Ignoring U.S. Destabilization of Libya, GOP Benghazi Hearing Asks Clinton All the Wrong Questions

October 23, 2015


Melvin Goodman

former CIA and State Department analyst. He is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and director of the Center’s National Security Project. His latest book is National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism.

Former secretary of state and current Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton underwent a marathon day of testimony Thursday before the House Select Committee probing the 2012 attack in Libya, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Throughout the hearing, Clinton defended her record on Benghazi in the face of Republican criticism. Republicans say Clinton ignored pre-attack warnings and mishandled its aftermath, even though seven previous congressional probes have found no wrongdoing. Clinton handled Republican questions with a calm demeanor, and afterward panel chair Trey Gowdy, Republican congressmember of South Carolina, admitted the hearing failed to turn up anything new. Melvin Goodman, former CIA and State Department analyst, says the Benghazi hearing has ignored the real issue for Clinton to address: the U.S. bombing of Libya that destabilized the country and set the stage for the fatal 2012 attack. "What was learned was irrelevant," Goodman says. "What was relevant wasn’t discussed."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Former secretary of state, current Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton spent more than eight hours Thursday testifying before the House Select Committee probing the September 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Throughout the hearing, Clinton defended her record as secretary of state on Benghazi in the face of Republican criticism.

HILLARY CLINTON: You know, I would imagine I’ve thought more about what happened than all of you put together. I’ve lost more sleep than all of you put together. I have been racking my brain about what more could have been done or should have been done. And so, when I took responsibility, I took it as a challenge and an obligation to make sure, before I left the State Department, that what we could learn—as I’m sure my predecessors did after Beirut and after Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and after all of the other attacks on our facilities—I’m sure all of them, Republican and Democrat alike, especially where there was loss of American life, said, "OK, what must we do better?"

AMY GOODMAN: The panel was the eighth such committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks, and the hearings largely covered much of the same ground as previous proceedings. Clinton supporters have criticized the Republican-led effort as an attempt to damage the Democratic front-runner’s presidential campaign. In his opening statement, committee chair Republican Trey Gowdy addressed those charges.

REP. TREY GOWDY: Madam Secretary, I understand there are people, frankly, in both parties, who have suggested that this investigation is about you. Let me assure you it is not, and let me assure you why it is not. This investigation is about four people who were killed representing our country on foreign soil.

AMY GOODMAN: Elijah Cummings and other Democrats pushed back on Gowdy’s assertion, casting the continued investigation as politically motivated. Referencing an interview Gowdy did Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation, Cummings said Gowdy wasn’t being truthful when he said he had zero interest in investigating the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s emails other than for evaluating them for information. Gowdy and Cummings then had this tense exchange.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: You issued a subpoena to Sidney Blumenthal on May 19th, 2015, compelling him to appear for a deposition June 16, 2015. You issued this subpoena unilaterally, without giving the Select Committee members the opportunity to debate or vote on it. You sent two armed marshals to serve the subpoena on Mr. Blumenthal’s wife at their home without having ever sent him a request to participate voluntarily, which he would have done. Then, Mr. Chairman, you personally attended Mr. Blumenthal’s deposition. You personally asked him about the Clinton Foundation, and you personally directed your staff to ask questions about the Clinton Foundation, which they did more than 50 times. Now, these facts directly contradict the statements you made on national television—

REP. TREY GOWDY: No, that’s not—

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: —this past Sunday.

REP. TREY GOWDY: No, sir. With all due respect, they do not. We’re—we just heard email after email after email about Libya and Benghazi that Sidney Blumenthal sent to the secretary of state. I don’t care if he sent it by Morse code, carrier pigeon, smoke signals. The fact that he happened to send it by email is irrelevant. What is relevant is that he was sending information to the secretary of state. That is what’s relevant. Now, with respect to the subpoena, if he had bothered to answer the telephone calls of our committee, he wouldn’t have needed a subpoena.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Well, would the gentleman yield?

REP. TREY GOWDY: I’ll be happy to, but you need to make sure the entire record is correct, Mr. Cummings.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Yeah, and that’s exactly what I want to do.

