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In our opinion: List of questions surrounding attack on consulate in Libya keeps growing

Published: Saturday, Oct. 6 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

This Sept. 12, 2012 file photo shows Libyans walking on the grounds of the gutted U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Associated Press

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The list of questions surrounding last month's terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, keeps growing.

But more than just questions loom. Americans need to wonder why the Obama administration still had not taken action to secure the property and the sensitive information it contains more than three weeks after the attack. Locals say they worry Americans would not be safe there, but a sufficient military force ought to be able to secure the compound long enough to remove its contents.

Libya, after all, is a nation the United States helped liberate recently.

Instead, Washington Post reporters were able to visit the consulate this week, and they sent back disturbing reports of sensitive papers strewn across the floor and minimal security provided by the owner of the property. The documents contained the names and personal information of Libyans who worked closely with the consulate, including those who provided security. Several copies of the ambassador's itinerary, including names of Libyans he was to meet — people not publicly known to be friendly with him — also were there.

Those people now face extreme safety risks from the radical forces that stormed the compound, something the U.S. government does not deny.

In addition, the documents that remain contain details about security plans. They raise questions about what other sorts of documents may have been looted by radicals in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

A team of FBI investigators finally visited Benghazi this week but left after only 12 hours on the ground, the Associated Press reported.

Congress has begun its own investigations into the Sept. 11 attack, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also has started a probe. In the meantime, it would be nice to know what the administration plans to do to secure the consulate, or at least how long it intends to leave it vulnerable.

The Post reported that a number of Libyan contractors and security personnel have attempted to contact the U.S. government with concerns about their own safety, but have not received answers. Why is that?

Reports have circulated that U.S. personnel had asked for increased security in the days leading up to the attack. The investigations need to determine whether these reports are true. Regardless, the administration needs to explain why it did not automatically increase security at sensitive diplomatic posts on a day as obviously meaningful to the nation's enemies as the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Why was the administration so slow to acknowledge the possibility that the attack was a premeditated terrorist assault? Its reluctance to do so seemed to lend credence to the idea the attack was tied to a YouTube video, which may in turn have prompted further demonstrations against U.S. embassies in other parts of the world.

After the Benghazi attacks, why was the United States so slow to fortify the crime scene and preserve evidence? Any official investigation into the attack, as well as any hope of identifying the attackers and bringing them to justice, has been seriously compromised by allowing the scene and its evidence to become contaminated.

The slow response sends a disturbing message to potential allies in troubled parts of the world. If sensitive personnel records will be left lying on the floor nearly a month after an attack that should have been anticipated, why should any local residents want to cooperate to help the U.S. government?

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