During questioning at Thursday’s Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, members learned from outgoing defense secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US military's joint chiefs of staff, that the Obama administration supported a plan to arm Syrian rebels. The committee focused on the deadly attack in Benghazi:
“How many more have to die before you recommend military action?” Mr. McCain asked Mr. Panetta on Thursday, noting that an estimated 60,000 Syrians had been killed in the fighting.
And did the Pentagon, Mr. McCain continued, support the recommendation by Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Petraeus “that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria? Did you support that?”
“We did,” Mr. Panetta said.
“You did support that,” Mr. McCain said.
“We did,” General Dempsey added.
The revelation showed the deep rift within the Obama administration over whether or not to aid the rebel forces against the Assad regime, when violence broke out in Syria last summer.
Senators John McCain (R – AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R – SC), both members of the armed services committee, have long advocated for the administration to arm the Syrian rebels to help overthrow the Bashar Assad regime.
“I believe there are ways to get weapons to the opposition without direct United States involvement,” McCain told The Hill last year. “The Iranians and the Russians are providing Bashar Assad with weapons. People that are being massacred deserve to have the ability to defend themselves.”
The Obama administration also toyed with the idea of arming rebel forces in Libya when Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi was in the midst of being toppled in 2011.
"I'm not ruling it out. But I'm also not ruling it in," Obama told NBC News in an interview Tuesday evening.
"It's fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could," Obama told ABC.
Gadhafi's forces had been held in abeyance by military strikes, the president said, and the administration was trying to gauge whether the Libyan leader's forces could be "sufficiently degraded" to the point where it was unnecessary to arm the rebels.
"But we're not taking anything off the table at this point," Obama said. "Our primary military goal is to protect civilian populations and to set up the no-fly zone. Our primary strategic goal is for Gadhafi to step down so that the Libyan people have an opportunity to live a decent life."
Lawmakers at the time cautioned that arming Libyan rebels could bring about other problems, however, citing al Qaeda factions had infiltrated Libyan opposition forces.:
"There are al Qaeda elements. But we need to pour it on, we need to stay behind the opposition forces, give them the military support just like we're doing now," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday night on CNN. "But when this is over and Gadhafi leaves, it would be a huge mistake not to help the Libyan people ... And if there are al Qaeda elements in that country, we will help the Libyan people take care of them."
Obama said in an interview with CBS that all of the Libyan dissidents with whom U.S. officials have met have been "fully vetted," but that that doesn't mean there might not be some elements within the faction opposed to U.S. interests.
Senator Rand Paul (R –KY) asked Hillary Clinton during her testimony about the Benghazi attack if she was aware about U.S. involvement in the procuring of weapons that were transferred, bought or sold to Turkey out of Libya.
CLINTON: To Turkey? I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody has ever raised that with me.
PAUL: It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons and what I’d like to know is the annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries, any countries, Turkey included?
CLINTON: Well, Senator, you’ll have to direct that question to the agency that ran the annex and I will see what information is available.
PAUL: You’re saying you don’t know.
CLINTON: I do not know. I don’t have any information on that.
Senator Paul told reporters on a teleconference call on Thursday that he believes the CIA run annex that was attacked in Benghazi back in September was complicit in “the selling of weapons and that the U.S. was involved in some way with the collecting or distributing [of weapons] in Turkey.”
And it’s going to the rebels and I think that’s wrong that when it’s official stated policy of President Obama’s government that we are not selling arms or giving arms. Technically, the Turks are doing it, but are we complicit with that? I think if they were honest, they are being complicit with it and it may have had something to do with the attack. That’s why I think we were distracted by this movie. Now I think we’re being distracted by whether it’s movie or terrorism, when the real question we should be asking is did it have anything to do with the transmitting of arms out of Libya into Turkish hands.
Senator Paul’s initial questioning about the issue was scoffed at by left wing critics. Paul responded to them saying:
I think there were some articles in the New York Times as well as the London Times, and so I’m a little bit appalled when the left comes forward and says this is a crazy conspiracy theory, because it’s been reported in mainstream newspapers.
In fact, not only has it been reported that the ship with arms had left from Libya, it was a Libyan ship, a week before the ambassador was killed. I read about this after the attack. I know where the ship was and, in fact, the captain they interviewed, he’s detailed what arms were on there.
He’s also detailed that there was a fight among some of the rebels on who was getting which arms. But it also listed grenade launchers as well as other significant weaponry. And I fully do think the annex there was involved somehow with this.
If you look at the answer from Clinton, her response was as if she never heard of the question. She’s not even keeping up with current event news if she’s never even heard of the question, but I still think the U.S. is involved in someway with the selling of weapons.
Senator Paul is not the first lawmaker to talk about the issue. In late January, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R – OH) discussed it with radio host Laura Ingraham.
“I’m somewhat familiar with the chatter about this and the fact that these arms were moving towards Turkey, but most what I know about this came from a classified source and I really can’t elaborate on it.”
Boehner is one of eight individuals in Congress who would know about such “classified” information. The other seven members who would have access to this information prior the Benghazi attack would be Rep. Mike Rogers (R – MI)--Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D – CA), Rep. Dutch Ruppersberg (D – MD)--Ranking Member House Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D – CA)--Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D – NV), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – KY), and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R – GA)--Ranking Member on the Select Committee on Intelligence
Senator Chambliss told Breitbart News on Thursday he knew nothing about the Libyan gun running issue that Senator Paul spoke of or that Speaker Boehner referenced.