Retired Adm. Mike Mullen stuck to that rule when he rolled out an independent review, led by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. special mission in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the murder of four Americans -- Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. "The attacks in Benghazi were security related," Mullen said, "and responsibility for the loss of life, the injuries and damage to U.S. facilities, rests completely and solely with the terrorists who conducted the attacks."
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, did not follow that rule Thursday during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the report. Johnson hectored Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, as he demanded, "Who made these decisions that got four Americans killed?" The answer is: the terrorists.
What happened that night? The review told the story of uncommon heroism in a lawless outpost, where attacks on U.S., British and medical personnel had become routine. The Libyan delegation asked for more trained U.S. security for Tripoli and Benghazi, but Department of State officials declined; Benghazi "was not a priority for Washington."
Thus, the Benghazi mission had to rely on local militia members who were armed but also engaging in work stoppages to protest their pay and work hours. A group of unarmed locals guarded the main gate, but they weren't reliable and previously had left the gate unlatched.
Stevens was aware of the risk, but he went to Benghazi on Sept. 10 anyway. He went to a public dinner that night but stayed on mission grounds on Sept. 11 because it was the 9/11 anniversary. After Stevens and Smith retired for the night around 9 p.m., dozens of men armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and other firepower attacked the compound with no warning. In short order, they entered the compound and set a fire that killed Stevens and Smith as the unarmed security team vanished.
Having tried to save Stevens and Smith, the five remaining diplomatic security agents reached an annex just before midnight. Around 5 a.m., a team from the embassy arrived. Fifteen minutes later, mortar rounds killed Woods and Doherty.
The Pickering-Mullen review sidestepped the political questions: What role did President Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton play?
Not my job, Pickering told reporters; his group deliberately fixed responsibility for any lapses at the assistant-secretary level. Four State Department managers reportedly have been disciplined.