Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
A report issued Monday (PDF) by the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by Republicans, puts to rest many popular conspiracy theories about the attack on America's embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
In a rather amazing admission, the report concludes that no "stand down" order was ever given to military personnel as the attack was ongoing -- a key talking point for Republicans, Fox News and other rightwing media outlets.
"There was no 'stand down' order issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi," the report says. "However, because official reviews after the attack were not sufficiently comprehensive, there was confusion about the roles and responsibilities of these individuals."
Instead of a conspiracy to reshape the events to suit the political needs of President Barack Obama, as many conservatives have alleged, the report reveals there was no intelligence suggesting an attack was imminent. It also admits that Obama gave the Department of Defense a wide berth, letting the military handle the situation as its commanders saw fit.
Those commanders had to make a series of tough calls that night, and the House Armed Services Committee report says they opted to keep a team of special forces soldiers stationed at the embassy in Tripoli out of fear that there could be a follow-up attack there. This is what Fox News and rightwing talking heads would ultimately distort into a "stand down" order broadcast by the White House, based on the testimony of State Department whistleblower Gregory Hicks.
Hicks clashed with Army Lieutenant Col. S.E. Gibson, according to the report, who made the decision to divide his small contingent of soldiers between Tripoli and Benghazi. "He said his decision was based on consultation with two other officers and the three had 'about 90 years of collective Special Operations experience' between them," the report explains.
However, when Hicks testified to Congress in May, 2013, "he did not object during the hearing when the soldier's instructions were categorized as orders to 'stand down,'" the report adds. "This led some to conclude erroneously that inaction rather than an alternative warfighting posture was ordered for Lieutenant Colonel Gibson's four men."
Republicans have relied upon that erroneous belief to keep the Benghazi story alive since the Sept. 11, 2012 attack, using it as a political truncheon bludgeon Obama for allegedly orchestrating a cover-up of the events. Their theories have run the gamut, with most conservative conspiracy theorists concluding that this alleged cover-up was meant to protect Obama's reelection chances from the political fallout of a terrorist incident on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Even Robert Gates, the former defense chief appointed by President George W. Bush, criticized Republican scandal-making over Benghazi last May, calling their ideas of the military's capabilities "cartoonish." Gates said that special forces were hours away when the attack began, and even the notion of flying some jets overhead was far-fetched due to the threat of it being shot down. "The one thing our forces are noted for is planning and preparation before we send people in harm's way, and there just wasn't time," he told CBS News.
Ultimately, responsibility for the lax security in Benghazi lies with Republicans in Congress, who imposed significant cuts on embassy security budgets in the years leading up to the attack, and with the State Department, which did not divide its shrinking resources more carefully despite requests for more security in Benghazi.
Despite all the evidence debunking their claims, it seems likely that Republicans will continue talking up the attack in Benghazi, due at least in part to a painfully obvious fear of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions.
Just for fun, here's a long list of rightwing talkers who have over the past year and a half repeated the utterly bogus allegation that a "stand down" order came from the Obama Administration. We're not exactly hopefully that these folks will issue the necessary corrections, so their faux scandal will just have to make itself at home on this page. (For the record, Media Matters recorded at least 85 different primetime segments on Fox News that mentioned a "stand down" order -- and that total was as of last June.)
Here's the "breaking" report from Fox News:
Fox News contributor Peter Johnson Jr. claiming that Obama "sacrificed Americans":
And Sean Hannity sounding very certain:
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee jumped onboard too:
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) talking up some salacious Benghazi "rumors":
Shock jock Rush Limbaugh repeating gibberish from a rightwing blog:
Fox "News" personality Bret Baer stretching for controversy:
And finally, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) telling rightwing radio host Dana Loesch that Obama did it: