for over six months, have been pressured to remain silent. ”The bottom line is they feel that they can’t come forth, they’ve been told to be quiet,” Graham insisted. Those allegations were quickly denied by the White House. ”I’m sure that the White House is not preventing anyone from speaking,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
Graham wasn’t buying it. “The best evidence of what happened in Benghazi is not a bunch of politicians in Washington trying to cover their political ass,” he said. “This is the people who lived through the debacle, and I’m going to do all I can to get them before the Congress and American people. We cannot let this administration or any other administration get away with hiding from the American people and Congress, people who were there in real time to tell the story,” he added.
Graham continued. “[The public needs] to hear from people who were on the ground, their desperate situation. They need to understand from people who were there for months how bad it was getting and how frustrated they were that nobody would listen to them and provide aid when they were requested,” he said. “This is a story of an administration deaf and blind to the reality of what people were living with every day in Libya.”
The same day, Rep. Chaffetz made another remarkable allegation. He told Fox News that after he finally learned the name of one survivor, he spoke to that person’s father. “His father said ‘yes this person is at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, but you won’t be able to find him because the State Department changed his name on all his records,’” Chaffetz revealed. He was seriously disturbed by the revelation. “That’s just beyond what this country is all about,” he said.
Unfortunately, it is far from beyond what the Obama administration is all about. For the past six months, they have engaged in a series of tactics best described as a disinformation campaign designed to confuse the public to the point where they lose interest, or persuade them that getting to the truth about what happened in Benghazi is a political witch hunt engineered by Republicans.
It is nothing of the sort. Four Americans were killed, several more were injured, and not a single person has been held directly accountable for any of it. The administration even lied about the four State Department officials who ostensibly resigned in the wake of a scathing report by the Accountability Review Board stating that security was “grossly inadequate” at the compound. All of them remain on the government payroll. And Hillary Clinton, who lied repeatedly to protect the administration, and whose acceptance of “responsibility” for the grossly inadequate security at Benghazi amounted to exactly nothing, remains a viable candidate for president in 2016.
Eyewitness testimony by the remaining survivors has the potential to devastate this administration. It would likely blow a large hole in Obama’s phony Middle East narrative about al Qaeda being “on the run,” and it might even reveal why any attempts to rescue Americans under attack were either aborted, or never undertaken at all.
In short, nothing about Benghazi accrues to the interest of this president or his administration. It remains to be seen if Republicans have the spine to pursue the truth wherever it goes, despite the pushback they will inevitably face from the Obama administration and their media cheerleaders. Getting to the truth cannot be “beyond what this country is all about.”