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Pickering Apart Benghazi

The testimony of three State Department whistle blowers raises fours issues regarding Benghazi:

(1)    Who pushed the notion that a YouTube video rather than premeditated terrorism was the cause of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi? Was this simply State Department and White House spin or, even worse, is it possible that Secretary of State Clinton was so insulated in a bubble that she did not understand the threat posed by Islamist extremism?

(2)    Who turned down the consulate’s request for additional security?

(3)    Would the U.S. military have had time to respond had they been called at the earliest opportunity?

(4)    Who ordered the State Department to circle its wagons and suggested to employees that they not speak with congressional investigators? Such actions suggest fear of the truth rather than a desire to determine what went wrong.

Secretary of State Clinton appointed veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering to chair an Accountability Review Board to investigate just what went wrong in Benghazi. At the time of Pickering’s appointment, the Washington Post explained:

The inquiry announced by Clinton will be carried out by an independent four-member panel chaired by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering. The panel, required by law, will look at whether security procedures were adequate at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and make recommendations to the secretary of state. Pickering was once the boss of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed in the Benghazi attack last week, along with another diplomat and two security personnel.

Many journalists correctly described Pickering as a “veteran diplomat,” and commentators described him as “highly-regarded.” That his name now arises in the context of a cover-up, however, should not surprise: Pickering is also one of the most agenda-driven and political former ambassadors.

  • Pickering was at the forefront of lobbying for Chuck Hagel.
  • Pickering serves on the board of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) but, when confronted by reporter Eli Lake about NIAC’s activities, Pickering dissembled.
  • Pickering has never been one to allow facts to get in the way of political argument. For example, when castigating supposed U.S. disrespect for the Islamic Republic, he has written that Iranians bristle at the term “carrots and sticks,” even though the official Iranian press has used the same exact phrase.
  • Pickering has a curious sense of what terrorism is. In July 2009, he met with Hamas representatives in Lebanon.

In short, Pickering has never sought to be a measured judge; he has always placed himself at the forefront of policy advocacy. Rather than be a neutral observer, he is deeply enmeshed in a policy agenda which perhaps he sees fit to protect, even if it comes at the expense of full transparency or accountability. That questions are now being raised by witnesses about the breadth of Pickering’s investigation given attempts by the State Department to prevent witness testimony should not surprise. Perhaps it is time for a truly independent counsel to look into Benghazi, not an in-house investigation led by someone whose instincts might be to protect the culture from which he emerged.



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