Hours after the Boston Marathon bombings but before authorities identified suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, President Barack Obama purposefully addressed the nation. “We will find out who did this. We’ll find out why they did this,” the president pledged. “Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice.”
Days later, there’s reason to wonder how zealously the administration will work to uncover everything that needs to be known.
The day after the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi, Libya, attacks, which left four Americans — Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty — dead, Obama made a similar statement. “Make no mistake,” the president said. “We will work with the Libyan government to bring justice to the killers who attacked our people.”
More than seven months later, there have been no indictments and no arrests. According to a House Republican Conference report on the Benghazi attacks released Tuesday, the FBI investigation into the attacks has yielded “very little progress.” The GOP leaders questioned why the administration chose to put the FBI in charge of the investigation when the FBI team did not have access to the Benghazi crime scene for three weeks. You might think that the administration didn’t want quick answers.
Washington ordered criminal investigations after the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and the 2000 attack on the Navy destroyer Cole. The GOP leaders observed at the time that those probes did not deliver the full weight of justice.
The Obama administration is one that clings to the fiction that the 2009 Fort Hood, Texas, shootings, which left 13 dead, were not a terrorist attack but “workplace violence.”
After Benghazi, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on the Sunday TV talk shows to blame the violence on an anti-Islam video, which allegedly spurred a protest that then was “hijacked” by armed extremists, when the administration clearly knew better.
I’m not blaming the Obama administration for the attack in Boston or the one in Benghazi. Terrorists are responsible for the carnage. I blame the administration for not acting decisively after Benghazi, as I hope for a better response after Boston.
I do understand why the president hesitated before calling the Boston bombings an “act of terrorism.” I believe that authorities are right not to charge surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, as an enemy combatant; he is a U.S. citizen.
I do blame the administration, however, for not making sure that authorities had the opportunity to learn as much as possible about the Tsarnaevs’ plans. The Associated Press reported that federal investigators were surprised when a federal judge and prosecutor entered Dzhokhar’s hospital room Monday and read him his Miranda rights. (A public safety exception allowed authorities to delay administering Miranda rights for 48 hours in order to gain intelligence.) Tsarnaev immediately stopped cooperating.
No surprise there. In 2009, would-be underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, told the FBI he was from al-Qaida in Yemen, until agents read him his Miranda rights. Then he, too, clammed up.
We know that there was bureaucratic bungling. Having been warned by the Russians, the CIA and the FBI placed the elder brother, Tamerlan, 26, on separate terrorist watch lists — and nothing happened. The Department of Homeland Security later learned Tamerlan went to Russia, but it didn’t do anything about it.
In the wake of the Boston attacks that left Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and Sean Collier dead, news organizations are committed to uncovering everything that went wrong. That is as it should be. After the Benghazi attack, however, many in the media dismissed GOP criticism of the administration’s cover-up as partisan. It was partisan, but that doesn’t mean the criticism was wrong.
Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org