Benghazi Suspect Captured, Will Face Criminal Courts: How To Argue Against Benghazi Truthers

The U.S. military has finally apprehended a suspect in the Benghazi attacks of 2012, the Pentagon announced Tuesday. Islamist militant Ahmed Abu Khattala was captured by U.S. Special Operations forces near Benghazi on Sunday, in a secret raid carried out cooperatively by U.S. troops and the FBI, and is now in "a secure location outside Libya." Abu Khattala, who had already been charged with three felonies prior to his capture, is the first person arrested in connection with the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya two years ago, and faces life imprisonment or the death penalty if convicted when he faces the "full weight" of the justice system, as President Obama put it.

As this will almost certainly get everybody talking about Benghazi again (as if anyone ever stops), it seems like a good time for another entry in our continuing series on the most common arguments — and your counter-arguments — for all of the hot-button issues of the day. This week’s topic: How to argue against a Benghazi truther. (Because you know they just won't quit.)

Common Argument #1: The State Department told security forces to “stand down” when the attacks were underway.

Your Response: Fox News originally reported this, and has repeated it on 85 separate occasions. It’s wrong, and has been debunked many times by many people.

The claim here is that Lt. Col. Gibson, who commanded a small team of troops in Tripoli, was ordered to “stand down” and not travel to Benghazi to help combat the attackers during the assault. This allegation was made by Gregory Hicks, the former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, who told investigators back in 2013 that Gibson received a phone call "which said, you can't go now, you don't have the authority to go now."

But when Gibson was asked about this, he said that he was never given a “stand-down” order. He was pretty unequivocal about it, too:

Mrs. Roby: Do you agree that you and your team were ordered to ... “stand down?”

Colonel Gibson: Madam Chairman, I was not ordered to stand down. I was ordered to remain in place. “Stand down” implies that we cease all operations, cease all activities. We continued to support the team that was in Tripoli. We continued to maintain visibility of the events as they unfolded.

Gibson’s team was ordered to stay in Tripoli and keep providing medical support for victims returning from Benghazi. This was confirmed explicitly again by Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, in a separate congressional testimony.

Mass Tea Party - Wake Up America! on YouTube

"They weren't told to stand down," he said.

Common Argument #2: The administration knew the attack was coming and did nothing to prevent it.

Your Response: That's wrong. First of all, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the attack wasn’t planned very far in advance to begin with:

Intelligence suggests that the attack was not a highly coordinated plot, but was opportunistic ... Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video, suggesting that these and other terrorist groups could conduct similar attacks with little advance warning.

“As we learned in Benghazi, the tactical intelligence that can warn of an imminent threat is not always present,” the report concluded, adding that “there were no US military resources in position to intervene,” even if the attack was foreseen. Even the section of that report written solely by Republicans, who haven't exactly taken it easy on the White House re: Benghazi, aren't accusing Obama or anyone in the administration of having had foreknowledge of the attacks.

Common Argument #3: The Obama administration refused to call the Benghazi assault a “terrorist attack” until over a week after it happened.

Your Response: Well, President Obama did refer to it as a “an act of terror” the day after it happened. Here’s an excerpt of the speech he gave in the White House Rose Garden on September 12th.

The Obama White House on YouTube
No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.

That’s an indirect reference, sure — but doesn’t it make sense that the administration would want to determine with certainty that the incident was a terrorist attack before labeling it as such publicly?


Common Argument #4: The White House falsely claimed that the violence was the result of spontaneous protests in order to help Obama get reelected.

Your Response: Think about this for a second. You’re saying the White House knew Benghazi was a terrorist attack from day one, lied for a week and said it was the result of spontaneous demonstrations, then changed its stance a week later and said that it was a terrorist attack.

What kind of plan is that? Even if you assume the worst possible intentions on the part of Obama, how would lying about the attacks and then reversing course just one week later help his reelection? The conspiracy that you’re proposing took place doesn't even make conspiratorial sense.

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Common Argument #5: But the administration knew it was a terrorist attack immediately afterwards.

Your Response: First of all, sorting out what happened in Benghazi wasn’t just the job of the administration. It involved multiple disparate agencies within the government, and during the first few days after the attacks, they weren’t all in agreement with one another. And that’s understandable, given the flurry of misinformation, bad information, lack of information, and miscommunication that’s common in times of crisis.

For example:

  • The Director of National Intelligence says that in “the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo,” and that this assessment was communicated to “Executive Branch officials.”
  • On the other hand, a Defense Department official concluded immediately that it was a terrorist attack — yet he also said, in the same testimony, that this information was “coming in second and third hand, through unclassified” sources.
  • Meanwhile, closed-circuit video of the attack revealed that there was no protest outside the Benghazi compound — but the CIA didn’t see that footage until eight days after the attack.

Lastly, spontaneous demonstrations over an anti-Muslim video did break out in the Middle East immediately prior to the attack on the Benghazi consulate. And Westerners have been killed in the past due to anti-Islam media. Considering this, it wasn’t at all unreasonable to suggest, as a tentative hypothesis, that the attacks in Benghazi were the work of demonstrators protesting the racist “Innocence of Muslims" video.

Common Argument #6: The Benghazi coverup is worse than Watergate!

Your Response: People like to use the phrase “worse than Watergate” when a politician they don’t like does something that they don’t approve of (see here, here, here). That doesn’t make it an accurate comparison, though. Watergate and Benghazi have, umm, nothing in common. To recap:

  • Watergate centered around a U.S. president’s reelection committee breaking into the other party’s headquarters and then lying about it.
  • Benghazi centered around terrorists attacking a U.S. diplomatic compound and killing four people.

The only thing those two events have in common is that they involve someone entering a building they weren’t supposed to enter. And once again, there's no evidence that the Obama administration lied about the cause of the Benghazi attack (unlike Watergate, where evidence of the Nixon administration’s dishonesty was literally captured on tape).

Common Argument #7: Benghazi was engineered to coverup a secret arms sale by the from the CIA in Libya to Syrian rebels.

Your Response: This is Senator Rand Paul’s pet theory, and Paul himself admits that there’s no evidence to support it. Literally, he used the words “no evidence:”

I’ve actually always suspected that, although I have no evidence, that maybe we were facilitating arms leaving Libya going through Turkey into Syria.

When the chief proponent of a theory admits that there’s no compelling reason to believe it, that’s pretty good justification for ignoring that theory.

Glad we talked.