Ignoring US Destabilization of Libya, GOP Benghazi Hearing Asks Clinton All the Wrong Questions

Former secretary of state and current Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton underwent a marathon day of testimony Thursday before the House Select Committee probing the 2012 attack in Libya, which killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Throughout the hearing, Clinton defended her record on Benghazi in the face of Republican criticism. Republicans say Clinton ignored pre-attack warnings and mishandled its aftermath, even though seven previous congressional probes have found no wrongdoing. Clinton handled Republican questions with a calm demeanor, and afterward panel chair Trey Gowdy, Republican congressmember of South Carolina, admitted the hearing failed to turn up anything new. Melvin Goodman, former CIA and State Department analyst, says the Benghazi hearing has ignored the real issue for Clinton to address: the US bombing of Libya that destabilized the country and set the stage for the fatal 2012 attack. “What was learned was irrelevant,” Goodman says. “What was relevant, wasn’t discussed.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Former secretary of state, current Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton spent more than eight hours Thursday testifying before the House Select Committee probing the September 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya, which killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Throughout the hearing, Clinton defended her record as secretary of state on Benghazi in the face of Republican criticism.

HILLARY CLINTON: You know, I would imagine I’ve thought more about what happened than all of you put together. I’ve lost more sleep than all of you put together. I have been racking my brain about what more could have been done or should have been done. And so, when I took responsibility, I took it as a challenge and an obligation to make sure, before I left the State Department, that what we could learn – as I’m sure my predecessors did after Beirut and after Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and after all of the other attacks on our facilities – I’m sure all of them, Republican and Democrat alike, especially where there was loss of American life, said, “OK, what must we do better?”

AMY GOODMAN: The panel was the eighth such committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks, and the hearings largely covered much of the same ground as previous proceedings. Clinton supporters have criticized the Republican-led effort as an attempt to damage the Democratic front-runner’s presidential campaign. In his opening statement, committee chair Republican Trey Gowdy addressed those charges.

REP. TREY GOWDY: Madam Secretary, I understand there are people, frankly, in both parties, who have suggested that this investigation is about you. Let me assure you it is not, and let me assure you why it is not. This investigation is about four people who were killed representing our country on foreign soil.

AMY GOODMAN: Elijah Cummings and other Democrats pushed back on Gowdy’s assertion, casting the continued investigation as politically motivated. Referencing an interview Gowdy did Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation, Cummings said Gowdy wasn’t being truthful when he said he had zero interest in investigating the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s emails other than for evaluating them for information. Gowdy and Cummings then had this tense exchange.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: You issued a subpoena to Sidney Blumenthal on May 19th, 2015, compelling him to appear for a deposition June 16, 2015. You issued this subpoena unilaterally, without giving the Select Committee members the opportunity to debate or vote on it. You sent two armed marshals to serve the subpoena on Mr. Blumenthal’s wife at their home without having ever sent him a request to participate voluntarily, which he would have done. Then, Mr. Chairman, you personally attended Mr. Blumenthal’s deposition. You personally asked him about the Clinton Foundation, and you personally directed your staff to ask questions about the Clinton Foundation, which they did more than 50 times. Now, these facts directly contradict the statements you made on national television –

REP. TREY GOWDY: No, that’s not –

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: – this past Sunday.

REP. TREY GOWDY: No, sir. With all due respect, they do not. We’re – we just heard email after email after email about Libya and Benghazi that Sidney Blumenthal sent to the secretary of state. I don’t care if he sent it by Morse code, carrier pigeon, smoke signals. The fact that he happened to send it by email is irrelevant. What is relevant is that he was sending information to the secretary of state. That is what’s relevant. Now, with respect to the subpoena, if he had bothered to answer the telephone calls of our committee, he wouldn’t have needed a subpoena.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Well, would the gentleman yield?

REP. TREY GOWDY: I’ll be happy to, but you need to make sure the entire record is correct, Mr. Cummings.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Yeah, and that’s exactly what I want to do.

REP. TREY GOWDY: Well, then go ahead.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: I’m about to tell you. I move that we put into the record the entire transcript of Sidney Blumenthal. If we’re going to release the emails, let’s do the transcript. That way the world can see it.

