A Long Night in Benghazi
13 Hours is a riveting movie and book. What makes it special is the discussion by the six American heroes about the attack on September 11th, 2012. As with most incidents the names are forgotten, but with these accounts people are able to put a human touch on the terrorist assault against Americans. American Thinker had the honor of interviewing the author of the book, Mitchell Zuckoff, a direct spokesman for the four, as well as two of the heroes from that night, Mark “Oz” Geist, John “Tig” Tiegen. AT also spoke to Jose Rodriguez Jr., former Director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service.
This is the story of an Islamic terrorist attack on the U.S. State Department Special Mission Compound and a nearby CIA station called the Annex in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th, 2012. Four Americans were killed: U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen “Bub” Doherty, and Tyrone “Rone” Woods. The five operators who provided the account are Tiegen, Geist, Kris “Tanto” Paronto, and two others who are known by the pseudonyms Dave “D.B” Benton and Jack Silva. Both the book and the movie tell the story of true heroism in the face of unbeatable odds.
Questions were answered regarding the attacks being premeditated vs. spontaneous, if those in charge were unprepared, was a “stand-down order” given, and what happened with reinforcements. Scene after scene, chapter after chapter the movie and book are an exhausting, pulverizing experience.
Controversy has erupted over the “stand-down order” issued by the CIA base chief, Bob, at the Benghazi CIA Annex. He gave an interview to the Washington Post in which he stated, “There never was a stand-down order. At no time did I ever second-guess that the team would depart.”
Zuckoff stands by what was written. “To believe Bob’s comments you would have to believe the guys decided to wait and then go on their own. This makes no sense because as experienced military men they are aware about the briefness of firefights, the longer the wait, the more the enemy digs in. Four guys told me ‘we were ready to go, but Bob would not let us, so we finally left on our own.’ I am sure, in hindsight, Bob is finding it hard to live with because Stevens and Smith died of smoke inhalation, the product of delay. In the guy’s eyes, if they could have engaged them quickly they could have stopped the terrorists. This weighs on them a great deal.”
Jose Rodriguez Jr., a hero himself and a straight talker, explained to American Thinker that in making the decision several considerations had to be weighed. Having been in the field as station chief four different times, and having served as Bob’s supervisor, “I understand the dilemma Bob faced. This is very complicated. Not being there but having been in similar situations people need to understand there are two concerns. If he let these guys go they themselves might get killed or kidnapped, paraded around, and possibly held for ransom. On the other hand, there is a U.S. Ambassador and Americans in harms’ way and if they are not helped they could die. At that moment you have to make a leadership decision.”
When asked what he would have done in that situation Jose responded, “To be perfectly honest, I hope I would have said ‘Forget Washington. We have an ambassador in harms’ way. I am going to send my troops and hopefully save lives.’ But you had to be there to make that decision. The bigger point to be made is that people are unwilling to make hard decisions on the ground because of the risk-adverse attitude of this administration. If the CIA directors appointed by President Obama would have people’s backs they might be more willing to take chances. This unwillingness to take risks permeates around the ranks.”
Both the book and the movie also explore the decision by Bob to rely more on the Libyan militia force than on the American security team. Oz and Tig agree with the quote by one of their fellow operators, “What’s the difference between how Libyans look when they’re coming to help you versus when they’re coming to kill you? Not much.” They added, “That is how it was. There were no uniforms and we did not know who was who. That was the challenge we faced, the concern that they could turn on you. As the night progressed you had to figure out who was who on an individual basis, not as a group. What you see at the end of the movie was not a rescue. They never fired a shot. Yet, every single time Bob wanted the first responders to be the locals. Back in April of that year when the consulate was attacked he would not let us lead. Yes, we were frustrated.”
Many Americans still wonder if the attacks were premeditated. Both the book and movie note that a cable was sent, “Be advised, we have reports from locals that a Western facility or US Embassy/Consulate/Government target will be attacked,” and the book explains that “The GRS operators neither saw nor heard anything to suggest that anyone in Benghazi was upset about an offensive YouTube video from an anti-Muslim movie.”
When asked about this, Oz and Tig noted, “We had no indication of protests over the movie being repeated in Benghazi. That night there was never any indication to the surviving State Department personnel at the Consulate that there were any protests. Our experience of working throughout the Middle East is that RPGs, used by the Libyans, are not typically brought to protests.”
Zuckoff added, “There is no question in my mind there was advanced planning. The morning of the attack you have Libyans across from the diplomatic compound on the roof taking photos and videos into the compound wearing police uniforms. That to me suggests premeditation.”
Many reviews of the movie criticize the civilian warriors instead of glorifying them. Zuckoff is angered. He believes that “none of us run toward gunfire in our daily life, but they do.” While Rodriguez Jr. says he has the utmost respect for these men. “It never mattered to me if the person talking was a contractor or a staff person. They were working for me. These people are very important because they keep us at the CIA safe. Case officers are dependent on the protection of these people.”
These men risked their lives to save Americans, and although the ambassador and Sean Smith were not saved, others were rescued while the Islamic terrorists were kept at arm’s length. If not for the American security personnel many more would have died. People should read the book and see the movie because they will experience, as the heroes did, the intense, shocking, and horrific 13 Hours of what really happened in Benghazi. Americans owe these men their support and a thank you for their service.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.