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by Sharon Rondeau

Washington, DC-based Accuracy in Media (AIM.org) strives to expose media bias on the part of the major news companies so that Americans can know the truth about what their government is doing

(Sep. 4, 2013) — On July 30, Accuracy in Media (AIM.org) announced in a press conference at the National Press Club that it had formed a Citizens’ Commission to investigate the facts surrounding the terrorist attack on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya on September 11 last year in which four Americans were murdered.

A Declaration was issued which stated, in part:

While Congress has held a number of public hearings on Benghazi, in October 2012, December 2012, January 2013, February 2013 and May 2013, and the Accountability Review Board, which was appointed by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and was thus, in essence, an internal investigation, we believe that Congress, the media and the American people still have not been given a true account of what happened, why it happened and on whose orders the various actions, and inactions, occurred.

We intend to hold a public conference on September 16, 2013, to ascertain as many facts as possible about those events. We will be inviting people to testify, not under oath, about what they know and how they know it…

Ten questions are then presented asking about Obama’s whereabouts and activity on the evening of September 11, 2012, the lack of a military response, and why then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice told the public on five Sunday talk shows on September 16 that the violence was initiated in response to an obscure internet video.

Similar to other cases of corruption uncovered within the Obama regime since the spring, Obama has referred to questions over the deaths of four Americans and lack of security at the Benghazi outpost as “a sideshow.”

The Accountability Review Board (ARB) was commissioned by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be carried out by Amb. Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen. The Board ultimately found deficiencies in security and made a total of 29 recommendations which the State Department said it would take action to implement immediately.  On December 19, Pickering and Mullen reported, in part:

…we interviewed more than a hundred people, reviewed thousands of documents, and watched hours of video. We spoke with people who were on the scene in Benghazi that night, who were in Tripoli, who were in Washington. We talked to military and intelligence officials, including to many State Department personnel, and to experts who do not work for the United States Government. Throughout this process, we enjoyed superb cooperation from the Department of State and its interagency partners, and the decision to brief you on the report’s findings reflects a commitment to transparency at the Department’s highest levels.

However, Clinton herself was not interviewed, and the ARB chairmen stated that “fixing responsibility” for the lapses which led to the deadly attack fell “at the Assistant Secretary level, which is in our view the appropriate place to look, where the decision-making in fact takes place…”

Several injured Benghazi survivors were not interviewed, their existence kept quiet, and they reportedly were not allowed to speak with the press or members of Congress.  According to Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Lindsey Graham, some have had their identities altered.

AIM’s panel includes a total of 13 retired military officers, former CIA operatives, and a former congressman as of this writing.

Obama’s characterization of the attack changed over time, as detailed by AIM and The Washington Post.  Initially, the regime reported that the violent attack, which included mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, was the result of a “protest” in response to an anti-Islamic video entitled “Innocence of Muslims” which few people had actually seen.  The Libyan interim government acknowledged almost immediately that the torching of the compound and resultant deaths of the four Americans were caused by Islamic extremists who had carefully planned the attack.

U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens; former Navy SEALS Glen A. Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods; and Information Management Officer Sean Smith were killed in the attack.  As a matter of diplomacy, an ambassador to a foreign nation is a representative of the President of the United States.

One of the commission’s members, Gen. Paul E. Vallely (U.S. Army, Ret.), recently returned from a trip to Syria to assess the volatile situation in which Obama is considering involving the United States and has determined that Obama is “siding with the more radical elements” there, which includes members of The Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah.  Syria’s civil war is more than two years old.

Other members of the special commission include Adm. James (Ace) Lyons (USN, Ret.), former Commander, Pacific Fleet; Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney (Ret.); and retired CIA agent Wayne Simmons.

Middle East unrest has persisted since the Arab Spring in 2011, when citizens of many nations protested dictatorial rule, demanding democratic reforms.  However, Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi was elected president of Egypt and after several months in office, seized unconstitutional powers.  Many Egyptians protested Morsi’s increasingly-Islamic government, and he was removed from office on July 3 by the Egyptian military.

As a result of the Arab Spring, Tunisia adopted an Islamic government which is now seeing protests similar to those in Egypt.  Libya’s weak interim government has been unable to control Islamic militants who have driven diplomats out of the country and committed acts of terror. 

On September 16, AIM will be holding the first public conference at the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Auditorium at 214 Massachusetts Avenue Northeast, Washington, DC 20529.

The Post & Email spoke with AIM Editor Roger Aronoff regarding the initiative and what its members hope to accomplish.

THE POST & EMAIL:  Do you think Congress has been doing enough to get to the truth about Benghazi?

MR. ARONOFF:  Three of our members, including two who are the founding members of Special Operations Speaks, Dick Brauer and Larry Bailey, are pushing to get the discharge petition put forth by Rep. Steve Stockman and to get [Speaker of the House John] Boehner to agree to a Select Committee as opposed to the five or six committees that are looking into it.  We support what they’re doing, but we’re taking a different tack.  We like to joke that we’re taking the same position as Obama:  “We can’t wait for Congress.”  We’re feeling the same way.  We encourage them and hope that they’ll investigate.  The problem is, and I think a big part of the reason that they keep it as five or six committees, is that there are people who want the attention and have their committee doing it.  But the bottom line is that not much is coming out of it.  They have the power of subpoena and access to classified information that we don’t.

