Well before Fox News’ James Rosen reported on Tuesday that transcripts recently declassified proved top officials in the Obama administration knew within “minutes” the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was a terrorist attack, Gregory Hicks -- the number two deputy on the ground in Libya that night -- and former CIA Director David Petraeus had already testified to that effect under oath. So it was clear, then, from the very beginning, that within the highest echelons of our government, officials knew from the start that the United States of America had been deliberately and maliciously attacked by terrorists on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11.
Rosen’s reporting today, therefore, merely confirms what we already know:
Minutes after the American consulate in Benghazi came under assault on Sept. 11, 2012, the nation's top civilian and uniformed defense officials -- headed for a previously scheduled Oval Office session with President Obama -- were informed that the event was a "terrorist attack," declassified documents show. The new evidence raises the question of why the top military men, one of whom was a member of the president's Cabinet, allowed him and other senior Obama administration officials to press a false narrative of the Benghazi attacks for two weeks afterward.
Gen. Carter Ham, who at the time was head of AFRICOM, the Defense Department combatant command with jurisdiction over Libya, told the House in classified testimony last year that it was him who broke the news about the unfolding situation in Benghazi to then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The tense briefing -- in which it was already known that U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens had been targeted and had gone missing -- occurred just before the two senior officials departed the Pentagon for their session with the commander in chief.
According to declassified testimony obtained by Fox News, Ham -- who was working out of his Pentagon office on the afternoon of Sept. 11 -- said he learned about the assault on the consulate compound within 15 minutes of its commencement, at 9:42 p.m. Libya time, through a call he received from the AFRICOM Command Center.
"My first call was to General Dempsey, General Dempsey's office, to say, 'Hey, I am headed down the hall. I need to see him right away,'" Ham told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation on June 26 of last year. "I told him what I knew. We immediately walked upstairs to meet with Secretary Panetta."
Rep Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), Rosen reports, a former military veteran, pressed Ham in sworn testimony to explain the nature of the conversation he had with Dempsey and Panetta after he was briefed on the attack. Did he mislead them in any way, or somehow suggest that the attack was the result of an impromptu demonstration? No, he testified:
WENSTRUP: "As a military person, I am concerned that someone in the military would be advising that this was a demonstration. I would hope that our military leadership would be advising that this was a terrorist attack."
HAM: "Again, sir, I think, you know, there was some preliminary discussion about, you know, maybe there was a demonstration. But I think at the command, I personally and I think the command very quickly got to the point that this was not a demonstration, this was a terrorist attack."
WENSTRUP: "And you would have advised as such if asked. Would that be correct?"
HAM: "Well, and with General Dempsey and Secretary Panetta, that is the nature of the conversation we had, yes, sir."
Panetta, of course, then informed the president:
Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February of last year that it was him who informed the president that "there was an apparent attack going on in Benghazi." "Secretary Panetta, do you believe that unequivocally at that time we knew that this was a terrorist attack?" asked Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. "There was no question in my mind that this was a terrorist attack," Panetta replied.
So why did Secretary Panetta stand idly by and allow the administration to disseminate false talking points for so long? We don't know. His office did not respond to Rosen’s request for comment. But in any case, reading through the report, this is what's most important:
Ham's declassified testimony further underscores that Obama's earliest briefing on Benghazi was solely to the effect that the incident was a terrorist attack, and raises once again the question of how the narrative about the offensive video, and a demonstration that never occurred, took root within the White House as the explanation for Benghazi.
"Solely." Question: Why, then, did we hear in the days and weeks after the attack that the death of four Americans was the result of demonstration gone awry, when the administration obviously knew that to be false? Again, we just don’t know.