On September 11, 2013, Charles Woods appeared on Fox News’s Hannity and read aloud four questions about Benghazi from a letter he’d sent to President Obama.
Woods, whose son, ex-SEAL Tyrone Woods, was one of four Americans killed in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, added: “What we want are not just answers. We also want the truth.”
President Obama has now written in reply to Woods’ letter. This marks the president’s first response to direct questions about Benghazi since May of this year when he answered one question at a press conference. That particular question concerned aftermath “talking points,” not the attack itself.
Charles Woods’ questions for the president are very different. Rather than address post-attack spin control or even pre-attack security – as most press and politicians are wont to do – Woods’ questions for the president concern the attack itself.
These questions, which Woods would discuss later in September before the House Oversight Committee, are:
Why did the president not give “cross-border authority” to rescue the 30 Americans that needed to be rescued?
Cross-border authority is an order only the president can give to enable U.S. forces to cross an international border in action.
Who made the decision to “stand down,” and when and why was that decision made?
Woods told the House committee that while there is disagreement over whether an order to “stand down” was issued, credible evidence suggests that his son Ty and Ty’s fellow CIA security contractors, after registering the distress signal from the US compound under attack, were ordered to “stand down” not once but three times. In Charles Woods’ telling, it was after the third “stand down” order that Ty and his team disobeyed orders and finally left the CIA Annex to go rescue Americans, including Amb. Christopher Stephens, under fire at the compound.
Is it true that General Ham was relieved from duty for refusing to follow the order not to rescue?
Woods related to Congress that a general has told him that Carter Ham, then AFRICOM commander, was relieved of duty in the middle of the Benghazi attack. Immediately after the distress signal was relayed to Ham, and Ham was then told to stand down, Ham’s words, according to this general, were “Screw it.” “And within moments,” Woods recounted before the committee, “General Ham was relieved of his duty by an inferior officer.” Woods continued: “Now, the spin that was given by the administration was that this was a `pre-scheduled rotation’ of generals. Well, I think it’s an insult to the intelligence of the American community to say that a general in the middle of a battle would be relieved because of a `pre-scheduled rotation’ and especially by an inferior officer.”
Woods went on: “We need to have that direct testimony by General Ham — and it needs to be public so that the public, so that voters, can [assess] the credibility of who is telling the truth.” Woods added that the State Department report on Benghazi, also known as the ARB report, contradicts this claim about Ham, reporting on p. 37 that there was no denial of support by anyone in Washington. All the more reason for Congress to resolve this discrepancy by calling General Ham to testify in public testimony, Woods maintains, along with other witnesses who were actually on the ground, including “Ty’s friends.”
Woods’ final question for the president was father to father:
If the president’s child had been in Benghazi, would the rescue attempt have been more aggressive?
On September 27, Obama answered Woods with a five-paragraph letter. Four of the paragraphs are devoted to presidential boilerplate: “prayers,” “challenges,” “courage,” “security,” “justice,” “commitment,” and “service.”
One paragraph pertains to Woods’ questions about Benghazi.
On that tragic day, I directed my national security team to do everything possible to respond to the attacks against our people and facilities in Benghazi. The United States Government considered a range of options and deployed additional military capabilities, but as our military leaders have said, the military forces needed to carry out the type of operation you describe were not close enough to have made a difference. Please know that my actions would have been the same if the attack had been against my own family. The sad truth is that attacks happened so rapidly that U.S. forces could not arrive in time to prevent the loss of our brave Americans.
Notice there are no answers to Woods’ very specific operational questions. Not one. In fact, the only question Obama addresses is Woods father-to-father “child” question, which Obama broadens into a “family” answer to assert that his “actions would have been the same” regardless.
We know from former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s testimony before the Senate in February that after briefing President Obama about Benghazi, Panetta never heard from the president again during the attack. It’s hard to imagine that a commander-in-chief with a teenage daughter in Benghazi wouldn’t have checked in at least once with his SecDef to find out whether she had been rescued yet. But that’s just conjecture.
We know for a fact, however, that President Obama’s other answers to Charles Woods are either hotly disputed, demonstrably false, or an illogical evasion.
“On that tragic day, I directed my national security team to do everything possible to respond to the attacks against our people and facilities in Benghazi.”
There is no evidence of such a presidential directive. Nor is there evidence it was carried out.
“The United States Government considered a range of options and deployed additional military capabilities”
But not during the attack. Not a single Pentagon asset was “in motion before the attack concluded,” as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) put it on questioning both Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, both of whom could only point to the aircraft that were dispatched to evacuate survivors after the attack.
“but as our military leaders have said, the military forces needed to carry out the type of operation you describe were not close enough to have made a difference.”
This remains one of Benghazi’s disputed points. Defense of the Obama line, though, includes such hard-to-believe statements as when Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey declared to the Senate that it could have taken up to 20 hours to get an F-16 from Aviano, Italy to Libya.
“Please know that my actions would have been the same if the attack had been against my own family.”
Hard to imagine, but impossible to know.
“The sad truth is that attacks happened so rapidly that U.S. forces could not arrive in time to prevent the loss of our brave Americans.”
However often we hear this line, it makes no sense. When the Benghazi compound came under attack on September 11, 2012 at around 5 PM Washington time, there was, of course, no projected end-time, nor could there have been. No one knew or could have known that the fighting would span roughly eight hours. Not a single Pentagon asset, and not a single NATO asset, however, was deployed by the Obama administration to rescue Americans as the attack unfolded.
Why not? We still don’t know.
President Obama’s letter to Charles Woods provides more answers–but not the truth.
Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character (St. Martin’s Press, May 28, 2013).