Thursday Reads: Beating the Benghazi Horse to Death and Other News

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Good Morning!!

I got an e-mail this morning from Dakinikat saying that she arrived safely late last night and is completely exhausted. Hopefully, she’ll get to see her Dad today and give him a great big hug.

Now let’s see what’s going on in the world this morning.

I’ve got to be honest, I’m confused about the latest GOP Benghazi hearings. I have no idea what the fuss is all about, and I really don’t even want to try to figure it out. Apparently, car thief and arsonist Darrell Issa just can’t let go of Benghazi, and is going to keep right on harping on it until someone figures out a way to stop him. I’m going to highlight some articles on this “controversy,” but, as I said, I can’t really explain it.

First, the allegations of wrongdoing:

NYT: Diplomat Says Questions Over Benghazi Led to Demotion

A veteran diplomat gave a riveting minute-by-minute account on Wednesday of the lethal terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, last Sept. 11 and described its contentious aftermath at a charged Congressional hearing that reflected the weighty political stakes perceived by both parties.

During a chaotic night at the American Embassy in Tripoli, hundreds of miles away, the diplomat, Gregory Hicks, got what he called “the saddest phone call I’ve ever had in my life” informing him that Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was dead and that he was now the highest-ranking American in Libya. For his leadership that night when four Americans were killed, Mr. Hicks said in nearly six hours of testimony, he subsequently received calls from both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama.

But within days, Mr. Hicks said, after raising questions about the account of what had happened in Benghazi offered in television interviews by Susan E. Rice, the United Nations ambassador, he felt a distinct chill from State Department superiors. “The sense I got was that I needed to stop the line of questioning,” said Mr. Hicks, who has been a Foreign Service officer for 22 years.

He was soon given a scathing review of his management style, he said, and was later “effectively demoted” to desk officer at headquarters, in what he believes was retaliation for speaking up.

BBC News: Benghazi attack: Hicks ‘stunned’ at Rice explanation

After the disrupted phone call with Ambassador Stevens, Mr Hicks said he received calls from Libyans using the ambassador’s phone who said they had the envoy with them.

But Mr Hicks decided not to act on the calls, fearing an ambush.

So the “whistleblower” chose not to do anything? What is his complaint then?

UN Ambassador Susan Rice has been the focus of outrage from Republicans in Congress, for giving the news media what has been acknowledged as an incorrect explanation for the attack.

She said on a Sunday chat show on 16 September that the attack had grown out of an anti-US protest, while other officials have said they knew at the time it was an organised, armed assault, possibly by an Islamist militant group.

“My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed,” Mr Hicks said on his reaction to her interview.

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I guess it’s still about Susan Rice. . . Or more likely, it’s about Hillary Clinton and attempts to hobble any plans she may have to run for president.

Washington Post: At Benghazi hearing, State Dept. officials challenge administration review of attacks

Three State Department officials on Wednesday provided a riveting, emotional account of last year’s fatal attack on U.S. installations in eastern Libya as they accused senior government officials of withholding embarrassing facts and failing to take enough responsibility for security lapses.

The testimony provided new details on the Sept. 11, 2012, assaults on U.S. installations in Benghazi and their aftermath. But the new information failed to break the political logjam the attacks spawned, with Republicans and Democrats offering starkly different interpretations of what happened and who within the U.S. government is to blame.

Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) opened the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing by saying that panel Democrats had “mostly sat silent” while Republicans tried to wrest the truth from an uncooperative Obama administration.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the senior Democrat on the committee, countered that Issa’s GOP majority had launched a “full-scale media campaign . . . of unfounded accusations to smear public officials.”

But in expanding the narrative of the intensely politicized episode, the witnesses raised fresh questions about whether then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her deputies were sufficiently engaged in assessing the security posture of diplomatic posts last year.

Time Magazine’s Michael Crowley: Terror, Security, and Hillary 2016: Making Sense of the Benghazi Hearings

The hearing by the Republican-led House Government Oversight & Reform Committee was not the first on the events surrounding the death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans. Hillary Clinton, who was running the State Department at the time of the attack, testified for hours back in January. But the story was given fresh dramatic life and new narrative details through the testimony of two self-described whistle blowers who had not previously spoken in public: Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism; Gregory Hicks, the former deputy of mission in Libya. Joining them was Eric Nordstrom, a former regional security officer in Libya, who had previously testified on the issue.

But “[c]ould the U.S. military have done more to help?”

