The opening night of the Republican National Convention had a heavy law-and-order theme, with a particular focus on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Here’s a roundup of some of the most noteworthy claims that were made. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios for a roundup of claims made in convention events.
“We were ready to go. But on three separate occasions, we were told to wait, and the chief of base told us to stand down!”
— John Tiegen, Benghazi survivor
“Opportunities taken when we defied stand down orders and opportunities squandered when Hillary Clinton failed to protect her people on the ground. Had she done her job, we would not have had to compromise the annex.”
— Mark Geist, Benghazi survivor
These two members of the Benghazi annex security team repeated claims that have been questioned by various investigative committees about the terrorist attacks in the Libyan city on Sept. 11, 2012.
Despite repeated claims of a stand down order, various investigations have found that at best it amounted to tactical disagreements. As the House Intelligence Committee put it in 2014:
“The evidence from eyewitness testimony, ISR video footage, closed-circuit television recordings, and other sources provides no support for the allegation that there was any stand-down order. Rather, there were mere tactical disagreements about the speed with which the team should depart prior to securing additional security assets.”
The Senate Committee on Intelligence concluded in 2014: “Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the Mission compound, the Committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party.”
The Republican majority of the House Armed Services Committee also concluded: “There was no ‘stand down’ order issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi.”
The Select Committee on Benghazi, in a report issued in June, also delved into the matter. It quotes the chief of base as denying he issued a stand-down order as he tried to line up more support. The testimony of others is mixed, with one saying they heard “wait” and others saying they heard “stand down, you need to wait” while a plan is developed. Ultimately, the team left on their own.
Investigative bodies have faulted the State Department for failing to provide the diplomatic facility in Benghazi with sufficient security, including responding to specific requests from officials on the ground. But the security decisions were made well below Clinton’s level and no evidence has emerged that Clinton was aware of the requests or decided not to provide the requisite level of security.
In a recent interview with the New Yorker, the sister of slain U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens said: “I do not blame Hillary Clinton or [Defense Secretary] Leon Panetta. They were balancing security efforts at embassies and missions around the world. And their staffs were doing their best to provide what they could with the resources they had. The Benghazi Mission was understaffed. We know that now. But, again, Chris knew that. It wasn’t a secret to him. He decided to take the risk to go there. It is not something they did to him. It is something he took on himself.”
“I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son. Personally. In an email to her daughter shortly after the attack Hillary Clinton blamed it on terrorism. But when I saw Hillary Clinton … she lied to me and then called me a liar. When I saw Hillary Clinton … she looked me squarely in the eye and told me a video was responsible.”
— Patricia Smith, mother of a State Department official killed in Benghazi
The Fact Checker examined closely the various accounts of family members concerning their conversations with Clinton after the attacks. Smith, mother of State Department information specialist Sean Smith, has been one of the most outspoken, blaming not only Clinton, but Obama and other senior officials. At one point, she said, “I believe that Obama murdered my son,” citing coverage of the incident by Fox News.
Smith’s account of the conversations has evolved over time. She originally said then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta blamed Muslim outrage over a YouTube video, which at time resulted in protests in 40 countries in the world. But then her account changed to include also Clinton, Obama and Vice President Biden making similar statements. As she put it in 2013 congressional testimony: “Obama and Hillary and Panetta and Biden and Susan all came up to me at the casket ceremony. Every one of them came up to me, gave me a big hug and I asked them what happened, please tell me. And every one of them said, it was the video.”
All but one of the family members interviewed by The Fact Checker disagreed with this account. For instance, Barbara Doherty, the mother of Navy SEAL Glen Doherty, recalled that Clinton “was very sincere, I remember her crying.” Cheryl Croft Bennett, mother of SEAL Tyrone Woods, recounted how administration officials were “extremely compassionate and genuinely sad for my loss, as I fought back tears and tried to project an image of strength to honor my SEAL son.”
Smith’s reference to an email concerns Clinton’s email to her daughter on the night of the attack that “an al-Qaeda-like group” was responsible for the attacks. (Clinton later said the comment reflected “the fog of war” since the group later withdrew responsibility.)
The final report by the Select Committee on Benghazi has a detailed look at the public and private exchanges among U.S. officials concerning whether the video played a role in the attacks, with officials on the ground in Benghazi quickly discounting the role of the video. Washington-based officials appeared influenced by news media coverage (including in The Washington Post) that tended to conflate the protests in Cairo over the video with the attacks in Benghazi.