Captain Phillips and Benghazi
In 2009, Somali pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship flying the American flag and took the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, for ransom. The United States Navy dispatched three warships, two helicopters, a surveillance drone, and parachuted in the famous Navy SEAL team 6 to rescue Phillips in a six-day feat portrayed in the newly released movie “Captain Phillips.” Anyone watching this real-life thriller will ask: Why wasn’t a similar rescue mounted at Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans were attacked on Sept. 11, 2012?
On day six of Phillips’ captivity at sea, Navy SEAL marksmen positioned on the fantail of the USS Bainbridge were given the go-ahead to shoot the three pirates holding Phillips, because one of them had an AK-47 pointed at Phillips’ back. That authorization came from President Barack Obama.
But where was the president on the night of Sept. 11, 2012? According to congressional testimony from administration officials, Obama stayed uninvolved. He was told about the attack at 5:15 p.m. during a routine meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. But the president left it up to others to decide what to do and never once in the ensuing hours asked for an update of the fate of the besieged Americans. That’s either a lie or a dereliction of duty.
Ambassador Stevens made two calls for help, as the firefight began. Former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty also called for military assistance. But no military response of any sort was attempted. Panetta later explained to Congress that there wasn’t time to get forces to Benghazi. How did he know there wasn’t time? No one could have known at 5 p.m. how long the fighting would last.
At a hearing earlier this year, Congressman Adam Kinsginger, a former Air Force pilot and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee suggested F-16 planes could have been dispatched from Aviano Air Base in Spain (a three hour flight) to buzz the consulate and disperse the attacking jihadists.
The most damning testimony, which backed up Kinsginger’s view, came from Gregory Hicks, who was deputy chief of mission in Libya.
On May 8, 2013, Hicks told Congress that if the U.S. had sent fighter jets after the first incident in what turned out to be an 8-hour deadly ordeal, it would have prevented the mortar attacks on the CIA annex that killed Americans
Instead, CNN news network got to Benghazi before military backup.
For over a year, members of Congress have tried to get to the truth about the failure to attempt a military rescue at Benghazi. Where did the order for the military to stand down originate? So far, the administration has stonewalled.
The other festering question is what Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state and Stevens’ boss, knew on the night of the attack and why she failed to protect him and the other Americans serving at the consulate.
In the movie, “Captain Phillips” is a hero. Perhaps not in real life, though. In fact, 11 crew members from the Maersk Alabama are suing, claiming Phillips needlessly exposed them to danger by piloting the ship too close to the Somali coastline.
But the heroism of Phillips’ rescuers is not disputed. Go see “Captain Phillips.” When the USS Bainbridge and the USS Halyburton appear on the horizon and Navy SEALS start parachuting from the sky, you’ll feel proud the Yanks have come to the rescue.
That’s the way it has always been, in the movies and in real life, except on Sept. 11 in Benghazi. Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods’ father, Charles Woods, told a Citizens Commission on Benghazi that “this is the first time in our history that the military hasn’t come to the rescue when called.”
Betsy McCaughey is a former Lt. governor of New York and the author of “Beating Obamacare.”