Not according to the Pentagon – and the hearing’s key witness. Aircraft that might have buzzed the compound where the second pair of Americans died – and scared the militants away — were 900 miles north in Italy. “Time and distance are a tyranny of their own,” Admiral James Stavridis, who responded to the attacks as the NATO commander, told Congress earlier this year. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated it would take as long as 20 hours to get the planes above Benghazi. Hicks testified that he asked the U.S. defense attaché in Tripoli if planes could be scrambled to help those under attack in the CIA annex in Benghazi, a battle that unfolded hours after the initial assault on the nearby U.S. consulate, which killed Stevens, and led to two more American deaths. “He said that it would take two to three hours for them to get on site, but that there also were no tankers available for them to refuel,” Hicks said Wednesday. “And I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and we went on with our work.” Hicks also testified that a four man team of Green Berets in Tripoli were denied a request to deploy to Benghazi the morning after the attack began, though officials doubt they could have arrived early enough to save lives at the CIA annex.

Apparently the complaint is that the State Department didn’t order all military resources to get to Benghazi even though there was no way they could have gotten there in time to do anything to help?

So we’re back to preventing Hillary 2016?

Whether or not Republicans intended it, the shadow of national politics loomed over Wednesday’s hearing. Hillary Clinton completed a generally well-reviewed tenure of Secretary of State, as evidenced by her sky-high public approval ratings. But Benghazi is a clear black mark on her Foggy Bottom record, one that could haunt Clinton if she runs for president in 2016. Conservatives seized on Hicks’s testimony that, in a call with Clinton on the fateful night, he told her that a terrorist attack was underway–a fact that was slow to appear in the administration’s public rhetoric. Still, despite repeated discussion about what Clinton knew and when she knew it, no smoking gun emerged from Wednesday’s hearing, leading one Congressional Democrat to dismiss questions about her role as a “witch hunt.”

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I guess that’s pretty much what it’s all about . . . A few more links:

Think Progress: Benghazi Review Board Chair Says Notion Of Cover Up Is ‘Pulitzer Prize Fiction’

“I think the notion of a quote, cover up, has all the elements of Pulitzer Prize fiction attached to it,” former Ambassador Thomas Pickering said on MSNBC. He also rebutted claims that the review board tried to protect former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from scrutiny:

PICKERING: I saw no evidence of it. She did publicly take responsibility for what happened below her and indeed one of the things the Congress did in preparing the legislation that established the Accountability Review Board was to say we don’t want a situation where heads of agencies take responsibility and then nobody who made the decision in the chain has to suffer any consequences for failure for performance. I believe in fact the Accountability Review Board did it’s work well. I think the notion of a quote, cover up, has all the elements of Pulitzer Prize fiction attached to it.

Pickering offered to testify at the latest hearing, but Chairman Issa wouldn’t let him.

Think Progress: GOP Star Witnesses Debunk Right-Wing Benghazi Conspiracy Theories

The “whistleblowers” at today’s House Oversight Committee hearing on what really happened in Benghazi, Libya last September were supposed to break the dam that would lead to President Obama’s eventual downfall, in the eyes of conservatives. Instead, these witness actually served to debunk several theories that the right-wing has pushed on Benghazi, leaving the hearing a fizzle for the GOP.

Read the explanations at the link.

TPM: Top Republican ‘Fairly Satisfied’ With White House’s Account Of Benghazi

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-TN) said Wednesday that he’s “fairly satisfied” with the Obama administration’s account of events that led to the deaths of American diplomats in Benghazi last year.

“We need to know were these people culpable or not. If they were, why are they still on the payroll? Other than that, I’ve been able to read all the cables. I’ve seen the films,” Corker told MSNBC. “I feel like I know what happened in Benghazi. I’m fairly satisfied.”

He cautioned House Republicans to be “respectful” if they probe the issue further.

“Look, if the House wants to have hearings,” he said, “I hope they’re done in a respectful way and hopefully it will shed some light on what happened.”

I guess that’s enough about Benghazi. I apologize for giving it so much space, but I thought if I were confused about this, some of you might be too.

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A bit more news in the form of a link dump:

There has been another factory fire in Bangladesh! Reuters reports: Bangladesh factory fire kills eight; collapse toll tops 900

A DailyKos diary deals with a question that has been rattling around in my head: How did Jason Richwine Get a PhD from Harvard?

WBUR Boston University (NPR): Markey Edges Gomez In WBUR Senate Poll

The Hill on Suffolk University Poll: Markey builds strong lead over Gomez in Mass. Senate race

I realize the media is dying for another Scott Brown surprise, but it’s just not gonna happen.

Politico: Lindsey Graham faces down primary challenge

Unfortunately, it looks like Huckleberry Closetcase will be back in 2014.

Politico: Excessive student loan debt drains economic engine

Chicago Tribune: Cleveland kidnapping: Bond for Ariel Castro set at $8 million

Why is he getting any chance of getting out on bail??

Reuters: Wrigley halts production of caffeine gum following FDA concern

Could there be a worse idea by the candy industry? Kids would be getting that gum!

NYT: Hospital Billing Varies Wildly, Government Data Shows

Sooooo . . . what’s new with you? What are you reading and blogging about today? Please share your links on any subject in the comment thread!