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    Terrorist Attack in Benghazi

    by Former Representative Frank R. Wolf

    Posted on 2013-01-23

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    WOLF. Mr. Speaker, more than 4 months have passed since the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including our ambassador, injured many others, and destroyed two U.S. facilities. Yet, despite the months that have passed, we're hardly closer to bringing those responsible to justice than we were in the weeks immediately following the attack. Put bluntly, the lack of progress in identifying and hunting down the terrorists responsible is stunning.

    Consider the current state of the Obama administration's investigation and response to the attack: Four months later, the administration still cannot or will not name the terrorist groups responsible for the attacks or the names of these group leaders; Four months later, despite consulate video footage that many Members of Congress have seen and many eyewitnesses, not a single Benghazi terror suspect is in custody; Four months later, the FBI has had access to only one suspect, Ali Harzi, for just 3 hours, and the Tunisian Government kept the FBI team waiting for more than 5 weeks before finally granting access; Four months later, the administration still has not disclosed the serious connections between the groups behind the Benghazi attack and the leaders of the attack on the U.S. embassies in Cairo, Tunis, and Sana'a that same week of September 11; Four months later, following the release of the Pickering report on State Department failures leading up to the attack, not a single State Department employee has been fired and held responsible for their role in denying adequate security for the consulate in Benghazi; Four months later, despite Secretary Clinton's September 21 declaration when she said, ``What happened was a terrorist attack, and we will not rest until we have tracked down and brought to justice the terrorists who murdered four Americans,'' this administration seems to have not only rested, but to have moved on and apparently hopes that the Congress and the American people will too.

    Just today, the New York Times is reporting: Several Egyptian members of the squad of militants that lay bloody siege to an Algerian gas complex last week also took part in the deadly attack on the United States Mission in Libya in September.

    Mr. Speaker, 4 months later, this is an unacceptable state of affairs. Quite frankly, the Obama administration has failed. They have failed to prioritize this investigation. They have failed to bring the necessary pressure to bear on the Libyan, Tunisian, and Egyptian Governments. But more fundamentally, the administration has failed to respond to a terrorist attack appropriately, treating it as a law enforcement and diplomatic issue, rather than the security issue that it is.

    At its core, this is yet another reflection of President Obama's schizophrenic counterterrorism policy, the same administration that unapologetically rains down lethal drone attacks on some al Qaeda affiliate terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia and will not use other counterterrorism resources to identify, locate, and detain the terrorists involved in the death of our ambassador and others in Libya.

    This inconsistent policy may stem from the President's hasty campaign promise to shut down Guantanamo Bay in Gitmo and prematurely transfer detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. In doing so, the President effectively ended America's ability to detain and interrogate terrorists, depriving the FBI, the CIA, and other agencies of critical opportunities to obtain information on al Qaeda networks.

    Today, as the case of Benghazi suspect Ali Harzi has demonstrated, the United States is completely reliant on the cooperation of host countries to detain on our behalf and selectively allow access to suspects. As in the case of Harzi, as demonstrated, this approach is fraught with diplomatic roadblocks, costing critical time in getting information from suspects to track terrorist networks. Perhaps that is why President Obama so often opts to use lethal drone strikes to kill terrorists, knowing that the U.S. would be unable to get access to interrogate these terror suspects by working through host governments or because he no longer has a way to detain them in U.S. custody short of providing them the full privileges of an article III court.

    {time} 1350 In short, the President has tied his own hands, compromised U.S. national security and put the FBI in an impossible position. The FBI has been asked to treat the terrorist attack where four Americans died as if it's a law enforcement activity and has been put in a compromised and very difficult spot, and they have laid the groundwork for the administration's inept response in the wake of the terrorist attack in Benghazi.

    To make matters worse, the administration has not even seen any significant success from its diplomatic-focused response. When Tunisia refused to allow the FBI access to Harzi for more than 5 weeks, the administration took no public steps to use diplomatic tools, like U.S. foreign assistance, to pressure the Tunisians to make Harzi available. In fact, the FBI only gained access after Members of Congress threatened amendments to cut off or restrict Tunisia's foreign aid if they continued to obstruct the FBI investigation.

    I was among those Members of Congress along with Lindsey Graham and Senator McCain and others. In the interim, I urged the administration to act immediately to suspend foreign assistance if the Tunisian Government persisted in obstructing the investigation. On January 4, I received a tepid--and it was tepid--response from the Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Legislative and Public Affairs at USAID with a bland assurance that the Tunisian Government was cooperating. Was cooperating? Five weeks and the FBI had to wait? Then the FBI had 3 hours to talk to him, and we gave this Tunisian Government, Mr. Speaker, $320 million last year? Days later, Ali Harzi was released.

