November 30, 2012 | Issue Brief on National Security and Defense
Almost three months after the September 11 attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, there are still many unanswered questions about what led to the deaths of four Americans. Despite Congress’s efforts to investigate the events surrounding the attack, little has been learned about how the United States can respond to similar attacks in the future.
It is therefore necessary for Congress to establish a select committee, preferably bicameral, to examine the attack and determine what should be done to improve U.S. diplomatic security.
A Coordinated Approach
Following the attack, Congress undertook to investigate the events through committee hearings, briefings, and letters to Administration officials, but these efforts have proven to be disjointed and have resulted in contrasting accounts, muddling the investigative process. Additionally, because the issues surrounding the attack involve the jurisdictions of multiple congressional committees (e.g., the Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee on the Judiciary, the Committee on Armed Services, and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform), the risk of stove-piping has emerged.
Obviously, the regular process for attaining the necessary answers has broken down. Therefore, Congress should pursue alternative strategies, such as the creation of a select committee, which has been shown to work previously.
A select committee would provide the opportunity for the relevant congressional committees to participate in a highly organized forum to investigate the attack and evaluate U.S. diplomatic security at U.S. embassies, consulates, and other facilities around the world. Additionally, a bicameral select committee would demonstrate that both houses of Congress are equally committed to fulfilling their constitutional duties to legislate and educate the American people on the circumstances of the attack.
Ask the Right Questions
To obtain a full appreciation of the lessons that can be learned from the Benghazi attack, the select committee should frame its investigation around finding complete answers to four questions:
A Need for Answers
Support for a select committee has already been voiced in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Representative Frank Wolf (R–VA) has drafted a resolution proposing the establishment of a select committee that would launch an investigation into the many facets of the attack, including what actions were taken by the Administration to improve security before the attack and how the Administration responded to the attack.
Obtaining complete answers to the aforementioned four questions would provide a basic framework for how Congress and the Administration can move forward in addressing diplomatic security.
—Morgan Lorraine Roach and Jessica Zuckerman are Research Associates in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.