Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C,) today called for Congress to investigate last week’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, mostly because of a dispute about whether or not the acts that led to the death of four Americans were premeditated.
“The Obama Administration’s insistence that the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya resulted from a riot inspired by a film, rather than a planned and coordinated attack, defies common sense,” Graham said in a statement. “It is imperative that Congress conduct an investigation into this matter, as the two scenarios are vastly different in terms of scope and depth.”
U.S. officials have given conflicting statements on whether the attacks were a planned terrorist attack or the result of militants taking advantage of the chaos of a protest mob outside the consulate.
Making the Sunday morning talk show rounds, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice tied the violence to the dissemination of an anti-Muslim film that contains insulting images of the Prophet Muhammed.
“What sparked the recent violence was the airing on the Internet of a very hateful very offensive video that has offended many people around the world,” Rice said on Fox News Sunday.
While Rice also told the CBS program “Face the Nation” that the protests in Libya themselves did not appear “premeditated or preplanned,” she added that others joined in the violence with more hostile intentions.
“I think it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence,” Rice said. “Whether they were al-Qaida affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al-Qaida itself I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.”
But after being briefed Friday by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters that it would not be logical to think that the extent of the violence was the result of a random assortment of protesters.
“People don’t go to demonstrate and carry RPGs and automatic weapons,” McCain said.
Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf, the president of the Libya’s General National Congress, seemed to echo McCain in an appearance on “Face the Nation.”
“The way these perpetrators acted and moved, and their choosing the specific date for this so-called demonstration, this leaves us with no doubt that this was preplanned, predetermined,” he said.
How the events that led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues transpired could take some time to sort out, but Senators in both parties have expressed concern about diplomatic security at the facility.
“It is my belief, as stated by the Libyan president, that this was a coordinated attack by al-Qaeda or like-minded groups, and it points to severe lapses of security in a region where likely attacks can be anticipated,” Graham said Monday. “The bottom line is statements by the Obama Administration must be properly scrutinized, and that is the proper role of Congress.”
Two separate groups of Senators sent letters Friday afternoon seeking information about the protections in effect in Benghazi.
Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton questioning the effectiveness of host-country security at the perimeter of embassies and consulates.
“While we laud reports that many Libyan security staff bravely fought to protect U.S. personnel in Benghazi, the incident raises the broader question of the adequacy of indigenous security forces in providing perimeter security, particularly in conflict and transitional countries,” they wrote.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) sought a security audit from the State Department’s inspector general.
Aides to President Barack Obama told reporters traveling with the president to Ohio that he continued to follow the developments in the Middle East, even as he made campaign trips.
“We’re still learning about them now. Obviously, the president’s priority is on working with his team … to gather more information, to make sure that the diplomats serving overseas are safe. And that is his priority,” campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “And he can do that, fortunately, because of what’s provided on Air Force One and the accessibility of people while he’s out there campaigning as well, and that’s what he’ll continue to do.”