The inquiry on the Benghazi killing took place 10 days ago. But while it lasted, it had all the drama and tension of a gripping legal sitcom. The difference was that it was covered by the world’s two largest international news channels and was watched by millions of viewers. The episode was the grilling of Hillary Rodham Clinton, former secretary of state of the United States by a select committee of the House of Representatives, who were investigating the death of four Americans — including an ambassador, J Christopher Stevens — killed in an attack in 2012 in Benghazi, Libya.
The investigation was headed by Republican Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. The Republicans spent a good nine hours trying to demonstrate that Clinton, as head of the state department at the time, was responsible for the tragedy which could perhaps have been avoided had adequate advance precautions been taken. It was a spectacle of extraordinarily high stakes for Clinton. Not only is she a contender for leadership of the Democratic Party. She also has her eyes on the presidency.
There can be no doubt that Clinton had left herself wide open. Why was there no positive response to the 600 email requests that were supposed to have been made a few months before the attack took place for security equipment and personnel? And what about all those private emails to Sidney Blumenthal who used to work for the Clinton Foundation and whom President Obama debarred from working for Hillary Clinton after she took over the state department? Those emails became the subject of a rather testy vocal slugging match between Gowdy and two Democrats Elijah E Cummings and Adam B Schiff.
Cummings argued that after spending $4.5 million dollars of the taxpayers’ money on collecting evidence for an inquiry investigating the lapse, and after holding seven previous investigations, the committee was no closer to discovering the truth than it was at the beginning of the investigation. Schiff was equally acerbic. He wanted to know why out of the thousands of emails that had been floating about the ether, the only ones that were publicly discussed centered on Clinton’s private communication with Blumenthal. He called the inquiry a prosecution. Gowdy, now a little on the defensive, denied that it was a prosecution and insisted it was just an inquiry. But Schiff stuck to his guns. He didn’t use the word inquisition, but prosecution was strong enough. Clinton’s main defence was that she didn’t have time to read and scrutinise every email that was received. She had a whole department under her and stated that the person who received the communication took the action they saw fit.
The inquiry looked like a partisan attack by a group of spiteful Republicans who wanted a global platform to tarnish Clinton’s image and diminish her chances of entering the White House. From the moment she entered Capitol Hill for the inquiry, confident and purposeful, I knew she had come fully prepared.
Throughout the question and answer session, she stood thoughtful and patient, firm and resolute, mulling over each question before answering as if each query had a tricky legal subtlety. Though she had a prolonged coughing fit which left her a little gravelly, she remained polite and firm, not losing her temper as she did the last time she appeared in the hall. Eventually, tired and exhausted, she took responsibility for the tragedy as head of the department. But the question as to why the committee chose to ignore the fact that Congress had refused the state department’s request for funding certain American missions abroad was never asked.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2015.
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