The terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last month continues to follow President Obama, interrupting his main jobs these days: Dealing with the expected onslaught of Hurricane Sandy as well as a hard-fought and extremely close reelection bid.
He was asked about it again in weekend interviews, vowing to hold members of his administration accountable for any intelligence or military failures that might have led to the killing of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other embassy personnel on the anniversary of 9/11.
“What my attitude on this is is if we find out there was a big breakdown and somebody didn’t do their job, they’ll be held accountable,” Mr. Obama told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski during a New Hampshire campaign stop Saturday. “Ultimately as Commander-in-Chief I am responsible and I don’t shy away from that responsibility.”
Meanwhile, the time it takes to conduct thorough investigations – as yet incomplete – has sparked much speculation and commentary, some of it informed but much of it strictly partisan.
“This is an appalling tale of, at the very least, gross incompetency and utter lack of transparency,” writes conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post Sunday. “President Obama, a little more than a week before the election, won’t tell Americans what happened. Well, why should he – the press doesn’t hound him, the liberal elite still rushes to his defense, and his White House attack dogs bark ‘Politics!’ whenever legitimate questions are asked.”
“President Obama's critics jumped on [recently released emails regarding the Benghazi attack] supposedly as smoking gun proof that the White House engaged in a massive cover-up to keep the truth from the American people.”
“But what was the truth?” Mr. Hutchinson asks. “And what proof is there that Obama had conclusive evidence that the attack was the handiwork of a terrorist organization? And if so, just what terrorist organization might that have been? And even if more information about whom and what was behind the attack were known at the time, what motive would Obama have for covering up the information?”
Now, the episode has taken another turn as more information emerges about what actually happened in Benghazi over the seven hours of the attack – and what US military assets might have been available to protect or perhaps rescue the American diplomatic personnel under fire.
On Sunday, the Associated Press carried a long report from Tripoli suggesting that a planned attack likely was only incidentally connected to the crude YouTube video about the Prophet Mohammad that sparked protests across the Middle East and North Africa.
Neighbors of the US consulate in Benghazi “all described the militants setting up checkpoints around the compound at about 8 p.m. The State Department’s timeline says the attack itself began at around 9:40 p.m.,” according to the AP report.
“Khaled al-Haddar, a lawyer who passed by the scene as he headed to his nearby home, said he saw the fighters gathering a few youths from among passers-by and urged them to chant against the film,” the report continues.
"I am certain they had planned to do something like this, I don’t know if it was hours or days, but it was definitely planned," said al-Haddar. "From the way they set up the checkpoints and gathered people, it was very professional."
The guard told the AP he saw no protesters, instead hearing a few shouts of "God is great," then a barrage of automatic weapons fire and rocket-propelled grenades, along with barrages from heavy machine guns mounted on trucks.
Earlier, Fox News reported that security officers working for the CIA in Benghazi heard the attack on the consulate but were twice told to wait before rushing to the compound. Fox also reported that U.S. officials refused when the security team asked for U.S. warplanes to bomb their attackers, which would have meant violating Libyan airspace.
CIA and Pentagon officials strongly deny the allegations.