New details about the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans provide both an opportunity and a caution to House Republicans as they create a special committee to investigate the attacks and their aftermath.
The House Armed Services Committee last week released transcripts of previously secret interviews with nine military officers that shed new light on the military's actions before, during and after the attacks. Meanwhile, the government's case against Ahmed Abu Khattala, a Libyan militia leader captured in June and suspected of organizing the attacks, is expected to put to rest once and for all the Obama administration's phony claim that an obscure anti-Islam video was the cause.
Polls have shown that most Americans approve of the probe by the House's new special committee headed by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., in spite of the fact that the Benghazi attacks have been the subject of several previous investigations. But that vote of confidence isn't open-ended: The declassified interview transcripts, for example, pour cold water on the contention that there was a conspiracy to prevent a military rescue of the Americans under attack in Benghazi -- one of several accusations made against the Obama administration by congressional Republicans.
Gowdy would be well-advised to take care not to allow his panel's investigation to get bogged down in the details of theories such as that one, which are easily debunked once the facts come out. Such an approach would only help feed the Democrats' election-year narrative that Benghazi is another "phony scandal."
Some of the details are already public about how President Obama, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others in the administration failed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his three colleagues. The panel should flesh out the narrative and show how the administration tried to cover up the truth.
The story begins with launching a war of choice, without congressional approval, against a nation, Libya, where no vital U.S. interests were at stake. The war turned Libya into a failed state and a haven for Islamist extremists, including Abu Khattala's militia and Ansar al-Sharia, another group suspected in the attacks. It also unleashed Muammar Qadhafi's arsenal on northern Africa, fueling devastating conflicts across the region.
Then, when the toxic mix of jihadism, political instability and modern weaponry boiled over on Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, the administration insisted on blaming the video -- even going so far as to jail its maker on an unrelated probation violation. Administration emails show that the White House was determined to keep the focus off the role of Islamist extremism in the attacks -- and the administration's failure to deal adequately with that threat -- as Obama's re-election campaign hit its homestretch.
This is where opportunity comes in: Obama intended the capture of Khattala to be a slap in the face to critics of his handling of Benghazi. But in order to convict the suspected terrorist, the government will have to disprove the Obama/Clinton claim that the video prompted the attack.