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Presidential AWOL: where was Obama during the eight-hour-long Benghazi attacks?

Where was Obama during the Benghazi attacks?
Where was Obama during the Benghazi attacks?
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

On the morning of September 11, 2001, tragedy and atrocity struck in the form of a terrorist attack on American soil. Informed of the attack during the reading of a book somewhat ironically titled The Pet Goat, then-President George W. Bush took actions that created significant controversy: he brought the second-grade-class reading time to a gentle close before making his departure. Moving to an empty classroom to be briefed, President Bush immediately began planning retaliation for what he called a “series of deliberate and deadly terrorist attacks” in an address to the nation that same evening. And yet for years the approximately eight-minute time lapse was condemned by Democrats as proof of Bush’s incompetency and lack of caring. Sixty years prior, on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His wife, Eleanor, later described his demeanor as “deadly calm,” and other witnesses gave accounts of his barely contained fury as he immediately went about planning the American military response to the brutal kamikaze attack. It was the very next day Roosevelt gave his now-famous “a date which will live in infamy” speech. During the speech he also described the United States as an innocent who had been violated and directly referenced the Empire of Japan as the source of the deadly attack.

And yet, years later, on September 11, 2012, when the American embassy in Benghazi came under attack, with the murders of two former Navy SEALs, former USAF Sean Smith, and US Ambassador Chris Stevens, the American people had no President Bush immediately condemning the actions of the terrorists. Neither did we have a President Roosevelt silently going about planning our retaliation, then delivering a stirring speech denouncing the enemy’s violation of our shores. In fact, what we have is, quite literally, nothing. No idea where President Barack Obama was during the vicious, bloody eight-hour, two-pronged assault on our fellow Americans in Benghazi. No idea why he failed to order military assistance be rushed to their aid, when, according to Cross Border Authority, only the President is capable of ordering such actions. No idea what he was thinking when he made sure to get a good night’s sleep before boarding a jet to a Las Vegas fundraiser the following morning. No idea what he was thinking when he spent the weeks following the attack attempting to convince the American people the entire thing was borne of a “spontaneous” escalation of a protest against an anti-Muslim movie trailer. And no idea what he was thinking when it took him weeks to finally label the murderous assault terrorism – and he was the only playing catch-up at that point. Or, wait, perhaps we do know what the man was thinking. He was thinking about himself, the upcoming election, and his standing in the polls. If he could just sell a line of what amounted to nothing but absolute tripe long enough to win re-election, he was home-free. In a moment caught by an open mic, Obama told then-Russian-President Dmitry Medvedev to be patient until Obama won the re-election, because once he won, the constraints in his ability to help the Russians would fall away. “This is my last election. After my election,” Obama leaned in to tell him, “I’ll have more flexibility.” Medvedev promised to pass the message on to Vladimir Putin, who was next in line for office. Flexibility, indeed.

The Obama Benghazi Timeline

On the day of the Benghazi attacks, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, had a pre-scheduled meeting with President Obama at 5:00pm Washington, D.C., time. At 4:32pm local time, Panetta and Dempsey were at the White House awaiting the meeting when they were informed of the Benghazi attack for the first time. Panetta later testified that the meeting with the President lasted just thirty minutes and they did inform the President of the currently unfolding assault in Benghazi. He went on to explain it was also the last time they spoke to the President or the White House until after the assault ended hours later. When Panetta was asked whether anyone from the White House contacted them, even once, during the night’s events to inquire as to how things were going in Benghazi, he flatly replied, “No.”

We know where Obama was not: the situation room. The White House Situation Room was built in 1961 at John F. Kennedy’s request when the Bay of Pigs fiasco was attributed to a lack of real-time intel. The room is 5,525 square feet in size and contains an array of secure communications systems as well as both audio and video feeds built into the walls. The mission statement of the situation room is quite simple: to deliver current intel and real-time crisis support to the National Security Council (NSC) staff and National Security Advisor – and to the President of the United States. The NSC Watch Teams, of which there are five working in rotating shifts, are quite literally in place to run the situation room for the president. John F. Kennedy found it to be an invaluable source of intel during his time in office while also receiving briefs in the Oval Office; he liked to read incoming teletypes in the situation room in person, though. During Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson spent so much time in the room he left his Oval Office desk chair there. Bill Clinton used the room more frequently than almost any other president, with one exception: George W. Bush. Bush spent massive amounts of time keeping up on intel both domestic and nationally and was well known for his visits to the situation room just to see what was going on at any given time.

