Thursday, November 23, 2017
Opinion

Column: Nation owed more than politics on Benghazi

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Like many Americans, I watched the entire Benghazi testimony this past week, and despite the noble efforts of some State Department whistle-blowers who attempted to speak the truth, I don't believe their testimony will ultimately change anything.

The divide in our nation has never been greater on so many levels. The partisanship on every issue has two opposing sides speaking past each other without any attempt to listen, acknowledge or address the other side's argument. The hallmark of vigorous exchange that used to define discourse in our nation's capital and produced the U.S. Constitution after exhaustive debate by our founding fathers seems lost.

It's evident that a cabal of senior U.S. officials attempted to obfuscate or obstruct the truth in the immediate hours, days and weeks after the attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 attacks. But was the cover-up to protect classified information about the U.S. role in post-Gadhafi Libya (a dictator whom we helped overthrow), or was it to protect careers? The truth may never be fully known.

However, the lines in the sand have been drawn. On one side of the argument is the current administration and its defenders. On the other is the State Department's former charge d'affaires David Hicks, the ranking U.S. official in Libya following the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens; Eric Nordstrom, the former regional security officer in Libya; and Mark Thompson, the acting deputy coordinator, Bureau for Counterterrorism.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform opened with promises by both the ranking Republican and Democratic members to have open, honest hearings to ensure the tragedy of Benghazi would never happen again. Both sides of the aisle repeatedly reiterated the importance of protecting the witnesses and paid tribute to the families of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty, many of whom were present in the chambers, for their personal loss.

The two parties agreed on little else. Hicks opened the testimony with a detailed account of what happened that night as he monitored events from American Embassy in the Libyan capital that clearly indicated the American consulate was not under protest, but assault, recounting Ambassador Stevens' last words, "We're under attack ..."

Nordstrom highlighted repeated requests for additional security forces and increased force protection measures before Sept. 11, 2012 — requests that were denied by more senior State Department officials back in Washington.

Thompson, head of the Foreign Emergency Support Team, or "FEST," the only U.S. inter-agency unit designed specifically to respond to events like Benghazi with an "on-call, short-notice team (capable) to respond to terrorist incidents worldwide," was told to stand down that night.

All of their comments flew in the face of the Accountability Review Board that had claimed it had "unfettered access to everyone and everything including all the documentation needed … to get to the bottom of what happened."

Thompson, despite formal requests, was never interviewed for the ARB, and a lawyer representing the secretary of state's office accompanied all congressional inquiries that interviewed State Department personnel about the incident.

Despite the open and honest testimony that raised serious questions about the original version of events promulgated by the current administration and former ranking State Department officials at the time, the pontificating by our elected officials only seemed to take one of two party lines: Democrats appeared to blame the incident on a lack of budget funding (by Republicans), while the Republicans wanted to blame terrorists and the subsequent inadequate U.S. response. We've elected these partisan officials, and not surprisingly, our divided government keeps failing to see common ground and provide solutions for the greater good.

National security crises of yesterday, today and tomorrow can only be evaluated and addressed properly if we honestly examine what happened in public and open forums that bring light into the shadows when and where our strategy fails.

The families of the fallen and future diplomatic and military professionals who will represent and serve the best interests of America deserve a better response by those who send them into harm's way.

Dan O'Shea is a reserve Navy SEAL officer who served more than two decades in the Middle East and was the former coordinator for the Hostage Working Group at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 2004-06 and spent 2011-12 in Afghanistan as a counterinsurgency adviser to the commander of International Security Forces-Afghanistan. O'Shea, who lives in Tampa, wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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