Imagine for a moment that you’re the subject of an investigation, the results of which will have enormous ramifications both at home and abroad.
Now imagine being in a position where you can select the investigative team and that team’s staff. You can put your subordinates in a position to evaluate the performance of their supervisors, colleagues and friends. Interviews are conducted, but not transcribed. And after 10 weeks, the investigation is over and no one loses their job.
Can anyone credibly call that type of an investigation a truly independent and objective one?
This isn’t a fictitious scenario – it happened.
One year after terrorists attacked and murdered U.S. personnel in Benghazi, Libya, there are still important questions that have yet to be asked and answered about the staggeringly vulnerable state of the U.S. compound and the overall purpose of our presence in Benghazi.
The American people were promised and expected answers from the Benghazi Accountability Review Board (ARB), unfortunately, they were instead presented with a predictably pre-determined outcome designed to create the appearance of accountability without having to go through the bother of actually holding anyone accountable.
Eric Nordstrom, the former Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli testified before a Congressional committee in May that “it [the ARB] stops short of the very people that need to be asked those questions. And that’s the Under Secretary of Management [Patrick Kennedy] and above…Ambassador Pickering said, he has decided to fix responsibility on the Assistant Secretary level and below…”
Documents and testimony point to Kennedy as a central figure in the management of the Benghazi compound but his role was largely bypassed by the ARB report. Gregory Hicks, the former Deputy Chief of Mission at Embassy Tripoli told Congress “certainly the fact that Under Secretary Kennedy required a daily report of the personnel in country and who personally approved every official American who went to Tripoli or Benghazi…would suggest some responsibility about security levels within the country lies on his desk…”
Essentially, the ARB is an accountability review of mid-level personnel and by exempting and thereby exonerating senior-level officials from this review such as Kennedy, the ARB as Nordstrom testified, sent the message that “if you are above a certain level, no matter what your decision is, no one is going to question it. And that is my concern with the ARB.”
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform reportedly “reviewed numerous documents” that reveal the role of a senior official who “was involved in discussions about the U.S. presence in Benghazi and security resources deployed in Libya…”
That official was Elizabeth Dibble is the second-most senior official in the U.S. Department of STATE Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs – a bureau that was cited by the ARB for “systemic leadership and management deficiencies” – and was only interviewed one time, in a group setting for all of 90 minutes.
Does that sounds like the “full and accurate accounting wherever that leads” Secretary Clinton promised the American people last October?
Admiral Mullen has said that Dibble “never really got up on the scope, per se, in terms of visibility, in terms of responsibility, what she did or did not do, from my perspective.”
That sounds reasonable, assuming that determination was based on evidence.
However, the State Department is refusing to turn over that documents and materials that were the basis of the ARB’s findings to Congress so once again, the American people are being asked to just take the Administration’s word and move on.
What’s troubling and somewhat telling is that when he was asked if he recalled reviewing any documents about Dibble, Admiral Mullen responded, “I don’t, I don’t.”
Raymond Maxwell was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Maghreb Affairs and the only official in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs that was highlighted by the ARB. Yet when asked if the documentary evidence about Maxwell’s role was reviewed and the conclusions made by the ARB supported by the paper trail, Admiral Mullen responded, “I just don’t recall.”
In the wake of the ARB report, four officials were put on administrative leave with full pay and benefits, yet the ARB never questioned these four officials or their supervisors about their actions. Instead, these four officials were made the face of the Administration’s public relations effort to demonstrate accountability.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney characterized it as “actions that demonstrate accountability as being upheld…” Eight months after being placed on administrative leave by Secretary Clinton, Secretary John Kerry reinstated them.
What was hailed by President Barack Obama as a review board that “investigated every element of this” has yielded more questions than answers. To date, no State Department official has lost their job and the four officials cited in the ARB report were never questioned and have been reinstated.
Kurt Bardella is President and CEO of Endeavor Strategic Communications and is a former Senior Advisor to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform