Lessons from Benghazi: Accountability for the U.S. Capitol Attack

We scoured the video footage of the attack, combing through each frame. As prosecutors and FBI officials charged with the investigation, we wanted to know if we could prove that this attack against this sacred place and against Americans was a terrorist act, whether it met the elements of a federal offense, and who did this to America? After all, multiple Americans were dead as a result.

So, shot by shot, angle by angle, clip by clip, and timestamp by timestamp, this is what we saw on the video:

There was an angry group gathering outside of the American building;

Members of the group appeared fired-up and seething with contempt and pure hatred;

Some wore clothing with distinct and clear markings;

Most did not cover their faces;

Some were carrying oversized flags that depicted their ideology;

Some had firearms, many did not;

They chanted in unison with fists raised in the air;

They stormed the American facility with ease;

At first, they strolled around the compound, seemingly surprised that they made it into this sacred place, and then they appeared nonchalant and arrogant;

We saw the attackers destroying everything in sight with abandon;

Vigorously smashing windows;

Forcefully kicking in doors;

Ravaging offices and rooms; and

Some of the attackers stole items from the buildings, including laptops belonging to American officials, highly sensitive material, and souvenirs of their attack.

During the course of the investigation, we learned that while American officials were holed up in safe rooms, they placed several calls pleading for the U.S. government to send help.

We learned that the individuals entrusted with safeguarding the occupants inside the building were overwhelmed and outnumbered.

We learned that enthusiastic allies had traveled from different parts of the country to participate in the attack.

We learned that the mob that attacked the American facility did so because their leaders falsely believed that the actions of the occupants inside were “illegal.”

Immediately after the attack took place, there were questions from the press, politicians, and the international community about the terrorist attack:

The media seemed to know more than government officials about what had happened;

The politicians set up select committees to investigate how it could have happened;

International leaders expressed alarm and concern that this could happen to the United States;

All questioned why the security forces were so ill-prepared.

Sound familiar?

This was the attack on the American facilities in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012.

Just like after that attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, there must be accountability for the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Accountability for the failure of law enforcement to use the intelligence available to it to adequately prepare, leading to the loss of multiple lives. Accountability for those who engaged in acts of violence, destruction of property, and insurrection.  And accountability for those who incited it. Prosecutors and FBI agents are going to be spending a lot of time with the video, just as we did.

Photo credit: A “Call to Action” rally held by various conservative organizations on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, marking the one year anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi September 11, 2013 (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

 

About the Author(s)

Julieanne Himelstein

Julieanne Himelstein is a former Assistant United States Attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and was the co-lead federal prosecutor in the trial against one of the leaders of the attack on the U.S. Mission and the CIA Annex in Benghazi, Libya.

Mary B. McCord

Senior litigator and visiting professor of law at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP). Previously served as Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Michael M. Clarke

Michael M. Clarke is a former FBI Special Agent and was the lead Case Agent on the Benghazi investigation.