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In our opinion: Explaining Benghazi

Published: Friday, May 10 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham pounds her fist as she testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP) Secretary of State Hillary Rodham pounds her fist as she testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

"Benghazi happened a long time ago."

Those were the words of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, clearly exasperated in the face of questions about an event that took place just last September. The Obama administration still can't adequately explain why it failed to identify the murder of an American ambassador and three other American citizens as a coordinated terrorist assault instead of a spontaneous demonstration that got out of hand. Given the feeble and often contradictory official stories that have emerged in the wake of the attack, it's understandable that Carney would be eager to change the subject.

Understandable, yes. Justifiable, no.

Just days after the attacks, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on five Sunday news shows with the now discredited tale of demonstrations prompted by a YouTube video. Yet Greg Hicks, who stepped in when Ambassador Chris Stevens was murdered in Benghazi, now claims that "from the get-go," he, along with the rest of the Obama administration, knew immediately that this was an act of terror. So when Ambassador Rice was peddling a story at odds with the truth, even contradicting the new president of Libya sitting next to her making the claim that what happened at Benghazi was "preplanned, predetermined," Hicks was beside himself.

"I've never been as embarrassed in my life, in my career, as on that day," Hicks said. "My jaw hit the floor as I watched this."

Hopefully, he's not alone. All of America should be disturbed, if not outraged that, in the face of a brutal Ansar al-Sharia assault that left four Americans dead, the Obama administration chose to make up a story instead of tell the truth. Some still maintain that the administration didn't know the truth, even as late as Sept. 19, when President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations and blamed YouTube again. But Hicks' account, along with that of several other witnesses coming forward, make that harder and harder to believe.

So the new approach, it seems, is to pretend it doesn't matter.

"What difference, at this point, does it make?" asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her testimony before Congress, implicitly conceding that the Obama administration had been less than truthful — but so what? It's old news. As Carney said, it happened long ago, in a distant era that's fully eight months removed from where we are today.

Either President Obama has a very short memory, or he's cynically hoping that's the case with the American people.

The administration's cynical manipulation of this story might have provided short-term political cover during a contentious election, but the long-term corrosive effects of calculated ynicism to our intelligence and diplomatic communities continues.

In order to restore trust and accountability, Congress should continue to clarify who knew what and when those oh-so-distant eight months ago.

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