    Today, I again wrote USAID, expressing my disappointment that the administrator himself could not respond directly to a Member of Congress who serves on a committee of jurisdiction and, further, pointed out what should be obvious--that the Tunisian Government did not cooperate. The Tunisian Government never seriously thought the aid--precious taxpayer money--was in jeopardy. The Tunisian Government has not faced a single consequence for undermining U.S. national security. I submit my letter for the Record.

    Sadly, the failure to respond forcefully and appropriately to the Benghazi attack will undoubtedly encourage our enemies and make the world a more dangerous place for Americans working in hostile environments around the world. This failure to respond has endangered future Embassy staffs and Ambassadors--the Federal employees who serve our country at great risk.

    Rather than demonstrating that there will be no quarter, no respite, no safe haven for terrorists who threaten American officials abroad, the message the administration has sent is that there is no apparent consequence for these actions. This will only embolden our enemy to plan the next Benghazi, knowing that under this administration there is less consequence even for their involvement in such an attack.

    In this context, perhaps it is not surprising that the al Qaeda- affiliated terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia brazenly took pictures of the FBI agents interviewing Harzi and posted pictures on their Web sites; and when the Tunisian Government released Harzi, Ansar al- [[Page H254]] Sharia was there to welcome him and post a video of the celebration of his release. Again, these antagonistic actions have been met by silence from this administration.

    As Steve Hayes and Tom Joscelyn reported in The Weekly Standard this week: U.S. officials tell The Weekly Standard that the release of the photos was a clear attempt to intimidate the Americans and show that the FBI could not act with impunity.

    In its posting, Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia warned the Tunisian people that their government had allowed the FBI ``to begin investigating your sons under post-revolutionary protection.'' Consider that, in the same week of the Benghazi attack, our Embassies in Cairo, Tunis and Sana were also overrun in an increasingly apparent coordinated plot. In each case, the American flag was ripped down and burned, and a black al Qaeda flag was flown in its place. We are fortunate and blessed that none of these incidents resulted in a loss of life. They were, nonetheless, an attack on America by hostile groups.

    As the administration's own State Department Web site states: ``Any attack on an Embassy is considered an attack on the country it represents.'' Each Embassy and consulate that was overrun the week of September 11 represents, in its own way, a public attack on America, and in the months that have followed, this administration has demonstrated that there are no consequences for breaching our Embassies or for killing our personnel.

    I fear that the latest hostage-taking and killing of Americans and other Westerners in Algeria is a manifestation of a newfound confidence by our enemy in knowing that they may face no serious consequences from this administration for their murderous acts. It is telling that neither President Obama nor any others in his administration have made a public statement on the recent terrorist activities in Algeria, whereas the head of France and the head of England have spoken out over and over and over.

    All the while, the Arab Spring, which was fanned by this administration to much fanfare, has become an Arab Winter, and for many of the people in the Middle East and North Africa, this Arab Winter--a new safe haven for al Qaeda-affiliated groups--is forming, ideologically fueled by the release of terrorists and extremists from prisons and flush with weapons provided to anti-Qadhafi rebels last year.

    We are witnessing the potential formation of the next front in the war on terror, but we increasingly have an administration that no longer considers it a war worth fighting no matter the cost to American power or to the safety of our people abroad. While some have described the Obama doctrine as leading from behind, it is increasingly clear that the Obama doctrine means not leading at all. While most of the responsibility falls on the President and his administration, the Congress--the House and the Senate--and the media share some blame for failing to adequately investigate and bring attention to the many questions surrounding the administration's response to Benghazi.

    Aside from a handful of reporters who have stayed with this story and have continued to raise questions about the administration's words and deeds, I can't help but wonder: Where are the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the network news programs? Why in the wake of last week's deadly terrorist attack in Algeria are no reporters investigating the serious links between al Qaeda's affiliates in North Africa and the connection between the groups? Equally important, where has the Congress been in investigating both the circumstances of the attack and the administration's response over the last 4 months? Despite a handful of hearings, many in classified settings and done by very capable and good people, the American people have not been provided with anything close to an adequate answer to the following questions. It is not only important for the Congress to find out; it is important for the American people to find out. Have they been given answers to these questions? Secretary Panetta, Attorney General Holder and DNI Clapper still have not testified publicly before Congress as to what steps they took during the attack and in the days that followed.

    What were the President's activities during the 7-hour period of attack? Why wasn't the U.S. military deployed to assist? On the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in American history and after multiple attacks this year on U.S. and Western interests, why were U.S. military units and assets in the region not ready, alert, and in a position to respond? After all, two of the four people killed were murdered 7 hours after the fighting began.

    Why do we still not have the clear answers on the internal process that produced the inaccurate and, frankly, misleading talking points on which Ambassador Rice relied several days after the attack? Why were the testimonies of the U.S. personnel who were evacuated from Benghazi on September 12--eyewitnesses who knew there was never a demonstration outside the consulate--not immediately factored into the judgments of our intelligence community? Have the witnesses who were there on the scene, government employees, good people--all risking their lives--been called to come up and been given the opportunity to talk to Members on both sides of the aisle? The answer to date is ``no.'' Why hasn't Secretary Clinton been interviewed by the Pickering Commission? Was the White House aware of the FBI investigation of General Petraeus? If not, why not? To date, Congress has failed to get these answers, and it has not developed a coordinated or substantial investigative plan to fully explore this critical matter, which has a direct bearing on U.S. national security. In the absence of serious oversight, the media has moved on. In the absence of this, the administration, which has so much to account for to the American people, receives a carte blanche from the legislative branch to continue its questionable policies.

    These matters are too serious to be brushed aside. There are critical legislative decisions the next Congress will have to make based on answers to these questions; but, more importantly, the American people deserve the answers to these questions, including open hearings and an unclassified report.

    {time} 1400 Mr. Speaker, for these reasons I remain convinced that a House select committee on the terrorist attack in Benghazi is needed more than ever. That is why last week I introduced my resolution, H. Res. 36, with 20 of our colleagues joining as cosponsors.

    A select committee is essential to combine the myriad existing investigations into a single, comprehensive, and exhaustive review. I believe such a combined effort will yield even more information regarding the true nature of these terrorist attacks and the administration's response will not allow administration officials to offer up siloed accounts to various committees.

    The select committee I am proposing should draw from the existing congressional investigations by including the chairman and ranking member of each committee of jurisdiction--the Intelligence Committee, Mr. Rogers and Mr. Ruppersberger have done a great job; the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Royce and Mr. Engel do a great job; the Judiciary Committee, the same way; the Armed Services Committee; the Homeland Security Committee; the Oversight and Government Reform Committee; as well as five additional Republican Members appointed by the Speaker and two additional Democrats appointed by the minority leader so it is truly bipartisan.

    I appreciate the support I've received for this resolution from the original cosponsors, as well as the Heritage Foundation; former Senator from Tennessee, Fred Thompson, who was counsel on the Watergate Select Committee; former Ambassador John Bolton; and General Jerry Boykin, a former special operations officer and CIA operative who is widely respected in the intelligence community.

    Mr. Speaker and Members of this body, we owe it to the families of the victims and the American people to fully investigate this terrorist attack. I urge my colleagues to support my resolution to create a House select committee.

    I yield back the balance of my time.

    [[Page H255]] Congress of the United States, House of Representatives, January 23, 2013.

    Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator, Agency For International Development, Washington, DC.

    Dear Dr. Shah: Ms. Barbara Bennett, acting deputy assistant administrator for legislative and public affairs at USAID recently sent a response to my December 11, 2012 letter to you. I was disappointed you did not respond directly to a Member of Congress who serves on a committee of jurisdiction, especially given that my concern was budgetary in nature.

    Just days after I received your response, Tunisian authorities released Ali Harzi, a key suspect in the September 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate and annex in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, and resulted in the destruction of two U.S. facilities. This development is completely at odds with USAID's assurances in the response letter that ``. . . Tunisian authorities are cooperating with the Department [State] through normal law enforcement channels.'' Respectfully, I would also like to remind you that I chair the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations subcommittee which has jurisdiction over the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Consequently, while Ms. Bennett indicated that USAID ``could not provide further detail,'' I am well-versed on the investigation and can say with confidence that releasing Ali Harzi is an affront to U.S. national security and rule of law, given the evidence of his alleged involvement.

    Furthermore, your assertion that U.S. assistance is critical to ``Tunisia's successful democratic transition'' is misguided. Tunisia is not transitioning successfully. I have enclosed for your review a recent piece which ran in Bloomberg Businessweek, ``Revolution and Entropy,'' which paints a bleak picture of progress in Tunisia. A January 14 Reuters piece described large street protests in the capital city during which protestors chanted, ``Where is the constitution? Where is democracy?'' Democratic transition aside, the Tunisian government, as evidenced by this most recent development with Ali Harzi, is working at cross- purposes with U.S. national interests.

    During these tight budgetary times, when worthy programs face constraints and cuts, our national priorities should undergird our foreign assistance. The administration continues to claim that bringing the perpetrators to justice for the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate is a priority. And yet its actions are inconsistent with such sentiments, particularly in the case of Tunisia.

    We must send a clear and unequivocal message to the Tunisian government. U.S. aid must not be taken for granted. U.S. national security considerations are a cornerstone of our foreign policy. When those interests are undermined, there are consequences.

    I look forward to a personal response to this letter and any future correspondence. Best wishes.

    Sincerely, Frank R. Wolf, Member of Congress.

    ____ [From Bloomberg Businessweek, Jan. 14-20, 2013] Revolution and Entropy (By Norman Pearlstine and Tarek el-Tablawy) In Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, the transition to democracy is sputtering.

    Two years after he set himself on fire, Mohamed Bouazizi remains history's most famous fruit vendor. Like many enterprising Tunisians, Bouazizi, 26, was subject to constant fines of as much as 10 times his daily earnings as he tried to make a living on the streets of Sidi Bouzid. After his scale and cart were seized on Dec. 17, 2010, he doused himself with a liter of paint solvent while standing in front of the provincial governor's office. A flick of a lighter and . . .

    What then? Tunisia's revolution and the Arab Spring that followed created a list of dead, imprisoned, or exiled autocrats--including Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, and Tunisia's own Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. (Syria's Bashar Assad hangs on, brutally.) But hope and vengeance are very different from progress, as Ben Ali's successor as president, the physician and ex-opposition leader Moncef Marzouki, has discovered.

    On Dec. 17, 2012, Marzouki went to Sidi Bouzid to commemorate the man and the moment that began all the changes in the region, only to be greeted by angry chants of ``Leave! Leave!'' When he told the crowd he lacked a ``magic wand'' to cure Tunisia's ills, the response was a hailstorm of rocks and tomatoes. Marzouki had to be hustled into a car and sped away from the stage.

    ``Nothing has changed, and that's the sad reality,'' says Mohamad Amri, a close friend of the Bouazizi family. Unemployment is officially 18 percent, but a September study published by the Middle East Economic Association says about 50 percent of young Tunisians with higher education are without work. At 33, Amri is unemployed and relies on an allowance from his father to cover soaring food and living costs, ``I feel like I need to be optimistic, but in the end, I'm pessimistic.'' On Dec. 12, Fitch Ratings downgraded Tunisia's sovereign ratings, citing the slow transition to a free economy and ``large twin budget and current-account deficits.'' Standard & Poor's has downgraded the country to junk status, too. Meji Djelloul, a professor of Islamic history at Manouba University in Tunis, the capital, says 80 percent of his students are eager to leave after graduating. ``In 25 years of teaching I have never encountered such a sense of helplessness,'' he says.

    It need not be this bleak. The revolution lifted restraints on expression that had existed for decades, and Tunisians seem to agree that even without a functioning constitution, they feel more free--a significant accomplishment. The country has close social and economic ties to Europe, a highly educated populace, and infrastructure that's among the best in the Arab world, with good roads and nine commercial airports serving a country the size of Florida.

    Tunisia has the further comfort of knowing it's not alone. In its political and economic struggles, Egypt is Tunisia's larger, perhaps more troubled mirror. Both saw Islamists take top government positions while Salafis, who embrace the strictest, most puritanical interpretation of Islam, have pressed for an even greater role for religion in the reborn nations. (Egyptian secularists are angered by a constitution they say was forced upon them, while Tunisia's latest constitutional draft was stripped of references to sharia, or Islamic law.) Both countries also saw their economies contract sharply in reaction to change. Egypt's net international reserves tell almost 60 percent, to $15 billion, over the past two years. Tunisia's economy contracted 1.8 percent in 2011. Last year growth was likely 2.7 percent and could rise to 3.3 percent this year, says the International Monetary Fund. ``We are going through a complicated transition, not unlike what Eastern Europe went through,'' says Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem, a former professor of politics in Britain who returned to Tunisia after the revolution. ``We need to prove that it is possible to have democracy in the Arab world.'' Weaker, economies in Europe have hurt tourism and exports, two of Tunisia's chief sources of revenue. That's left officials appealing to the U.S., the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, for investment. So far Tunisia hasn't received the support it sought, let alone the aid it was promised. At its May 2011 summit in Deauville, France, the Group of Eight pledged more than $30 billion to assist new Arab governments. ``When we spoke about intentions, it was $30 billion,'' jokes Alaya Bettaieb, secretary of state to the minister of investment and international cooperation. ``When we spoke about action, it was $250 million'' that was delivered.

    Tunisia's transition from dictatorship to democracy would have been easier had the collapse of the Ben Ali regime not been so sudden. Amri, Bouazizi's friend, suggests the man who started it all didn't even know how flammable the paint thinner he poured on himself was, let-alone the impact of his act of martyrdom. Other protesters, in Tunisia and across the Arab world, decided to set themselves afire in the weeks and months that followed. Hernando de Soto, the Peruvian economist best known for his work seeking property rights for peasants, has studied the underclass in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere. He documented 164 deaths by self-immolation in the six months following Bouazizi's act. ``The ground was fertile socially, economically, and politically for this kind of statement,'' says Ali Bouazizi, a cousin who played a key role in the revolution by filming and uploading to his Facebook page a video of the protest after the fruit seller's death.

    The embers of unrest remain hot. Tunisia's first truly free elections in 2011 yielded a Constituent Assembly charged with drafting the country's new charter and also serving as its parliament. Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party whose name translates to Renaissance, won 41 percent of the seats and together with two smaller secular parties formed a ruling coalition.

    The constitution is still a source of great uncertainty, as are Ennahda's broader intentions. Critics on the right maintain that the party has stressed its commitment to Tunisia's secular tradition in public, while urging Salafis to be patient for the realization of their goals behind closed doors. Salafis, including Mouldi Mojahed, who heads the Salafi-controlled al-Asala Party, says Ennahda ``has backed away from its principles.'' Neither side has been pacified. Salafis have been blamed for the serial arson of stores selling alcohol as well as the September attack on the U.S. embassy amid outrage over a YouTube clip denigrating Islam's prophet. Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, an Official in the opposition Jumhuri, or Republican, Party says, ``The Islamists don't know how to govern,'' and the win by Ennahda in October 2011 was ``not very reassuring to the economic stakeholders in the country.'' Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has tried to walk the middle ground. ``The Tunisian people have their own identity, and they agreed on this identity,'' says Jebali in an interview, affirming the country's commitment to secularism. Jebali, who spent 10 years in solitary confinement while Ben Ali controlled the country, says the new constitution won't impose Islamic law and will respect women's rights. He and Ennahda have also pledged to support a market economy, if not a workers' paradise; he rages at those he suggests have riled up. labor unions and ``who live with the idea of the proletariat revolution, and who believe that the revolution in Tunisia was led by the proletariat.'' Sorting out how to improve the lives of ordinary Tunisians, regardless of their politics, [[Page H256]] is complicated by a lack of economic facts. At a conference organized by Utica, a group representing Tunisia's largest employers, De Soto, the economist, estimated that the black market economy is more than 10 times the size of all companies on the country's stock exchange. Others have suggested off- the-books trade represents as much as 30 percent of Tunisia's GDP. The divisions between the corporate and informal sectors run deeper than matters of accounting. Wided Bouchmaorii, Utica's president and head of one of Tunisia's largest business enterprises, says the informal economy condones violence. ``It is disastrous for legitimate businesses serving consumers,'' she says.

    Prime Minister Jebali acknowledges the size of the informal economy and continued problems with corruption. (The nation saw its corruption ranking, issued by Transparency International, slide from 59th in 2010 to 75th in 2012.) He pledges that Tunisia will do more to address these problems as democratic institutions take hold and the economy strengthens. In the meantime, he says priorities include addressing the ``heavy taxation of the formal economy'' and the inability of a ``young economy to absorb unemployed youth.'' For those who have been waiting, patience is running short. Habib Kasdalli set himself afire shortly after Bouazizi when a civil servant denied him government benefits for a mental disability. Seated in a Tunis hotel, Kasdalli describes his nervous condition as his burn-scarred hands twitch. When he pulls off a blue knit cap, his scalp is grotesquely scarred. ``I felt oppressed, and I felt hopelessness,'' Kasdalli says. The revolution offered a respite. Relief remains a long way off.


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