Politically active BYU students and professors continue to see controversy around the Benghazi situation, even after the long-awaited and extensive testimony of both Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that took place over the past two weeks.
Questions remain regarding the attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans on Sept. 11, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. While some feel that President Barack Obama, Clinton and Panetta and other officials have done their best to react appropriately, some are unsatisfied with the way they have handled the attack. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others have compared Benghazi to the Watergate scandal of Nixon’s presidency.
A variety of opinions and theories define the current Benghazi conversation at BYU. Graduate Sarah Gerard feels that the Obama administration has lost credibility because of the way it has handled the tragedy.
“We all know what happened,” Gerard said. “It was an election year, and they were doing their best to cover up a poor foreign policy.”
BYU Professor Benjamin Whisenant, worked as legislative correspondent for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, from 1998 to 2000, focusing specifically on international relations. He argued that there could have been other motivations for ambiguity in officials’ statements about what really happened in Benghazi and why.
“I think they could’ve been a lot more transparent,” Whisenant said. “And it’s hard to know what their motivations were for not being transparent. … It doesn’t have to be political in terms of President Obama being reelected.”
Whisenant explained that there may have been national security issues that have prevented officials from being completely open.
“When national security comes into play, it’s always hard to know for sure if there’s information that needs to be protected that might not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act or something along those lines,” he said.
Christian Carter, student research assistant in BYU’s political science department, shed light on the fact that the U.S. failed to provide proper security to an American ambassador in the Middle East on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.
“The fact that the Benghazi embassy, located in one of the more unstable states in the world, was not supported by sufficient security brings to question the State Department’s sense of responsibility for its own,” Carter said. “In short, the Obama administration, Secretary Clinton and the various undersecretaries have been caught with their hands tied behind their backs and are trying to say it’s no big deal.”
Carter said he believes it is difficult to place blame in this situation because it is hard to know exactly who was esponsible for disregarding security requests. In her House Committee appearance on Jan. 24, Clinton explained that she had not seen the requests herself.
“The specific security requests pertaining to Benghazi, you know, were handled by the security professionals in the department. I didn’t see those requests,” she said. “They didn’t come to me. I didn’t approve them. I didn’t deny them.”
Panetta revealed in his testimony on Feb. 7 that Obama was unreachable on the night of the attack and communicated in no way with the Secretary of Defense.
Madeleine Gleave, political science and economics double major, said she believes the administration has taken the necessary steps to deal with the aftermath of the attacks.
“I find it admirable and appropriate that Former Secretary Clinton and President Obama haven’t publicly blamed any of the lower-level administrative staff that were undoubtedly involved in the oversights,” Gleave said. “It displays real leadership. Lambasting senior officials over decisions they probably didn’t directly make is ineffective and distorts the issue.”
Christian Carter said he believes that more investigation is required to identify those who deserve blame.
“I feel that the media has the opportunity to do its own investigation of the tragedy; an investigation that goes beyond that of Congress,” he said. “Really the issue at stake is where the responsibility lies and to what extent it lies with certain individuals. I would appreciate hearing more from the media about what happened with certain security requests and perhaps who dropped the ball.”
Hannah Wheelwright, co-president of College Democrats at BYU, believes the situation has been blown out of proportion.
“I do not think what happened in Benghazi could or should be characterized as a scandal,” she said. “I think that the right’s extreme obsession with characterizing it as such has been detrimental. It distracts from substantive discussions of foreign policy, blurs understanding of the State Department and their role in foreign affairs, and politicizes a tragedy that should simply be mourned and then prevented as much as possible from ever happening again. Instead, we are still talking about this incident four months later as if it is another salacious sex scandal by a big-name celebrity.”
“I do not understand why we are continuing to look into the past instead of acknowledging mistakes, moving forward, and working toward bipartisan approaches to foreign policy,” Wheelwright said.
But others, like Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, are determined to find answers. Chaffetz, a BYU graduate, believes that the State Department is hiding Benghazi survivors. He told Breitbart News that he is trying to reach the other Americans who were present during the attacks to gain further insight on what happened, but he has been denied access to their names by government officials.
“My understanding is that we still have some people in the hospital. I’d like to visit with them and wish them nothing but the best, but the State Department has seen it unfit for me to know who those people are — or even how many there are,” Chaffetz told Breitbart.