Chaffetz calls for truth about, accountability for Benghazi attacks

Published: Friday, Jan. 17 2014 11:56 p.m. MST

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington.

File Photo, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — A year and a half later, Americans are still wanting the truth about what happened in Benghazi, Libya.

This was apparent Friday at the Pizza and Politics forum put on by the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, discussed the Benghazi incident with students and members of the community.

"There's too many lies going on, and it's time for the United States to stand up and fight against it and not just accept it," said Jan Perkins, of Sandy.

In his message about why Benghazi matters, Chaffetz said the issue "can't be simply ignored," and the American people have been mislead.

He called for smarter security overseas and holding accountable those responsible for the attacks and for the response to them.

"The more I dive deeper into what was truly one of the great tragedies is that we have a host of statements and a government that is misleading the world and the people of the United States of America about what really happened," Chaffetz said. "That's just not acceptable."

The U.S. consulate-type facility in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked on Sept. 11, 2012. The deadly assault led to the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The incident included one attack on the U.S. Temporary Mission Facility and two on the CIA Annex.

U.S. officials didn't heighten the security profile after being warned about increased terrorist activity, including two incidents on at the Temporary Mission Facility on April 6, 2012, and June 6, 2012.

Chaffetz, a member of the House Oversight Committee, has been investigating the Benghazi attack and was front and center at the congressional hearings in the spring of 2013.

"We shouldn't be afraid of going back and figuring out what went wrong, as long as we're honest with ourselves, because that's how you solve it and fix it so it never, ever happens again," he said.

During the hearings, Chaffetz said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in office during the attack, put politics ahead of security when making decisions.

"They were asking routinely for fortification of the physical facility, and they wanted more personnel," he said. "The bottom line is … they didn't even get to keep (the personnel) they had."

Chaffetz's address at the U. came two days after the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on its review of the attacks was declassified. The report faults the State Department and the intelligence community for not increasing security but doesn't connect Clinton directly to decisions.

Chaffetz provided background about the area and key players. He said Benghazi, about the size of Provo, is a dangerous place, and car bombings and shootings are common.

He added that war-torn Libya's border with Egypt is difficult to control and pointed out the proximity of assets in Europe, such as a C-17 in Stuttgart, Germany, and 50 Tornado fighter jets on deck in Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy, only a 35-minute flight away.

"I do not buy that the United States military could not provide assets in 24 hours. I see no scenario under which that could possibly be true," Chaffetz said.

Chaffetz broke down the events before, during and after the attacks. He expressed frustration at the lack of response — including a four-man military team with a medic that was denied going, failing to ask the Libyans for air clearance and neglecting to ask NATO partners for help.

The U.N. ambassador at the time, Susan Rice, first blamed mob protests over an anti-Islamic film. Then militant groups linked to al-Qaida were blamed for the attacks.

Inconsistencies in reports are what piqued the interest of Joseph Brinton, a senior at the U. studying history education and political science.

"I think the average American doesn't know the extent to which mixed signals were given in the administration," Brinton said.

Chaffetz said he was infuriated that the president, secretary of state and secretary of defense told the world they did everything they could when the four-star general in charge disagreed.

"You could get on a Delta flight in Salt Lake City, fly to Paris, change planes, fly to Tripoli faster than our military responded," Chaffetz said. "We spend $600 billion a year to have the biggest, baddest military on the face of the planet, and you can't get to Libya in 24 hours?"

Chaffetz said he wants to hear from the people on the ground during the attacks, something he says the Obama administration is preventing. He wants to see systemic failures fixed, embassies built and secured up to code and wrongdoers caught and punished, he said.

A botched "60 Minutes" report on Benghazi in October affected Chaffetz's efforts.

"That was a setback," he said. "A lot of media outlets stopped covering it once '60 Minutes' made a mistake, and that's a shame."

But Chaffetz said he still has cards to play, including a number of hearings from the oversight committee and 13 transcribed interviews the public hasn't seen yet.

"We have to pay attention," he said. "This is no phony scandal, and there's still a lot more to learn."

Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com, Twitter: madeleine6

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