Our people are very connected and knowledgeable; they have a lot of inherent clout and gravitas, and a lot of people are out there who I think would like to talk to us.  We put together a group with that in mind, so that people will talk to us, in some cases on the record; in others, off the record.

What we’ve already found is that some people say, “I won’t talk anymore;” “I won’t talk at all because my family, my job, my personal safety…” and that’s understandable.  We don’t really have a safety net to offer them; we can’t pay their salary; we can’t offer them security protection.  What we’re offering is that we’re going to be filing Freedom of Information Requests.  Judicial Watch has already been doing that.  Sharyl Attkisson of CBS News has filed them.  You may have seen where she has been completely stonewalled for her FOIA requests.

We have a FOIA attorney whom we’ve worked with here at AIM for 15 years or so.  We’ll be exploring some avenues which Judicial Watch hasn’t, although some requests may be duplicative.  However, if you get a different judge, he may rule differently.  The whole FOIA process is a strange game, and it’s been interesting to see how sometimes we come across things that they absolutely didn’t mean for us to see, because in some cases, they don’t know what they have.

When they don’t release information that you know they have, you have to sue.  Then they come back and give you these blacked-out pages.  On the IRS matter recently, Issa sat there with a huge stack of papers in front of him which were all completely blacked out.  So it is a several-year war that you have to be willing to pursue with the government.  They have unlimited lawyer time and all that, and we don’t.

THE POST & EMAIL:  Does Congress know that you have formed the special commission?

MR. ARONOFF:  They do.  The day we held the press conference, Rep. Frank Wolf read something from the floor of Congress, and he sent us a letter congratulating us on getting started with it.  We know some of the other Congressmen and have brought it to their attention.

We’re calling those who might want to come forward “invited speakers” rather than “witnesses.”  Someone might say, “I just want to talk to Adm. Lyons” or to Tom McInerney.  Our goal is not to grandstand, not to get re-elected, not to get a committee appointment; it’s to find out the truth.

Most of the military people who are part of the commission are driven by the fact that what happened on the day of…the fact that it went on for seven or eight hours and the people were left hanging there.  The explanation from Panetta was, “We don’t send troops in without good information,” and their answer to that is, “You send them in with the best information you have.”  When they said, “We didn’t have enough time,” you didn’t know how long it was going to last.  A couple of bases were within range and we could have had people there within an hour and a half to at least fly over.  So it’s unacceptable and unthinkable to these military people that the Benghazi victims were basically abandoned.

It goes beyond that – the fact that they didn’t respond to the request from Stevens about more security.  After we’d been hit a couple of times, the British had left.  One area of exploration is beforehand:  why they did that.  On the day of, there are the issues I just described.  Then there was the cover-up, which began almost immediately with the anti-Islam video on YouTube, with the government claiming that that was what it was all about when they knew it wasn’t.

Our other concern and why we got involved was the media coverage of it.  For the next few months, from Candy Crowley’s incident during the presidential debate to Steve Kroft at “60 Minutes” withholding parts of what Obama actually said until just days before the election.  There was Brian Williams, who spent two days with Obama on a plane and asked one very softball question about it.  These questions were out there even before then, so it’s kind-of a multi-layered potential scandal on which the media have once again given him a pass.  Our purpose is to get to the truth and post it, and post as much of the video as we can up on the website and issue a report.  There are a lot of questions and theories about what was going on there; I’m sure you’re familiar with some of them.

THE POST & EMAIL:  There was an interview conducted by Chris Wallace of Dan Pfeiffer when Wallace said to Pfeiffer, “We know that the president wanted to send in troops…” in regard to the Benghazi attack.  Was Obama ever known to have said that?

MR. ARONOFF:  It’s a very generous interpretation of what Obama said the next day in the Rose Garden, which was something like, “Do whatever you can to protect them…” so you can stretch that out to his saying…

THE POST & EMAIL:  I have heard Adm. Lyons say to Megyn Kelly that he believes the Benghazi attack was a botched kidnapping of Amb. Stevens.  Do you have any information on that?

He acknowledges himself that that’s what he believes, and he thinks that is the best explanation.  Others have talked about rounding up MANPADS and other weapons that were left in Libya from when we went in to remove Gaddafi.  This could have been moving weapons from Libya into Turkey into Syria.  That’s what he believes, but he doesn’t claim to know that.  He doesn’t say, “I have inside information that convinced me of that.”  It’s part of what this group is:  a bunch of people who are smart, connected, free-thinkers and free speakers.  We’re not trying to say, “He didn’t mean to say that…”

I’m not here to try to harness this group, so they’re all free to say whatever they wish.  But the fact of the matter is, we’re inviting Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Tom Pickering and all of these people to come talk to our group.

