Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters/Landov
I saw a quip on Twitter the other day, something to the effect that George Zimmerman should change his name to Ben Ghazi and the media would stop talking about him. It made me chuckle in a sardonic sort of way, because it isn’t far from the truth. I wrote a post about the tragedy at the embassy in Benghazi right after it happened and I put a dumb film and its’ even dumber producers on blast, believing the “talking points” issued from the White House. Silly, naive me. You’d think that after all the years I’ve spent, all of those college courses I took learning about politics and politicians I’d know better. So for that, it’s a case of shame on me.
After a few weeks passed and the dust settled and the administration drafted talking points after talking points, what happened in Benghazi became barely a blip on the radar. The main stream media stopped talking and writing about it, and the public seemed to lose interest, moving on to the scandal of the day. The story had grown old but no one bothered or seemed to care enough to write the final chapter. In the past couple of weeks, when most of figured that those who lost their lives in service to our country would never see anything that could even remotely be called justice, some members of Congress decided that they should hold a new round of hearings on the events that night of September 11, 2012. A great deal of credit for the renewed interest and the sudden flurry of activity has to go to CNN, and to a couple of men who wrote a book about it.
Like most congressional hearings, I’m not holding out much hope for any kind of real answers or resolution to the matter. As it all too often happens, it’s become a bipartisan issue with Republicans pointing fingers at Democrats and Democrats rolling their eyes in response. I see it a little differently though. The truth always matters and it doesn’t – or shouldn’t – care which side of the aisle is looking for it. That’s why I think that the journalists who are on the their own fact-finding mission are so important. If what they write and say means that we can be assured someone will be held accountable – members of the administration, terrorists, whoever – then we as Americans should be cheering them on. Good journalists, the ones who really go out and dog a story until they either hit a dead-end or uncover each and every skeleton, have served this country well. From Watergate to Benghazi, and all points in between, we’ve been provided with information that our elected officials won’t. When a story’s done right, people are brought to justice, one way or another.
The August edition of Vanity Fair* published an excerpt from the book I mentioned – Under Fire: The Untold Story of The Attack in Benghazi – and it’s a gut-wrenching read. The authors, Samuel Katz and Fred Burton, tell a story with such chilling detail about the terror our dedicated and brave public servants endure that night. They present an hour by hour account of murder by a group of terrorists and of the heroism by everyone who worked in the embassy. Katz and Burton have the experience and expertise necessary to tell the story, having written about and worked in the fields of counter-terrorism, diplomacy and national security for decades. Burton’s bio, provided by Amazon, reads as follows: “Burton was a special agent with the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). Burton was also appointed by Washington to assist in the investigation of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He is the former deputy chief of the counter-terrorism division of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. Mr. Burton also investigated the killing of Rabbi Meir Kahane; the al Qaeda New York City bombing plots before the September 11 attacks; and the Libyan-backed terrorist attacks against diplomats in Sana’a and Khartoum. He was involved in the arrest of Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.” Samuel Katz is the author of nearly twenty books on the same subjects.
Just as determined to rekindle the story is CNN’s Jake Tapper. For months, he’s tracked down leads, learning that there were CIA operatives working in the area, although it’s not clear why there were there and why they weren’t called to assist, and uncovering White House emails and other documents that helped to shed some light on what and when the administration knew about the attack, as well as what they did during the aftermath. Tapper’s reported that some operatives are being subjected to taking monthly polygraph tests. Regarding the frequent polygraphs, former CIA operative and CNN analyst, Robert Baer, is quoted as saying, “Agency employees typically are polygraphed every three to four years. Never more than that. If somebody is being polygraphed every month, or every two months it’s called an issue polygraph, and that means that the polygraph division suspects something, or they’re looking for something, or they’re on a fishing expedition. But it’s absolutely not routine at all to be polygraphed monthly, or bi-monthly.” Tapper has gone on air to report his findings, often as the only voice out there among a sea of cautious and mostly silent talking heads. It may not get him an invitation to any White House dinners, but I appreciate his efforts. This Tuesday night, Tapper will host a special report “The Truth About Benghazi” starting at 10PM ET.
This week, the White House, the State Department and National Security officials made the decision to close an unprecedented number of embassies and evacuate employees throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Increased chatter out of Yemen was ominous enough to bring our intelligence experts to the conclusion that a real and viable threat against our embassies and our allies’ embassies was more than likely during the month of August. It’s chatter like that which should have raised the same flags and issued the same warnings before 9/11 and before September 11, 2012. We live in scary times and if the threat appears real, then a little more than an ounce of prevention is in order. If this extreme measure of caution is the result of mistakes made in the past, all the better. It means that lessons were learned.
This isn’t meant to be just a political piece, placing blame on one party or another. I’m not trying to promulgate any “phony scandals”. This is about the way some media outlets and our elected officials pick and choose stories, and disseminate information, and by doing so, also steer our collective conversations. Stand your ground laws, racism, even Anthony Weiner’s alter ego “Carlos Danger” should be topics for discussion. That doesn’t mean we simply put other issues on a shelf collecting dust. Tapper has been criticized for coming to this story this late in the game, when they really should be thinking along the lines of better late than never. If we can’t count on our usual sources of information, though, we have to find them elsewhere. Maybe by reading the articles and books, and watching programs that actually provide this information, we’ll be able to draw our own conclusions as to what really happened in Benghazi. The names of those who lost their lives at the embassy – J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods – should be on our minds and a part of our conversations, at least until we know that they’ve gotten some measure of the justice and respect they deserve. How they lived and how they died matter.