Benghazi attack could have been prevented if US hadn't 'switched sides in the War on Terror'
- Citizens Committee on Benghazi claims the US government allowed arms to flow to al-Qaeda-linked militants who opposed Muammar Gaddafi
- Their rise to power, the group says, led to the Benghazi attack in 2012
- The group claims the strongman Gaddafi offered to abdicate his presidency, but the US refused to broker his peaceful exit
- The commission, part of the center-right Accuracy In Media group, concluded that the Benghazi attack was a failed kidnapping plot
- US Ambassador Chris Stevens was to be captured and traded for 'blind sheikh' Omar Abdel-Rahman, who hatched the 1993 WTC bombing plot
The Citizens Commission on Benghazi, a self-selected group of former top military officers, CIA insiders and think-tankers, declared Tuesday in Washington that a seven-month review of the deadly 2012 terrorist attack has determined that it could have been prevented – if the U.S. hadn't been helping to arm al-Qaeda militias throughout Libya a year earlier.
'The United States switched sides in the war on terror with what we did in Libya, knowingly facilitating the provision of weapons to known al-Qaeda militias and figures,' Clare Lopez, a member of the commission and a former CIA officer, told MailOnline.
She blamed the Obama administration for failing to stop half of a $1 billion United Arab Emirates arms shipment from reaching al-Qaeda-linked militants.
'Remember, these weapons that came into Benghazi were permitted to enter by our armed forces who were blockading the approaches from air and sea,' Lopez claimed. 'They were permitted to come in. ... [They] knew these weapons were coming in, and that was allowed..
'The intelligence community was part of that, the Department of State was part of that, and certainly that means that the top leadership of the United States, our national security leadership, and potentially Congress – if they were briefed on this – also knew about this.'
The weapons were intended for Gaddafi but allowed by the U.S. to flow to his Islamist opposition.
'The White House and senior Congressional members,' the group wrote in an interim report released Tuesday, 'deliberately and knowingly pursued a policy that provided material support to terrorist organizations in order to topple a ruler [Muammar Gaddafi] who had been working closely with the West actively to suppress al-Qaeda.'
'Some look at it as treason,' said Wayne Simmons, a former CIA officer who participated in the commission's research.
Retired Rear Admiral Chuck Kubic, another commission member, told reporters Tuesday that those weapons are now 'all in Syria.'
'Gaddafi wasn't a good guy, but he was being marginalized,' Kubic recalled. 'Gaddafi actually offered to abdicate' shortly after the beginning of a 2011 rebellion.
'But the U.S. ignored his calls for a truce,' the commission wrote, ultimately backing the horse that would later help kill a U.S. ambassador.
Kubic said that the effort at truce talks fell apart when the White House declined to let the Pentagon pursue it seriously.
'We had a leader who had won the Nobel Peace Prize,' Kubic said, 'but who was unwilling to give peace a chance for 72 hours.'
In March 2011, Kubic said, U.S. Army Africa Commander General Carter told NBC News that the U.S. military was not actively targeting Muammar Gaddafi. That, Kubic revealed, was a signal to the Libyan dictator that there was a chance for a deal.
Gaddafi responded by 'verifiably ... pull[ing] his forces back from key rebel-held cities such as Benghazi and Misrata.'
Gaddafi wanted only two conditions to step down: permission to keeo fighting al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the lifting of sactions against him, his family, and those loyal to him.
The Obama administration's unwillingness to help broker a peaceful exit for the Libyan strongman, 'led to extensive loss of life (including four Americans)' when al-Qaeda-linked militants attacked U.S. diplomatic facilities in the city of Benghazi,' the commission told reporters.
The White House and the National Security Staff did not immediately respond to questions about the group's findings.
'We don't claim to have all the answers here,' said Roger Aronoff, whose center-right group Accuracy in Media sponsored the group and its work.
'We hope you will, please, pursue this,' he told reporters. 'Check it out. Challenge us.'
The commission and AIM filed 85 document requests under the Freedom Of Information Act, hitting the Department of Defense, State Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency with demand after demand.
But most of its information has come from insiders with deep knowledge of the flow of weapons in Libya and elsewhere in the African Maghreb.
Admiral James 'Ace' Lyons told the group that he believes the raid on the Benghazi compound was intended as a kidnapping exercise, aimed at snatching U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and demanding a prisoner swap for the 'blind sheikh' Omar Abdel-Rahman.
Abdel-Rahman is serving a life sentence in federal prison for planning the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center garage in New York City. He also masterminded a plan, later foiled, to blow up the United Nations, both the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington Bridge and a federal building where the FBI had a base of operations.
A senior FBI source, Lyons said Tuesday, 'told me that was the plan.'
The attack, history shows, grew in intensity and resulted in the deaths of Stevens and three other U.S. personnel.
Lyons also said U.S. claims that it lacked the resources to mount a counterattack in time to save lives is false.
'I'm going to tell you that's not true,' he said. 'We had a 130-man unit of forces at Sigonella [AFB in Italy]. They were ready to go.'
'The flight time from Sigonella to Benghazi is roughly an hour.'
Some of the group's claims strain credibility, including the assertion that the Obama administration's early effort to blame the Benghazi attack on a protest against a crude anti-Muslim YouTube video 'appears to have been well-coordinated with U.S.Muslim Brotherhood organizations as well as Islamic state members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).'
Those groups, the commission noted, 'all joined in condemnation of the video, and, even more troubling, issued calls for restrictions on Americans’ free speech rights.'
But Simmons, the former CIA officer, criticized the Obama administration on the familiar refrain of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exclaiming in a Senate hearing that it mattered little why the Benghazi facilities were struck.
'They believed they were going to be saved, that they were going to be rescued, but they weren't,' Simmons said of the four Americans who died.
'I know who made the decision, in my heart of hearts, to leave our war fighters there and be blown up. And then to have one of the most powerful politicians in our country sit there and say, "What difference does it make?" – should be an alarm bell for all Americans.
'It haunts me,' Simmons said. 'I play that line over, and over, and over, and over in my mind.'
The group has called for a Select Congressional Committee to investigate the Benghazi episode. A total of 189 House members have signed on to a bill that would create the committee, which would be bipartisan and have sweeping powers to subpoena the executive branch.
House Speaker John Boehner, Lopez said Tuesday, 'he blocked it. One has to wonder if he and Congress have had some sort of briefing on what happened.'
Kubic insisted that Congress is unable to break logjams in the Obama administration and find out what happened in the days leading up to and following the Benghazi attack without a new committee.
'If they don't have strong subpoena power, if they don't have the ability to do long-term cross examination, it won't work,' he said.