THE POST & EMAIL:  Have any of them responded?

MR. ARONOFF:  We’re just getting that out now, so we don’t have anything to report on it yet.

THE POST & EMAIL: I read in your news release that you want average citizens at home watching television to become involved.  What can they contribute to the Benghazi investigation?

MR. ARONOFF:  I would say to support a group like ours which is doing it for all the right reasons.  We’ve not one of these groups that’s all about fundraising.  They can support groups like Bailey’s, SOS, which are pushing for a Select Committee.  Call your congressman; get out and get active.  We don’t advocate “vote for this guy;” we’re not allowed to.  Stay informed; watch what we’re doing, and help us out if you’re in a position to.  If you’re not, get active at a local level, whether it’s with your Tea Party group or calling in on radio shows or C-Span.  Help make people aware.  There are so many people who are intimidated and afraid to say anything bad about Obama because they’re going to be accused of being a racist.  It has had an incredible effect on the national dialogue.

THE POST & EMAIL:  Have you read reports by Walid Shoebat which say that Mohamed Morsi might have been involved in the Benghazi attack and accepted some type of bribe?

MR. ARONOFF:  I’ve read the reports that he has put out there.  I can’t verify them, and it raises a lot of questions.  The chain of possession of the evidence is not yet known.  I’m not discrediting what he’s saying in any way, but we do not as a commission endorse what he’s saying.  I’m not disregarding it or condemning it.  So far, I would say – not that I speak for everyone individually – we’re not ready to embrace that point of view in our hearing.  But that may come out.  We’re not muzzling anybody, and all of our people have seen those reports.  So if anyone wants to bring it up and talk about it, that’s fine, but he or she must be prepared to answer some tough questions.

THE POST & EMAIL:  How are the commission members performing their research?  For instance, does Wayne Simmons have access to the resources that he had when he was working for the CIA?

MR ARONOFF:  He no longer has a classified clearance; none of them do.  They’re all retired people, but they also know a lot of people and have good contacts.  I think it’s pretty obvious that there are a lot of people within the government now who for obvious reasons aren’t coming forth.  You’ve seen the stories about the monthly polygraphs of the CIA people…we know that there are people who have stories to tell and aren’t willing to come forward at this point.  We look at the September 16 conference as more of a starting point than an ending point.  We’re out there, we’re inviting the world press to come record it, see it, broadcast it live and for free.  We’re encouraging C-Span to come, but if not, they can watch at least the first half.

Did I tell you about the open vs. closed part of our conference?

THE POST & EMAIL:  That was my next question.

MR. ARONOFF:  From 10:00 a.m. until 2:30 or 3:00, we’re going to have open hearings.  So the people who want to talk publicly will do so.  It will be webcast live.  Then we’re having a closed session which won’t be recorded for people who want to talk but not openly or publicly.  By the quality, integrity and the ranking of the people we have, we’re hoping to encourage people who would otherwise not come forward to tell their story.

This is just Step 1.  We’ll be filing FOIA requests; we’re gathering our information at this point.  We’re talking to Judicial Watch and others.

You may know that one thing we do at AIM is every year, give out an award for investigative journalism.  The last two years, it was Catherine Herridge and Sharyl Attkisson, who were the two leading television reporters on Benghazi.  They have a lot of good contacts, and we’re inviting all kinds of people to share what they know.  Probably no one will be under oath, because we don’t have that power. We’re hoping that some of the people will see who our group is, what we’re doing, that we’re serious, and that we’re here to stay.  We’re not here to grandstand; we’re here to get to the truth, and we hope that they will come and we will have additional conferences, both open and closed sessions.

THE POST &EMAIL:  Can a member of the public simply walk in and listen?

MR. ARONOFF:  Yes, at least for the first open part.

THE POST & EMAIL:  Will you be giving any type of progress report on the 16th?

MR. ARONOFF:  We won’t be giving progress reports, but we’re inviting people to speak and will be discussing articles such as Shoebat’s.  Eventually, we will come out with something that hopefully all members of the commission will endorse.  I think it’s possible that we end up with a “majority” and a “minority” report.  I would say this is a work in progress, and in some ways, we’re vetting it as it goes along.  When we started out, we didn’t know how many and who we would be able to get to join us in this project, but it’s been very encouraging and rewarding.  There are others, some clamoring to get in and some who want to come as an invited speaker.  Bailey and Brauer have their own group, and we don’t interfere with that.  We support what they’re doing; they’ve obviously supporting what we’re doing, and we’ll see where it leads us.   Allen West is involved in a number of different things and is a former congressman, and he has a different set of contacts and connections, but he is just as committed to our effort as anybody.

THE POST & EMAIL:  Is there anything that you’d like to add in closing?

MR. ARONOFF:  I think our mission will gain a stronger focus after our September 16 event, and hopefully there will be an Alexander Butterfield moment.


Update, September 6, 2013:  This interview was reposted by Mr. Aronoff here.

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