Leading from behind: Benghazi attack suspect in custody but off-limits to American investigators

Fox News reports that two suspected participants in the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya have been taken into custody.  One of them, a Tunisian named Ali Ani al Harzi, has been identified based on video recorded during the attack.

Unfortunately, al Harzi is in Tunisian custody after being detained at a Turkish airport, and “U.S. interrogators so far have not had access to him, much to the frustration of American authorities.”

Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who is vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sounds particularly frustrated: “This individual in the hands of Tunisians is a classic example of what happens when you have lack of policy for detention for interrogations.  Once the president in January of 2009 signed the executive order, saying we are going to shut down Guantanamo … there are no policies in place to take possession and interrogate him in a way to gain valuable information.”

Chambliss has been frustrated with the Administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack and its aftermath for a while now.  Here’s a Fox News interview from last week, in which he complains about the State Department’s refusal to turn over the emails that made it clear the Administration knew the attack was an organized terror action, not a “spontaneous video protest,” within hours of the incident:

“I don’t know what the White House’s problem has been through this whole thing,” Chambliss said.  “Here’s what really concerns me: you’ve got four Americans dead.  You’ve got an American ambassador, who is a very important person in any Administration, dead.  And you don’t have the President out there getting briefed on a regular basis, and you don’t have the President informing the public about what’s happened to four key Americans?”

Chambliss professed himself puzzled by the “pushback” from the White House and intelligence community, which has been working overtime to avoid giving straight answers about the attack.  This observation is even more poignant a week later, after the stunning revelation of the “stand down” orders which prevented all but a few heroically disobedient CIA assets in the area from coming to the Ambassador’s aid… orders which both the President and CIA leadership have denied giving.

For example, another tidbit of news delivered into today’s Fox News update concerns the two Predator drones orbiting the consulate during the attack.  Suspicions that one or both of these remote-controlled vehicles was armed, and could have intervened to assist the Ambassador and his heroic defenders, have been denied by unnamed “senior military sources”:

Meanwhile senior military sources tell Fox News the two Predator drones deployed over Benghazi the night of the attack were both unarmed. The first Predator was redirected from Darnah in eastern Libya, where Al Qaeda has active training camps that the U.S. military has been watching for some time, U.S. intelligence sources tell Fox News. It arrived in Benghazi about an hour after the attack began, suggesting the first hour of the attack was not fed back to officials in Washington.

That drone was running low on fuel, so a second Predator, also unarmed, was deployed from Sigonella, Italy, to provide back-up. It is not clear why the second drone left Sigonella unarmed after the attack had begun.

“While some may think that armed drones could have made a difference in Benghazi, that’s altogether unclear,” a senior defense official tells Fox News. “You need good intelligence to drive the use of armed drones. It’s not like you can just send Hellfire missiles into a relatively crowded area when you don’t know precisely where the enemy is.”

We’re only getting this important bit of information because one network, Fox News, has broken the story about the “stand-down” order.  And we’re getting it through back channels, from nameless sources, in response to the one network actively pursuing the story.  Why didn’t the President long ago address the nation and clearly discuss everything that happened on September 11, including the existence of the “stand down” order and its precise source?  The question answers itself, doesn’t it?


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