REP. TREY GOWDY: Well, then go ahead.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: I’m about to tell you. I move that we put into the record the entire transcript of Sidney Blumenthal. If we’re going to release the emails, let’s do the transcript. That way the world can see it.

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration has been criticized for its handling of the aftermath of the Benghazi attack. The White House initially said the consulate was attacked by protesters denouncing a short American film insulting the Prophet Muhammad. But it later turned out the attack was carried out by well-armed militants. The militants first attacked the diplomatic mission, then a secret CIA annex. Republicans say Clinton ignored pre-attack warnings and mishandled its aftermath. While previous reports have been scathing over security failures and have led to firings at the State Department, none have accused Clinton or other top officials of wrongdoing.

Well, joining us for more is Melvin Goodman, former CIA and State Department analyst, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and director of the Center’s National Security Project. His latest book, National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mel Goodman. Can you start off by talking about the significance of the hearing yesterday, what was learned, what wasn’t learned, and what you think are the key questions to be asked that may have never been asked formally by any of these committees?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Thank you, Amy. What was learned was irrelevant. What was relevant wasn’t discussed. And it was those areas that concern me. Why was the CIA operating a base out of Benghazi? Why was the State Department operating a transitional mission facility, a TMF—it wasn’t a consulate—in Benghazi? Why was Ambassador Stevens, who was aware of the security situation, in Benghazi in the first place? So, none of these questions have been asked.

And remember, when the plane flew these survivors out of Benghazi to get them back to Tripoli, for every State Department official on that plane, there were five or six CIA employees. And my sources tell me that the CIA was there to buy back weapons that we had given to Gaddafi in the first place. So the question all of this begs—and this is where Hillary Clinton’s remarks did concern me—is that we created a disaster in Libya. It was the decision to conduct regime change, the decision to go after Gaddafi, which eventually led to his death. And remember, Hillary Clinton welcomed that news with the words "We came, we saw, he died."

Now, there is a link to what Putin is doing in Syria, because, remember, we had to tell the Russians that we had very limited objectives, a very limited mission in Benghazi, so that they would not veto the U.N. resolution. And then, essentially, Putin finds out that our mission really was to go after Gaddafi, creating this instability, this discontinuity, this chaos in Libya.

So what really needs to be discussed is, what is the role of military power in the making of foreign policy? Why does Hillary Clinton think that Libya is not a disaster? And why was Hillary Clinton pushing for the military role in Libya in the first place? These are important issues.

As far as the hearings were concerned, she testified off and on for nearly 11 hours. She handled herself extremely well, and she essentially exposed the fact that these were a group of Republican troglodytes doing their best to marginalize her and humiliate her. And they totally failed.

AMY GOODMAN: Mel Goodman, the justification at the time, that Gaddafi was going to commit a massacre in Benghazi. Can you take us back to—again, it was September 11th—another September 11th—2012. I think there is so little talked about, about what actually was happening there, that people don’t realize exactly what the context was.

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, in the wake of Gaddafi’s death, there was total chaos in Libya. And essentially, there was a civil war being waged between forces in the western part of the country, based around the capital, Tripoli, and forces in the eastern part of the country, based around Benghazi. And what we have learned, essentially, over the last 34 years of foreign policymaking, that when you use military power in areas that are not stable, you usually create a worse situation. Israel invades Lebanon in 1982, and the creation of Hezbollah takes place. We arm the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and this leads to groups like the Haqqani faction, the Hekmatyar group, and even al-Qaeda. We go into Iraq, there’s the Sunni Awakening. Now we’re dealing with the Islamic State. So we took a very bad situation, where there was factionalism in Libya, and made it much worse by removing the only person who seemed to hold it together, even though he did it with incredible violence and threat, but Gaddafi was holding that nation, to the extent it was a nation, holding it together. So, we were a major force and a major reason for the instability that took place. We should never have been in Benghazi. All of the other international institutions, both government and nongovernment, had pulled out of Benghazi.

