It appears to have been a deliberate attack on America, staged by al-Qaida in Libya on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 to gain the most attention, and the results included the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, a consulate facility shredded by gunfire and flames, and possibly secret documents left fluttering in the breezes of Benghazi.
But what has elevated the situation to the level of secret congressional hearings is the fact that for two weeks, Obama administration officials blamed it on civil unrest sparked by Muslims' hatred of an American video project.
At least that's what's know now. Still unanswered are questions about the refusal to provide extra security and the possibility of a drone camera taking in the actual attack and transmitting images back to Washington. Also, were there really orders to the military to "stand down" and not respond to urgent pleas for help, where were military protectors staged when the attack was reported and why did it take nearly a day to respond?
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Then there are all the questions about the drama unfolding in the United States as members of the Senate and House geared up for their examination of the administration's actions: Why is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visiting friends in Australia instead of telling Congress what went on? And what about the sex scandal now engulfing Gen. David Petraeus, the fallen director of the CIA, as well as several women and even other military officers?
Hearings are to begin today in the U.S. Senate and continue over the next week in both the Senate and the House.
The questioning will begin in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and continue Thursday with closed hearings in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Intelligence Committee.
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The House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled an open hearing.
According to a Fox News report, the House majority Republicans contend Obama administration officials misled the public because they wanted to present in the run-up to the election an al-Qaida on the run, as Obama stated repeatedly.
An organized terror attack on the U.S. on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks would leave the impression that al-Qaida is anything but "on the run."
Columnist Mike Boyce of the Marietta Daily Journal said the situation was simply a "gift" from America to the terrorists.
"Probably the most surprised group that night was the al-Qaida cell which could not believe the gift horse they were given in a virtually unprotected high-value American asset," wrote Boyce, who said he spent some six years in U.S. embassies in that region of the world.
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"The hearings this week are an opportunity for Congress to separate fact from fiction," he wrote.
The deaths of four Americans are a tragic part of the war against terror, "Just as tragic as all the others in this global conflict," Boyce said.
"Is the president lying about what happened at Benghazi? Gosh, really? You think?" he wrote. "My sense is that nobody saw any possibility of this outcome, which reflects badly on everyone from the president on down to his cabinet and agency members who have offices in the embassy."
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"There is no unity to the message coming out of Washington because I believe there was no unified plan for going into Benghazi. That alone speaks to the complacency of all involved. For that people should be held accountable," Boyce wrote.
Few expect actual results from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as its chairman, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., publicly defended U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice when she came under attack for repeatedly claiming that the Benghazi attack was because of the video "Innocence of Muslims."
"She is a remarkable public servant for whom the liberation of the Libyan people has been a personal issue and a public mission," Kerry said. "She's an enormously capable person who has represented us at the United Nations with strength and character."
But with the GOP represented by Sens. Bob Corker, Marco Rubio, James Inhofe, Jim DeMint and John Barasso, no one expects the hearings to slide by without pointed questions being asked.
In fact, Corker said recently he continued to be concerned over Rice's statements about the video.
"How could we, knowing that our intelligence officials in Libya in real time while the event was taking place were letting our folks know back here that this was a terrorist attack – it's beyond me that we would be out publicly talking about the event in that way," Corker said.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, headed by Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein, may get some answers. In announcing the closed hearing Thursday, the committee also said there would be more.
The committee will examine, privately, the collection of intelligence and threat reporting in Libya and what responses were made, who was responsible for the Sept. 11 attack, what efforts are being made to hold the perpetrators accountable and the security levels at U.S. facilities.
According to NBC News, even Feinstein has suggested it may be necessary to talk with Petraeus about the Benghazi attack, regardless of the status of his sex scandal.
"It will be done one way or another," she told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., said he wants to learn enough to prevent a future attack.
Meanwhile, in the House, the Foreign Affairs Committee will live-stream its hearing. Witnesses include Michael Courts from the Government Accountability Office, William Young of RAND Corp., James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation and Ronald Neumann of the American Academy of Diplomacy.
The chairwoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., previously wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the lack of response from the State Department to requests for information about Benghazi.
"Nearly two months have passed since the 9/11/12 attacks on several frontline posts, including the tragic attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi," the letter said. "It is disappointing that we have yet to receive any response from your department and that we are receiving more information from the press than from the administration."
The committee had written to ask for information on Sept. 12, Sept. 25 and Oct. 15.