“I can’t watch this entire thing.” Barack Obama, according to Reggie Love, during an interview, August 2013

The presidents who have spent the least time, historically, in the situation room, include Nixon, Ford, and Obama. Nixon’s presidency needs no retelling, and Ford’s following him into office by appointment when Spiro Agnew resigned seems to have had just one string attached: pardon Tricky Dick. And he did. Ford’s great contribution to the situation room was making the White House cut a new door into the wall so his own First Family had a more direct path to the swimming pool. Obama has been absent before. The supposedly intense image of him awaiting news in the successful bin Laden raid met a bump in the road when Reggie Love, the president’s special assistant, whom Obama calls a close, personal friend, accidentally let it slip that he played “at least fifteen” hands of cards with the president during the raid. Love told a journalist of the night that Obama said, “I’m not going to be down there…I can’t watch this entire thing,” and so Love, Obama, and Pete Souza – the photographer for the night – left the room and played cards elsewhere while the SEALs of SEAL Team Six carried the mission out. To those who credit Obama with bin Laden’s death, a simple question can be posed: did guns take down the terrorist, or did the elite forces behind those guns take him down? Did Obama take down bin Laden, or did the SEALs take him down? Trying to credit Obama with bin Laden’s takedown is not unlike crediting a lone observer in a courtroom for the arrest of the accused – but I digress.

“Dude, this was like two years ago.” Tommy Vietor asking why Benghazi was still being discussed, May 1, 2014

During an interview with Bret Baier that aptly took place on May Day, 2014, former NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor plainly stated Obama was not in the situation room during Benghazi. Vietor, who had a rather cloyingly chummy relationship with Obama throughout his time with the WH, also admitted he had no idea where Obama was the night of September 11, 2012. When Baier asked Vietor if Obama was in the situation room the night in question, Vietor said, “No,” and when asked if Obama was in the situation room at any time during the eight-hour-long assault on Benghazi, Vietor reiterated his no. Vietor became characteristically snarky when pressed as to Obama’s whereabouts, saying “I don’t have a tracking device on him [Obama].” Also during the course of the interview, Vietor stated baldly the situation room wasn’t the only place intel could be given to Obama, and that the PDB – Presidential Daily Briefing – was carried out each day in the Oval Office.

The PDB is a Top Secret document compiled each morning for the President of the United States. Within its pages is intel warranting immediate attention and analysis of any sensitive situations currently going on. Intel comes from the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), NSA (National Security Agency), FBI (Federal Bureau of Intelligence) and any pertinent members of the intelligence community. It could easily be argued reviewing the PDB is the single most important part of the president’s day. A report released by the Government Accountability Institute (GAI) right before the Benghazi attacks stated Obama had missed more than half the PDB’s from the day he first took office to the summer of 2012. The White House was unable to dispute the GAI report due to the simple fact that their numbers are pulled directly from the White House presidential calendar recording of daily events.

“If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal.” Barack Obama, October 18, 2012

In the five days preceding Benghazi, Obama simply skipped the PDB. On the first of the five consecutive days he skipped, September 6, 2012, he delivered a speech to the Democratic National Convention, saying “al-Qaeda is on a path to defeat.” On the second day there is fighting at a Sufi shrine between locals and radical Islamists linked to the original 9-11 attacks; the fight takes place just outside Benghazi. By the third day, a Libyan defense militia member is warning State Department officials of unrest in the area and also announces that they do not support US presence and movements in Benghazi, including Ambassador Stevens’ upcoming visit. Obama is busy campaigning in Florida, dining at Gator’s Dockside in Orlando, and skips the daily intel briefing. On the fourth day, warnings of danger and threats continue to pour in from Libya that are specific to Benghazi, and during a campaign speech still in Florida, Obama tells the crowd “The most important thing I have to say is football starts today. So we intend to be finished to get home in time for kickoff.” The day before the attacks, September 10, 2012, he is still not attending the daily intel briefings, but does release a statement from the White House about 9-11 being Patriot’s Day. And then it is September 11, 2012, Patriot’s Day – and the warnings have continued to go unheeded, requests for additional security from Ambassador Stevens himself have been ignored, and blood is about to be shed.