So, what we need to know is why Stevens was there in the first place, what the CIA was doing, and why there was no—virtually no security around the diplomatic facility, which was just a transitional facility, and because it was a TMF, it wasn’t even eligible for an upgrade in security. It didn’t come up on the radar screen. And to blame her for that is ridiculous. But to know what her position was on why military force was a good idea is important, particularly since she is going to be the Democratic candidate—she established that last week in the debate. And there’s a very good chance she’ll be occupying the White House for four to eight years in the near term.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re speaking to Mel Goodman, who is a former CIA and State Department analyst, about the questions, the key questions, about U.S. presence in Libya, to begin with. The real lessons we can learn about what took place on September 11, 2012, don’t start and end on that day. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: "History Repeating," The Propellerheads, featuring the legendary Shirley Bassey, here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. In 2012, then-Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat from Ohio, spoke at a House committee hearing a month after the attack on the U.S. Consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi. He stated, quote, "The security situation did not happen overnight because of a decision made by someone [at] the State Department." He went on to criticize U.S. policy in Libya.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: We owe it to the diplomatic corps, who serves our nation, to start at the beginning. And that’s what I shall do. The security threats in Libya, including the unchecked extremist groups who are armed to the teeth, exist because our nation spurred on a civil war, destroying the security and stability of Libya. And, you know, no one defends Gaddafi. Libya was not in a meltdown before the war. In 2003, Gaddafi reconciled with the community of nations by giving up his nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. At the time, President Bush said Gaddafi’s actions made our country and our world safer.

Now, during the Arab Spring, uprisings across the Middle East occurred, and Gaddafi made ludicrous threats against Benghazi. Based on those verbal threats, we intervened—absent constitutional authority, I might add. We bombed Libya. We destroyed their army. We obliterated their police stations. Lacking any civil authority, armed brigades control security. Al-Qaeda expanded its presence. Weapons are everywhere. Thousands of shoulder-to-air missiles are on the loose. Our military intervention led to greater instability in Libya.

Many of us, Democrats and Republicans alike, made that argument to try to stop the war. It’s not surprising, given the inflated threat and the grandiose expectations inherent in our nation building in Libya, that the State Department was not able to adequately protect our diplomats from this predictable threat. It’s not surprising, and it’s also not acceptable. ...

We want to stop the attacks on our embassies? Let’s stop trying to overthrow governments. This should not be a partisan issue. Let’s avoid the hype. Let’s look at the real situation here. Interventions do not make us safer. They do not protect our nations They are themselves a threat to America.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ohio congressman, former Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich testifying in 2012. This week is the fourth anniversary of the death of Muammar Gaddafi. He died close to a year before the Benghazi attack. Our guest is Melvin Goodman, former CIA and State Department analyst, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, director of the Center’s National Security Project. Can you follow up on what Kucinich is saying and what you think are the critical lessons today that we have or have not learned, Mel Goodman?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, I think Kucinich was spot-on. And I would go back to 2003. When we invaded Iraq—under false pretenses, because it was a total corruption of the intelligence process—remember that Gaddafi had been in power for about three decades. Mubarak had been in power for about two or three decades. Libya was stable, Egypt was stable. Saddam Hussein had been in power for several decades, and there was a certain stability in Iraq. The important thing is, these countries were not national security problems for the United States.

Then we use military power in a totally unacceptable fashion in Iraq, and this created the current situation that we’re dealing with, in which you have total instability in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq. We now have a power we need to deal with: Iran—and I give high praise to John Kerry for the nuclear agreement with Iran, but we helped to make Iran such an important player by going to war in Afghanistan in an extended fashion, which removed Iran’s enemy on the east, and then going into Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein, Iran’s enemy on the west. So we’ve been the source of tremendous instability. In many ways, I think, if you look at the Middle East—and there’s an apocalyptic character to what we’re seeing in the Middle East—we are the major independent variable. And we do that because we use force.

And this belief in regime change—and sadly enough, it goes back to President Eisenhower in 1953, when we used American power in collusion, conspiratorial collusion, with the British, Operation Ajax, to overthrow the only real democratically elected government Iran has ever had. And, of course, Kennedy followed this up in Cuba with the Bay of Pigs, which the CIA IG called a "perfect failure." Then you jump forward or leap forward to Chile, again a democratically elected government, but it was socialist, so Nixon and Kissinger target that. Go to Reagan and Iran-contra.