Yet she had to learn from news reports that classified cables were talking about security at Benghazi, as well as the fact that there were documents retrieved from the consulate grounds six weeks after the attack.
"Please be prepared to present State Department officials to testify on these issues," she wrote.
While State Department officials may be in attendance, Clinton herself is on the other side of the world for the start of the hearings.
It is the work of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. House that observers are hoping will get some answers. Chairman Mike Rogers has the coming hearing listed as "closed."
Members include Reps. Rogers, Mac Thornberry, Sue Myrick, Jeff Miller, Mike Conaway, Peter King, Frank LoBiondo, Devin Nunes, Lynn Westmoreland, Michele Bachmann, Joe Heck and Thomas Rooney.
Bachmann, for example, already has questioned Obama's administration on the issue.
"It appears like it's a cover up," she said. "We know without a doubt … that this was a premeditated attack. This was not spontaneous like the administration wanted us to believe."
A column posted online on former terror organization member Walid Shoebat's site concluded that the Benghazi horror supported Bachmann's concerns about the influence of radical Islam and those who support Islamic law in the U.S.
"Now that Michele Bachmann has pointed to the Benghazi attacks as evidence that her concerns about Muslim Brotherhood infiltration are valid, three so-called 'experts' have attempted to debunk her claim," Ben Barrack wrote.
But he said all the criticisms fall short.
WND has reported that a sub-plot to the entire issue is that the CIA, under Petraeus, purportedly was using the Benghazi mission to coordinate U.S. aid to Syrian opposition groups.
WND reported that the U.S. facility in Benghazi was not a consulate and at no point functioned as one, according to informed Middle East security officials.
Instead, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi served as a meeting place to coordinate aid for the rebel-led insurgencies in the Middle East, the security officials said.
Among the tasks performed inside the building was collaborating with Arab countries on the recruitment of fighters – including jihadists – to target Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.
Furthering the story, WND reported on claims that Paula Broadwell, the alleged mistress of Petraeus, revealed a secret CIA detention center in Benghazi during a public speech she gave just weeks ago.
Broadwell, a former counter-terrorism operative, co-authored a bestselling biography of Petraeus titled "All In." She discussed the book during a keynote speech on Oct. 26 at a University of Denver alumni symposium. The speech is available in full on YouTube.
During a question-and-answer session, Broadwell was asked about this year's Sept. 11 attacks against the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
She stated: "Now I don't know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had actually had taken a couple of Libya militia members prisoner. And they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back. So that's still being vetted."
An extensive WND search of news media coverage of the Benghazi attacks could find no mention of prisoners being held at the CIA annex.
That video later was pulled from Youtube, then restored.
WND also reported that Obama's lead investigator into the Benghazi attack, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, previously held clandestine meetings with Hamas aimed at opening U.S. dialogue with the terrorist group, according to informed Middle Eastern security officials.
Sources within Hamas previously disclosed to WND the June 2009 meeting. The gathering allegedly took place in Geneva with two Hamas leaders, Bassem Naim and Mahmoud al-Zahar. Naim is Hamas’ health minister, while al-Zahar is one of the main Hamas leaders in Gaza.
Pickering is further tied to the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa through his role as a member of the small board of the International Crisis Group, or ICG, one of the main proponents of the international "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine.
The doctrine is the very military protocol used to justify the NATO bombing campaign that brought down Moammar Ghadafi’s regime in Libya.
And in the aftermath of the jihadist attack, Reuters filed a report that quoted a purported "protester" by name who described a supposedly popular demonstration against the "Innocence" film.
But that storyline was later proven to be false.
The report had said "Accounts from Libyan and U.S. officials, and from locals who watched what began as a protest on Tuesday against a crudely made American film that insults the Prophet Mohammad spiral into violence and a military-style assault on U.S. troops, point to a series of unfortunate choices amid the confusion and fear."
The article quotes one protester and only by his first name, described as "a 17-year-old student named Hamam, who spoke to Reuters at the devastated compound on Wednesday."
Reuters quotes "Hamam" as saying, "When we had heard that there was a film that was insulting to the prophet, we, as members of the public, and not as militia brigades, we came to the consulate here to protest and hold a small demonstration."
"Hamam" further claimed that a rumor had spread that a protester had been wounded by firing from inside the U.S. mission, and so Hamam and many others went off to retrieve guns which, Reuters reported, like many Libyans, they keep at home for security.