Judicial Watch Forces Obama Administration to Release Pentagon Benghazi Attack Documents
FEBRUARY 19, 2015
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that the Obama administration finally turned over hundreds of pages of documents about the military response to the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. Special Mission Compound and other facilities in Benghazi. The documents, which are heavily blacked out (redacted), confirm that the U.S. Military, through its U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) drafted orders for a military response to the attack, specifically “to protect vital naval and national assets.” Other documents suggest that the military, hours after the attack, tied the assault to a group supporting “an Islamic state” that wanted to attack U.S. interests in Libya in retaliation for a drone strike on an al-Qaeda leader.
The Pentagon produced a total of 486 pages in response to a federal court order in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit Judicial Watch filed against the U.S. Department of Defense asking for “any and all” records produced by the U.S. Africa Command Operations Center concerning the terrorist attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia on September 4, 2014, (Judicial Watch v. Department of Defense (No. 1:14-cv-01508)). Almost all of the documents had been previously classified as secret, and the Defense Department has redacted a large percentage of the material in order to protect “military plans and operations,” “intelligence” activities, and other exemptions.
Included in the production was a September 13, 2012, draft cable, “US Africa Command Request for Forces,” which sought an “immediate” response from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for “additional forces” for the mission to “provide limited duration military and expeditionary antiterrorism and security forces in support of USAFRICOM commander in order to protect vital naval and national assets.” The planning document was approved by “VADM [Charles] Joseph Leidig, Deputy CDR, Africa Command.” The name of the military’s Benghazi operation was Jukebox Lotus.
The Obama administration blacked out the specific mission information in the final deployment orders for Operation Jukebox Lotus. The orders (EXORD) detail that, ultimately, several components of the military, including Special Operations Forces, were deployed to support limited security and evacuation operations in Libya, including support for “BPT” (Be Prepared To) included, from the U.S. Army in Africa, “BPT support with mortuary affairs.” The Pentagon has previously released other orders with virtually no redactions, including an operation in Libya in 2004 and an Obama administration operation to attack Muammar Gaddafi’s government forces in Libya in 2011.
Other documents show that, early on September 12, 2012, the day after the attack, top Pentagon leadership received intelligence briefing slides reporting that a June 6, 2012, attack on the Benghazi Special Mission Compound was tied to a group promoting an Islamic state in Libya, “came in response to the 5 June  drone strike on al-Qaida senior leader Abu-Yahya al-libi.”
The documents also confirm that the military used a photo from a Twitter post to try to ascertain the status of Ambassador Stevens.
The Obama administration produced no documents showing communications from the State Department to AFRICOM.
The records do show that U.S. military officials were keenly aware of the terrorist threat in the region. “The DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] terrorism threat level for Libya is significant,” one email message says. “The DOS [Department of State] residential criminal threat level for Libya is high and the non-residential criminal threat level is high. The political violence threat level for Libya is critical.”
Judicial Watch dismissed its lawsuit on February 12, 2015, after it succeeded in finally obtaining these AFRICOM Benghazi documents. The Vaughn index, which describes why the documents have been withheld, is also publicly available for congressional and other investigations into the scandal.
Islamic militants attacked the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi on the evening of September 11, 2012. U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith were both killed. Just a few hours later, a second terrorist strike targeted a different compound about one mile away. Two CIA contractors, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were killed and 10 others were injured in the second attack.
“It is extraordinary that we had to wait for over two years and had to force the release of documents that provide the first glimpse into the military response to the terrorist attack in Benghazi,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “There is no doubt that the military considered this to be terrorist attack tied to a group allied with al Qaeda. Why does the Obama administration continue to black out history in these military documents? If there were no embarrassing facts, there would be nothing to hide. This lack of transparency is an insult to those in the military and other deployed U.S. government personnel whose morale has been decimated by the breach of trust caused by President Obama’s Benghazi lies and failures.”