New, Previously Secret Map of Military Assets Restarts #Benghazi Scandal (for a Few Seconds)

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 12 2014 4:38 PM

New, Previously Secret Map of Military Assets Restarts #Benghazi Scandal (for a Few Seconds)

It can be tricky to keep the strains of the #Benghazi scandal separated, or remember which one is an outrage at any given moment. Currently, the strain doing the most political damage to the Democrats is "where was Hillary?" Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes start their new biography of the former secretary of state, HRC, with a scene of Clinton watching in horror as a consulate comes under attack. In what used to be called an M. Night Shyamalan twist (before people stopped liking his movies), the authors reveal that Clinton was actually watching an attack in Peshawar, two years before the attack in Benghazi. Why wasn't she ready? The question sits awkardly on the page.

An offshoot of the "where was Hillary?" question—one that's far more unsettling—is "why wasn't there backup?" That question gets amplified (sometimes) by angry relatives of the four Americans killed in Benghazi, and (more often) by Republicans furious that Tyrone Woods and his compatriots were left to fend for themselves. What could have been done? 

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That's the focus of the new release from Judicial Watch, the FOIA-happy conservative watchdog group that has been publishing anything it can get about Benghazi. Today's find, just now circulating on the right, is a Navy map that proves (according to JW) that the "U.S. military had a multitude of forces in the region surrounding Libya when terrorists attacked the Special Mission in Benghazi and murdered four Americans."

That's not what the Navy says in its summary of the map. It pegs the locations of surface vessels and says that no ship was close enough to respond effectively.

ENTERPRISE was approximately 3350 nautical miles from Benghazi. Assuming a 20 knot transit speed and no Suez Canal delays, the transit would take approximately 168 hours or seven days. EISENHOWER would require additional transit time from its position in the Arabian Gulf. USS IOWA JIMA (LHD 7) was the closest large amphibious ship, which was underway in the Gulf of Oman.

So where do we get the claim that the military could have responded, and didn't? From retired Air Force Lt. Col. Randall R. Schmidt, who filed the FOIA, got it, shared it with JW, then explained that "destroyers could have responded to the attack" but the DOD has denied his request for info on Air Force assets that day. All we know, we know from then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: Armed UAVs couldn't be deployed in Benghazi for 9 to 12 hours after the attacks started. The failure to respond was preordained, not concocted on the day. The congressional investigation cited by JW in this very same report says the same.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.