In a new report released on Tuesday, the House Armed Services Committee concludes that there was no way for the U.S. military to have responded in time to the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya to save the four Americans killed that night. In doing so, the report debunks entirely a right-wing myth that says the White House ordered the military not to intervene.
For months after the attack that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, conservative media was awash in reports that on the night of the assault the Obama administration at some point ordered the military not to take action that would have saved lives. This supposed “stand down order” led to a bevy of right-wing conspiracies about why the President and his administration had let the Americans die.
As Media Matters reports, Fox News cited reports of a stand-down order no fewer than 85 times during prime-time segments as of June 2013. As the new report — which the Republican majority of the committee authored — makes very clear in its findings, however, no such order ever existed. “There was no ‘stand down’ order issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi,” the report says, noting that the military was not positioned to respond to the attack.
“Given the military’s preparations on September 11, 2012, majority members have not yet discerned any response alternatives that could have likely changed the outcome of the Benghazi attack,” the report concludes.
This tracks with the repeated insistence from the White House and Pentagon over the months that everything possible had been done once the military assets in the region had mobilized. Then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in the first Senate hearing on the military response, told panel members that it’s impossible to prepare for every possible contingency when planning, accusing the panel of believing the military was akin to a “911 service.”
While Senate Republicans chided Panetta at the time, it seems Republicans on the HASC now agree with the secretary’s assessment. “Majority members believe the regional and global force posture assumed by the military on September 11, 2012 limited the response,” the report continues. “Majority members recognize, of course, that it is impossible for the Department of Defense to have adequate forces prepared to respond immediately to every conceivable global contingency. Ensuring that preparations exist for some likely possibilities is not to be confused with the ability to anticipate all prospective circumstances, especially in highly volatile regions.”
The night of the attack, the United States had few military assets within the region, the report reads, requiring the transport of soldiers from U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) stationed in Germany to Libya, a trip that took several hours. Once there, the majority of the reinforcements were given the order to remain in Tripoli to prevent a possible attack on the U.S. Embassy itself, a distinct possibility in the eyes of the Pentagon. The Pentagon also confirmed to the HASC that there were no AC-130 gunships or armed drones within the region that night, another topic of speculation from right-wing media outlets.
The Democrats on the panel asked their Republican colleagues if they could finally move on from Bengahzi. “This report, produced by House Armed Services Committee Republicans, should finally bring an end to the politicization of the heinous attacks on brave Americans in Benghazi,” HASC Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith (D-CA) and Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA), the HASC Oversight and Investigations subcommittee’s ranking member, said in a statement. “It is time to move forward, take the real conclusions we have arrived at and establish how to best protect our citizens around the globe. It is our hope that today’s report, which was authored by Republicans, finally brings this attempt to manufactured scandal to an end.”