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Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 4:56 p.m.

The Benghazi cover-up matters

Last Sept. 11, a terrorist attack left four Americans dead at the Benghazi, Libya, diplomatic mission. The next day, a State Department official wrote in an email, "The group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists." Days later, however, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice went on Sunday talk shows and blamed an anti-Islam video for the violence, even though others in her own department knew better.
The administration later claimed that Rice simply was following CIA talking points. But last week, The Weekly Standard and ABC released revised versions of the documents -- and they don't mention the video. Early versions of the talking points do mention Ansar Al-Shariah, however, even if Rice did not.
At a news conference Monday, President Barack Obama talked of a pledge he made the day after the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Obama said that he promised to the American people "that we would find out what happened, we would make sure that it did not happen again, and we would make sure that we held accountable those who had perpetrated this terrible crime."
Really? Eight months later, there have been no arrests, even though some of the perpetrators can be seen on camera. (The FBI waited until May 1 to release photographs of three people of interest.) The only guy Washington has put behind bars is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man who shot the video that did not spark the Benghazi violence, for violating conditions of his parole.
Last week, former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Libya Gregory Hicks told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the FBI had not interviewed him. That's not good. From Benghazi, Stevens had phoned Hicks in Tripoli to alert him of the attack. Hicks also testified under oath that he believes that the State Department demoted him because he complained about Rice's scapegoating the video.
Hicks was enraged because he believes that Rice's comments, which directly contradicted those of the Libyan president, hindered the FBI probe. Perhaps as an act of payback, the Libyan government kept FBI investigators in Tripoli for more than two weeks.
Obama did mention Accountability Review Board recommendations, which his administration is implementing so this sort of thing won't happen again. That's good, but the board predetermined not to fix responsibility on anyone higher than the assistant secretary level. So I'm not impressed.
To recap: No bad guys brought to justice, a snail's-pace FBI probe and not-too-high-up bureaucratic review. The public still hasn't heard a good reason for why Washington didn't even try to rush a military presence to Benghazi in time perhaps to save Doherty and Wood.
Some apologists have argued that the military could not have arrived in time, but Hicks' attorney, Victoria Toensing, observed, "When you're in the middle of an attack like that, you don't know when it's going to end."
Former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said on Fox News Channel: "We went into Benghazi under the assumption that somehow there was going to be a massacre in Benghazi. So we went there to protect the Libyan people. We couldn't go into Benghazi to protect our own Americans who were serving there?"
That's the question this administration does not want to answer.

Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is

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