So if you look at American history, you have the United States essentially trying to create an empire with a base structure that involves over 800 facilities all over the world. There’s no country that has more than a half-dozen facilities. And Britain and France can claim that in former colonial areas. Russia can claim a few facilities in former Soviet republics, plus Tartus in Syria. But it’s the United States that has this huge facility, a forward strategy to project power in order to destabilize situations when it becomes convenient for United States’ interest.

AMY GOODMAN: Mel Goodman—

MELVIN GOODMAN: And this is essentially wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: I daresay the Obama administration would say they intervened in Libya to prevent Gaddafi—this is before 2012—committing a massacre of the Libyan uprising, in the same way that they would say they have intervened in Syria for the same reason, to prevent Assad from killing his own people. Your response to both? And what would have been a peaceful alternative?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, in the case of Libya, I think there could be an alternative, because Gaddafi had negotiated with the United States in the past. In fact, the reference to Gaddafi giving up his nuclear weapons is extremely important, because that was done in very delicate, private negotiations. And the CIA played a major role in that, even though that’s not well known.

So, the essential element is that we should realize that the use of military power should always be the last resort, and, frankly, I think President Obama does understand that. I don’t think he’s been comfortable with the expansion of power. When the so-called surge happened in Afghanistan in 2009 and he went to West Point to give the important speech that he gave, he made it clear that he was putting the troops in, but it was temporary. In 18 months, he was going to start taking them out. And he knew he needed to get troops out of Iraq. He wanted to get all the troops out of Afghanistan. He led from behind, according to his aides, in Libya, so that was somewhat halfhearted. But the fact is, we used military power in these places, and now they’re less stable than they were before.

And to talk about nation building is particularly silly. We can’t rebuild Baltimore, so what are we going to do in Aleppo and Mosul and Benghazi and Tripoli? We have to be more balanced and more restrained with our use of power. And Hillary Clinton should have been forced to discuss that yesterday, but I don’t think that panel was interested in American national security. These were a bunch of "gotcha" questions that got this country nowhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Mel Goodman, you’re a former CIA and State Department analyst. Let’s talk about the role of the CIA, for example, in Libya. The CIA and the State Department, are they merging? And does that endanger diplomacy, when people in other countries think it’s the same thing?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, the problem, I think, is even greater than that. The merger that’s taking place, particularly under this director, John Brennan, is the merger between the CIA and the Pentagon. I left the CIA in the 1980s because of the politicization of intelligence under Bill Casey and Bob Gates. But what John Brennan has done is created the CIA as a paramilitary institution that is really doing the bidding of the Pentagon. He said in his confirmation hearings he was going to give up drone warfare, that that properly belonged in the Pentagon—if we should be doing it at all, which is another question. But not only has he not done that, we’ve expanded the use of the drones. Now he’s merging intelligence analysts and operatives, which will further politicize intelligence.

So what I worry about is the CIA that was created by Harry Truman to challenge the Pentagon, to challenge intelligence briefings by the Pentagon, to try to get an understanding of why we need arms control and disarmament—and there, the CIA and the State Department, and when we had an Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, which Bill Clinton got rid of, the CIA did some very good work. But if you look at the last 10 years, if you look at politicized intelligence, the phony case to go to war, people like Mike Morell, a deputy director, who was called the "Bob Gates of his generation" by Politico, and we certainly know what that means—the politicization of all the intelligence to invade Iraq, secret prisons, extraordinary renditions, torture and abuse. This is what needs to be addressed, but I think, frankly, President Obama has been intimidated by this process, intimidated by the very military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about in 1961.

AMY GOODMAN: Melvin Goodman, I want to thank you for being with us. The issues, some of them, you raise, we’re going to raise with our next guest. Melvin Goodman is former CIA and State Department analyst, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and director of the Center’s National Security Project. His latest book is National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism.

Coming up, we turn to the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights to talk about the refugee crisis in Europe, the dangers of mass surveillance, as well as his call for a full probe of the CIA’s secret prisons in Europe. Stay with us.

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