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration has been criticized for its handling of the aftermath of the Benghazi attack. The White House initially said the consulate was attacked by protesters denouncing a short American film insulting the Prophet Muhammad. But it later turned out the attack was carried out by well-armed militants. The militants first attacked the diplomatic mission, then a secret CIA annex. Republicans say Clinton ignored pre-attack warnings and mishandled its aftermath. While previous reports have been scathing over security failures and have led to firings at the State Department, none have accused Clinton or other top officials of wrongdoing.

Well, joining us for more is Melvin Goodman, former CIA and State Department analyst, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and director of the Center’s National Security Project. His latest book, National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mel Goodman. Can you start off by talking about the significance of the hearing yesterday, what was learned, what wasn’t learned, and what you think are the key questions to be asked that may have never been asked formally by any of these committees?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Thank you, Amy. What was learned was irrelevant. What was relevant wasn’t discussed. And it was those areas that concern me. Why was the CIA operating a base out of Benghazi? Why was the State Department operating a transitional mission facility, a TMF – it wasn’t a consulate – in Benghazi? Why was Ambassador Stevens, who was aware of the security situation, in Benghazi in the first place? So, none of these questions have been asked.

And remember, when the plane flew these survivors out of Benghazi to get them back to Tripoli, for every State Department official on that plane, there were five or six CIA employees. And my sources tell me that the CIA was there to buy back weapons that we had given to Gaddafi in the first place. So the question all of this begs – and this is where Hillary Clinton’s remarks did concern me – is that we created a disaster in Libya. It was the decision to conduct regime change, the decision to go after Gaddafi, which eventually led to his death. And remember, Hillary Clinton welcomed that news with the words “We came, we saw, he died.”

Now, there is a link to what Putin is doing in Syria, because, remember, we had to tell the Russians that we had very limited objectives, a very limited mission in Benghazi, so that they would not veto the UN resolution. And then, essentially, Putin finds out that our mission really was to go after Gaddafi, creating this instability, this discontinuity, this chaos in Libya.

So what really needs to be discussed is, what is the role of military power in the making of foreign policy? Why does Hillary Clinton think that Libya is not a disaster? And why was Hillary Clinton pushing for the military role in Libya in the first place? These are important issues.

As far as the hearings were concerned, she testified off and on for nearly 11 hours. She handled herself extremely well, and she essentially exposed the fact that these were a group of Republican troglodytes doing their best to marginalize her and humiliate her. And they totally failed.

AMY GOODMAN: Mel Goodman, the justification at the time, that Gaddafi was going to commit a massacre in Benghazi. Can you take us back to – again, it was September 11th – another September 11th – 2012. I think there is so little talked about, about what actually was happening there, that people don’t realize exactly what the context was.

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, in the wake of Gaddafi’s death, there was total chaos in Libya. And essentially, there was a civil war being waged between forces in the western part of the country, based around the capital, Tripoli, and forces in the eastern part of the country, based around Benghazi. And what we have learned, essentially, over the last 34 years of foreign policymaking, that when you use military power in areas that are not stable, you usually create a worse situation. Israel invades Lebanon in 1982, and the creation of Hezbollah takes place. We arm the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and this leads to groups like the Haqqani faction, the Hekmatyar group, and even al-Qaeda. We go into Iraq, there’s the Sunni Awakening. Now we’re dealing with the Islamic State. So we took a very bad situation, where there was factionalism in Libya, and made it much worse by removing the only person who seemed to hold it together, even though he did it with incredible violence and threat, but Gaddafi was holding that nation, to the extent it was a nation, holding it together. So, we were a major force and a major reason for the instability that took place. We should never have been in Benghazi. All of the other international institutions, both government and nongovernment, had pulled out of Benghazi.

So, what we need to know is why Stevens was there in the first place, what the CIA was doing, and why there was no – virtually no security around the diplomatic facility, which was just a transitional facility, and because it was a TMF, it wasn’t even eligible for an upgrade in security. It didn’t come up on the radar screen. And to blame her for that is ridiculous. But to know what her position was on why military force was a good idea is important, particularly since she is going to be the Democratic candidate – she established that last week in the debate. And there’s a very good chance she’ll be occupying the White House for four to eight years in the near term.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re speaking to Mel Goodman, who is a former CIA and State Department analyst, about the questions, the key questions, about US presence in Libya, to begin with. The real lessons we can learn about what took place on September 11, 2012, don’t start and end on that day. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.