Monday, December 29, 2014

13 Hours in Benghazi

Truth is in short supply these days.

The entire truth about why American Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of September 11-12, 2012, for instance, may never be known - especially the part about decisions made in the White House as events unfolded.  But if you want to know exactly what happened on the ground that night, 13 Hours in Benghazi is a book you need to read. 

Mitchell Zuckoff, with the help of five of the men who defended the U.S. State Department Special Mission grounds and the nearby CIA facility that night, has put together an almost minute-by-minute account of what happened there.  Three of the book’s contributors allow their real names to be used: John “Tig” Tiegen, Kris “Tanto” Paronto, and Mark “Oz” Geist.  Two others contribute their stories under the cover of pseudonyms: Dave “D.B.” Benton and Jack Silva.  All five of the men worked for Global Response Staff and were in Benghazi as guards for the CIA’s secret facility there.  The five lost two other comrades to mortar attacks sustained during the night’s fighting: Tyrone Woods and Glenn Doherty. 

Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens
Their story is both tragic and heroic.  Against staggering odds, these men fought a battle in which they could never be certain which Libyan militiamen were the enemy and which were there to help them.  Often they suspected that even the Libyan militia officers in charge of forces coming to their aid were playing both sides simultaneously in an effort to survive the night themselves.  With a sense of relief and gratitude, they tell of Libyans who, on their own initiative, decided to defend the Americans and help rescue those still trapped on Mission grounds.  It was too late to save Ambassador Christopher Stevens and computer expert Sean Smith, but through their combined efforts about a dozen other Americans were able to escape the city with the loss of only two more lives. 

Certainly, things could have gone much worse for the Americans.  But, according to the men on the ground, in reality, things should have gone better than they did.  The five all agree that a twenty-minute delay, during which their team leader, a man referred to in the book only as “Bob,” talked on the phone and refused to let them leave the CIA compound to begin their rescue effort, likely cost Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith their lives. 

As it is, their story reads like thriller fiction, and Zuckoff presents it in that style.  None of the men involved seem particularly concerned about the politics of their situation other than in how political indecision may have contributed to the delay of the start of their rescue mission.  They seem as equally unconcerned about what appears to many to be a White House orchestrated attempt to keep the truth from the American public by blaming an offensive YouTube video for inciting the attack.  Readers seeking those bits of truth will have to find it in another book.  13 Hours in Benghazi will tell you what happened in Benghazi that night – but not why it happened.

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