Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress early this year, “I take responsibility” for the security failures that led to the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, last September.
At this point, she may be the last person standing. Despite her assertion of responsibility, however, she put four officials on administrative leave, pending an investigation into security lapses that allowed terrorists to kill the Americans.
Now her successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, has reinstated the officials suspended by Mrs. Clinton, sending the clear message that they were not responsible.
That leaves Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama, who has claimed “ultimate responsibility”) as the only ones whom the public can hold accountable.
Without a detailed finding of facts demonstrating how the State Department chain of command broke down and who was directly responsible for failing to provide adequate security in Benghazi, it is easy enough for both to shrug off the tragedy. Stuff happens.
But no, this incident didn’t happen, as the administration tried to insist for more than a week after killings, as the result of a “spontaneous protest” against an anti-Islamic video.
This smacks of a continuing shell game in which the ultimate accountability for the failure of diplomatic security is hidden from view. That is unacceptable, both for those who lost loved ones in the attack and for efforts to improve diplomatic security in the threat-filled environment of the Middle East. Congress must demand better answers.
“This whitewashing on accountability for the failures of Benghazi will not stand,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement issued Thursday. “I am bitterly disappointed that no one has paid a price for the State Department’s denying of numerous requests for additional security made by Ambassador Stevens and his team in Libya.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, also slammed Secretary Kerry’s action, saying, “Instead of accountability, the State Department offered a charade that included false reports of firings and resignations and now ends in a game of musical chairs where no one misses a single day on the State Department payroll.”
The many supporters of the president and Mrs. Clinton will dismiss these criticisms as partisan posturing. But there is an important principle involved. When a tragedy of this sort is involved, the government owes it to the public to “be as transparent and open as possible,” as Mrs. Clinton herself told Congress last winter.
The model should be the deliberate approach taken by the National Transportation Safety Board in its accident investigations.
The State Department and the White House have fallen far short of this standard in their review of the Benghazi outrage.