Some things are clear about what happened in Benghazi, Libya the night of September 11, 2012: terrorists broke into the American consulate complex, lit buildings on fire, killed the American ambassador, and also killed three other American security personnel.
Despite investigations by multiple Congressional committees on both the House and Senate side of the Capitol, there are still many unanswered questions. Because there is so much still cloaked in mystery, and because the Obama administration has withheld critical documents related to the incident, the House recently acted to set up a select committee to investigate the attacks themselves and the administration's response both in the press and behind the scenes.
That committee will be led by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who was a federal prosecutor and now serves on both the Judiciary Committee and the Oversight and Investigations Committee. He knows the law, he knows how to collect evidence and he knows how to execute subpoena authority.
At the press conference following the announcement of his appointment, Gowdy clearly laid out the questions that the House needs to have answered about Benghazi.
First, why was Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi on September 11, 2012? We know that terrorists revere this day and that they will always seek to replicate the success of the 2001 attacks. It is a day that al Qaeda and their admirers will always use to stir up trouble and to lash out at Americans.
The consulate at Benghazi was far from secure. Following the fall of Gadhafi, the city was essentially lawless, with warlords wielding all the power. Interspersed with Libyan revolutionaries were Islamist fighters, many with al Qaeda connections.
That leads to Gowdy's second question: why were we the last western organization with a presence in Benghazi? In the months preceding the attack, there were 20 violent incidents targeting westerners. The British shut down their consulate in Benghazi in June of 2012. A rocket attack on the Red Cross led that group to pull out also.
Third, why did requests for additional security in Libya go unheeded? Several times before the attack, the ambassador requested additional personnel. But there was actually a decrease in military presence leading up to September 11.
Fourth, why were there no military assets deployed during what ended up being a seven and a half hour siege. Military commanders have stated publicly that it would have taken time to configure and deploy planes or strike teams, but there seemed to be no thought for how long the situation may have gone on. Benghazi could have easily turned into a long-term siege or hostage situation that might have gone on for days. There seemed to be no long-term thinking at play.
Next, why did the President not reach out to allies who may have had assets available? We have many friends in the region, and while they may not have been instantly ready to respond, they may still have been ready faster than American forces.
Finally, why was U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice picked to represent the administration on five separate Sunday morning politics programs? Rice had no responsibility for the gathering of intelligence or the military response. She was not responsible for diplomatic security and was not a superior to Ambassador Stevens.
She went out onto these shows with talking points that clearly contradicted what actually happened. All manner of intelligence showed this to be a terrorist attack and yet she portrayed it again and again as a protest gone wrong.
For many months now, I have supported the forming of a select committee. Speaker John Boehner came to this conclusion recently after e-mails withheld by the White House came to light after a Freedom of Information Act request by the group Judicial Watch. These are e-mails that should have been given to the House based on earlier subpoenas.
We don't really know what other information has been withheld. The unanswered questions are substantive. I trust that my colleagues on the committee will let the evidence be their guide, but they must have the access that Congressional investigators deserve.