According to testimony Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke with President Obama at the outset of the Benghazi attack during a pre-scheduled meeting, but not again until the attacks were over. Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey testified that they had not spoken to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at all during the attacks.
Panetta’s testimony directly contradicted that of Secretary Clinton who said before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 23rd, “I directed our response from the State Department and stayed in close contact with officials from across our government and the Libyan government.” Clinton added that the State Department’s Benghazi Review Board said there had been “timely” and “exceptional” coordination.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testifies on the attack on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, Feb. 7, 2013. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
President Obama delegated his authority, telling Panetta that everything was “up to us.” Both Defense Department officials testified Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not reach out to either of them during the attack, nor did they reach out to her.
Dempsey identified the challenge to protect U.S. diplomatic assets abroad noting he was responsible for American facilities in Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Pakistan, and other locations in the Islamic world. He said he knew about threats to Benghazi from AFRICOM Commander General Carter Ham, “But we never received a request for support from the State Department, which would have allowed us to put forces.” Dempsey went on to say, “Unfortunately, there was no specific intelligence or indications of an imminent attack on that – U.S. facilities in Benghazi. And frankly without an adequate warning, there was not enough time given the speed of the attack for armed military assets to respond.”
Panetta defended the Defense Department’s actions the day of the attack, specifically citing the response of military assets in the region. “Time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response” Panetta claimed. He continued by saying the Pentagon “spared no effort … to save American lives.” Panetta also cited arming weapons, aerial refueling assets, and accurate targeting information could have taken hours to gather and deploy.
McCain criticized the lack of U.S. military presence in the area and disputed Panetta’s testimony. “It was almost predictable” that “bad things were going to happen in Libya.”