Department of Self-Corrections (Al Qaeda and Benghazi Edition)

In the past, I have argued that it really does not matter whether or not al Qaeda was involved in the terrorist attack in Benghazi. Well, as it turns out, that’s not quite right:

The U.S. military cannot hunt down and kill people responsible for the deadly 2012 attack on an American compound in Benghazi, Libya, as long as the terrorists are not officially deemed members or affiliates of al Qaeda, newly declassified transcripts from congressional hearings show.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey in testimony on Oct. 10 said the Pentagon’s hands are tied because the groups involved are not covered by the Authorization for Use of Military Force. The AUMF law allows U.S. attacks anywhere in the world only on al Qaeda and “associated forces.”

“The individuals related in the Benghazi attack, those that we believe were either participants or leadership of it, are not ‘authorized use of military force,’ ” Gen. Dempsey told the House Armed Services Committee in his classified testimony during a closed hearing.

Of course, it is worth noting anew that the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee does believe that al Qaeda was involved in Benghazi, which may mean that we should not be so quick to accept reports to the contrary. And if reports to the contrary are true, then perhaps it is time to revise the AUMF, though it seems to me that the president can order a military operation that takes place outside of the boundaries of the current AUMF; he would not be the first president who authorized a retaliatory military strike against terrorists without a specific authorization from Congress, and it would likely be within his power as commander-in-chief to do so.

Meanwhile, this makes for depressing and infuriating reading:

A Senate committee released on Wednesday its long-awaited findings on the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Its findings are a case study in how no one and everyone in the State Department, the U.S. intelligence community, and the White House has been held responsible for an attack that has fueled a political firestorm in Washington — and left four Americans dead.

The report principally spreads blame for the attack across the State Department and the CIA and shows how the department was slow and nearly negligent in upgrading security procedures at its Benghazi outpost. It documents in detail the repeated security warnings generated by American intelligence agencies that the security situation in eastern Libya was deteriorating during the fall of 2012 and that the likelihood of an attack against U.S. personnel in Benghazi had significantly increased.

Despite these repeated warnings, the report, a product of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, did not find a specific, tactical warning that might have predicted an attack the claimed the life of Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other U.S. personnel.

“The committee found the attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya — to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets — and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission,” the Senate committee said in a press release.

In concluding that the attack could have been prevented, the report lambastes both the State Department and the CIA for failing to adequately communicate with one another. The CIA comes under fire for failing to disclose to the regional commander, General Carter Ham, that the agency had put in place a facility for its personnel — the so-called annex — in the restive city. The State Department, meanwhile, failed to take seriously repeated warnings about the deteriorating security conditions in Benghazi. The department is harshly criticized for failing to install adequate security measures at its Benghazi compound. That building lacked adequate perimeter defenses, hardened doors, and while it had been provided with additional video cameras for surveillance purposes, they were never installed. Notably, the report reveals that the CIA took steps to upgrade security at the annex while the State Department did little to harden its facility, which was no more than a few miles from the agency’s building.

And yes, this should be a campaign issue in the event that Hillary Clinton decides to run for president. Or are we supposed to just give her a free pass?