When the American Consulate in Benghazi was attacked on Sept. 11, the story seemed pretty clear. Demonstrations in the capital, coinciding with the release of a poorly made video mocking the prophet Muhammad, had led to an outburst of violence that killed four Americans, including Libyan ambassador Chris Stevens.
However, soon after the attack, conflicting details began emerging about the events of that night. It was no longer a clear-cut story. Was the attack pre-planned? Did the shoddily made video have anything to do with the protests? Who was responsible for the apparent security failures that made the attack possible?
While details are still emerging and may never be fully known, what we do know is that the situation in Benghazi was tragic, embarrassing and most likely preventable. What we also know is that more than a few government agencies could have had a role in the prevention of the attack, and it is imperative to find out where those failures were. However, those failures indicate a tragedy, not a scandal.
This is not the first time an administrative failure to heed warnings and prepare for attack has resulted in tragedy. The same could be said for Sept. 11, 2001. That failure to heed warnings resulted in the death of 3,000 Americans on American soil. It took over a full year after the attacks for the 9/11 Commission to be formed and to release its report. Arguably, this was a necessary waiting period to see the complete picture of the attack and ensure that any pertinent sensitive information was no longer sensitive or classified.
It’s been almost two months since the attack, and the outcry for transparency and investigations has resulted in maelstrom. The biggest issue here is the demand for transparency in exactly what happened the night of Sept. 11 in Benghazi. In the war on terror, this country has overwhelmingly been untroubled by lack of transparency in dealing with terrorism. We’ve allowed torture of suspected terrorists, and we’ve watched detained suspected terrorists denied their rights and the raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, without asking for transparency. When it comes to national security, there has been an unwritten policy of “keep us safe and don’t worry about telling us the gory details of how that’s accomplished.”
That is, until the Benghazi attack. In the weeks following, there were calls for an immediate investigation with the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa (R-CA), releasing hundreds of documents with sensitive information that didn’t have personal information redacted. These documents revealed the personal information of numerous Libyans on the ground who were working for the U.S., not only exposing them to personal danger but also likely permanently severing their ties to the U.S.
Benghazi was a tragedy — an avoidable tragedy, but a tragedy nevertheless. The sheer scope of all of those involved is daunting, and getting a clear picture of exactly what happened is a huge undertaking. There absolutely should be an investigation to find out exactly where the failures were that led to the attack, but to call it a scandal or a cover-up is a disservice to those who lost their lives. The demand for immediate transparency has likely damaged sensitive intelligence operations in Libya and put other lives at risk.
After losing four Americans in Libya, the impulse to turn this into a scandal needs to be curbed to avoid causing another tragedy.
Brittany Sharkey is a third-year law student from Oceanside, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @brittanysharkey.