One of the many threads in the tapestry of Benghazi conspiracy theories is the contention that, faced with a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate there, the American military didn’t do what it could have to save lives. Specifically, that a “stand-down order” was issued from on high that prevented the use of military assets that could have saved the four Americans who died the night of Sept. 11, 2012.
But hours of transcribed interviews with nine military leaders, conducted by the House Armed Services and Oversight and Government Reform committees — and made public for the first time Wednesday night — have yielded some news. Namely, that this contention appears to be a bunch of hooey, according to a close examination by the Associated Press.
“The senior military officer who issued the instruction to ‘remain in place’ and the detachment leader who received it said it was the right decision and has been widely mischaracterized,” the report found. (More details about why that’s the case are laid out nicely in the AP’s report.)
The White House is pleased with the news, because it backs up the view that the military’s decision to remain in Tripoli and protect Embassy personnel there, rather than fly to Benghazi after all the Americans had already been evacuated, made a whole lot of sense. What’s more, it makes GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who has suggested Hillary Clinton personally gave this alleged conspiratorial “stand-down order,” look particularly silly. (As secretary of State at the time, Clinton wasn’t even in the chain of military command.)
But it isn’t just Issa and pundits on Fox News who’ve bolstered this theory. It’s also been promoted by serious-minded Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the somewhat newly minted select committee investigating Benghazi, along with the majority of Republicans serving on it.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who has discussed the “stand-down order” as if it were fact, is perhaps the most pronounced example of this. “We had proximity, we had capability, we had four individuals in Libya armed, ready to go, dressed, about to get into the car to go in the airport to go help their fellow countrymen who were dying and being killed and under attack in Benghazi, and they were told to stand down,” Chaffetz said over a year ago. “That’s as sickening and depressing and disgusting as anything I have seen. That is not the American way.”
Politifact rated that claim as patently false in May of 2013.
But it didn’t stop Gowdy, who has been praised by House Speaker John Boehner for his “zeal for the truth,” from alluding, albeit more cryptically, to the same unsupported points later that same month. “I think I’m asked about [Benghazi] because it kind of involves what we believe about our Republic,” he explained in an interview with the Daily Caller, “which is that we’re not gonna send anybody into harms way, under our flag without adequate protection, and if they get in trouble we are gonna go get ‘em. We’re gonna save ‘em. Or at least we’re gonna make a heck of an effort to do it. So Benghazi kinda undercuts that.”
And it didn’t stop Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, from suggesting to Hugh Hewitt that the military “had the opportunity” to take action, but didn’t. Nor did it discourage Republican Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois from suggesting in a press release that the military was up to something fishy.
“We all want to believe that our government would do everything to come to the aid of Americans under threat abroad,” said Roskam, before transitioning to why he couldn’t.
Another member of the Benghazi select committee, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, suggested that during the attack, there was little effort to fight back, according to The Columbus Dispatch. “Why weren’t we running to the sound of the guns?” he asked.
Never mind that a House Armed Services subcommittee report from several months earlier had found there was no way the U.S. military could have responded in time to save the four Americans killed in Benghazi. GOP Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama still delivered the subcommittee’s report — which, by the way, also found that no “stand-down order” was issued — with a hint of conspiracy. “We did a very thorough job,” she told the Montgomery Advertiser, “but we did leave the door open when we said this was an interim report and that if information surfaced that there were others we needed to talk to, we would.”
Asking whether these new military testimonies (which largely just confirm what’s been found previously) will change these Republicans’ rhetoric feels something akin to asking what it takes to end a conspiracy theory. A better conspiracy, perhaps?
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the state represented by Mike Pompeo.