Where was Obama during the Benghazi attacks? His whereabouts have become a glaring omission in a series of devastating, puerile, and unexplainably ludicrous events. There is a fairly straightforward solution: the White House diarist, and the White House photographer. The diarist has what should be an uncomplicated job: recording the minute-by-minute activities of the President of the United States. In the Outer Oval, right outside Obama’s doors, staff members keep a continuous log of what he does, right down to using the bathroom, which is noted as “evacuating.” Included in these staff members are his personal secretary and personal assistant – such as Reggie Love – and they are not restricted to the Outer Oval. The personal assistant’s job is made up of two tasks: seeing to Obama’s every need, big or small, and, also, keeping track of his whereabouts. Information gathered from a variety of sources each day is turned over to the White House diarist, who is a career National Archives employee. Every minute of every day is written down and archived as a historical record. So where was Obama? Ask the diarist.

The White House photographer is also on hand capturing a variety of presidential moments on a daily basis. The image of Obama appearing to show avid interest during the bin Laden raid – which was later said repeatedly to be quite literally a photo op – probably would never have been released if the raid had gone poorly. Most likely, an image of Obama appearing stern and ready for action during the Benghazi attacks probably exists – or did exist for a time, at least. Somewhere photos were taken of Obama during the bloody events of September 11, 2012, in Benghazi.

Why, some ask, does it even matter where Obama was during the attacks? Or, in the words of Hilary Clinton when discussing events leading to Benghazi, “What difference, at this point, what difference does it make?” The answer is really quite simple: chaos theory. In the words of Edward Lorenz, a pioneer in the field, chaos theory is “when the present determines the future." Basically, the theory studies how certain systems are incredibly sensitive to initial conditions, meaning just one change can have a noticeable effect on the outcome. Although it is incredibly hard to pin down those results, it being chaos, after all, basic logic can be applied. For example, if security had been increased as requested by those on the ground in Benghazi prior to the attack’s start, would the attack have ever happened? If the walls of the compound had been as tall and secured as the White House tried to claim they were (they were not), would the terrorists have been able to get over so easily? And if Obama had used his Cross Border Authority – power only the President of the United States has – to order military assistance to Benghazi, would our men still be alive? Would former SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty have been annihilated by an RPG on the rooftop of the CIA post seven hours after the fighting began?

The present determines the future. Or, in the case of Benghazi, the president determined the future. By failing to be present in the situation room, by failing to apparently be anywhere receiving real-time briefings from the embattled embassy, Obama put his own campaign needs and desires over the value of the lives of Americans under fire. We have four dead Americans, and he cannot account for his whereabouts when they were being murdered. Americans want accountability. We want the transparency he once promised, along with, of course, keeping our medical coverage if we like it and his saying he refused to spy on American citizens who were not suspected of crimes. How many lies can one man tell, and how many promises can he break, before America, as a whole, comes to Her feet demanding answers? Out of the chaos and tumult of deception and incompetence, one word alone should ring with the demand for truth, and with the blood of its fallen: Benghazi.

Where were you while our men lay dying, Mr. President?

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Related article outlining the events in Benghazi:

Coming up next: In-depth looks at more questions about Benghazi, including: Why was the U.S. the ‘last flag” in Benghazi? Why did the Obama Administration immediately cover-up the cause of the attack? Why were requests for additional security ignored in the days and weeks preceding the attack? Why was Stevens in Benghazi on the anniversary of 9-11? Why was the CIA in Benghazi? What is the talking-points email, and is it truly a smoking gun?

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Remember our fallen:

Former SEAL SCPO Tyrone Snowden Woods, 41: posthumous Congressional Gold Medal

Former SEAL PO1 Glen Anthony Doherty, 42: posthumous Congressional Gold Medal

Former USAF SSgt Sean Smith: posthumous Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service

US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens


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SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty

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