“The terrorist attacks in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, that claimed the lives of four brave Americans — Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty — are part of a broader strategic challenge to the United States and our partners in North Africa. Today, I want to offer some context for this challenge and share what we’ve learned,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday, Jan. 23, to open her testimony of the Benghazi attacks to the Foreign Relations Committee.
Of course, what followed soon after Sept. 11, 2012, should come as no surprise. The American government faced harsh criticism for lack of defense in Benghazi. Why wern’t American facilities in Benghazi better protected? Where was our military? These questions are common after any and every attack of American entities around the world. For the committee, this particular hearing was more than an update of the investigation of a terrorist attack.
It’s not just an attack on American facilities in Benghazi that makes the issue controversial enough for a hearing such as this. After all, there is a long list of previous attacks on American facilities elsewhere in the world, as Clinton pointed out herself, listing off the Tehran attacks in 1979, Beirut in 1983, American embassies in East Africa in 1998, “and too many others.”
Terrorist attacks will happen so long as there are terrorists. It’s when a government attempts to lie to the people about the attack that backlash is bound to occur and it was at this point committee members began to hound Clinton.
“We were misled that there was supposedly protests and that…an assault sprang out of that and it was easily ascertained that, that was not the fact and the American people could have known that within days,” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) said to Clinton.
Clinton responded with an immediate rebuttal.
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she said strongly, waving her arms. “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”
At this point in the investigation, it doesn’t make a difference. At some point in the future, it will. Clinton said people have accused the administration of misleading Americans, but that “nothing can be farther from the truth. Was information developing, was information fluid, would we reach conclusions later that weren’t reached initially?”
Probably so, but she missed the point. The point is the American people were given wrong information by the American government. This could have been an attempt to lie to the American people, or perhaps it was the administration jumping the gun too quickly and sharing information that hadn’t been confirmed yet.
According to a Dec. 12, 2012 CNN poll, 56 percent of respondents said President Barack Obama was not misleading about the Benghazi attacks. In a Dec. 13, 2012 Fox News poll however, 48 percent thought the administration did try to cover up the truth while 42 percent did not.
It is unclear, and may never be clear, if the American government misled the American people. It wouldn’t be the first time though. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time the American government was down right wrong about an issue, either.
Either way, the relationship between the American government and the people has been scarred. The terrible handling of a terrorist attack can be forgiven. No government is perfect. But the sharing of wrong information, even if it’s believed to be true, is not only unethical from a journalistic standpoint, but on a political one as well. Ultimate trust in the government is gone (has it ever been there?), and it will take much longer than the investigation of a terrorist attack to build that trust again.