Then and Now

Associated Press Published: October 25, 2012
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WASHINGTON -- For better than a month, the Obama administration has been dodging and weaving over what actually transpired in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of Sept. 11-12. Questions have been posed about why Ambassador Christopher Stevens was there and not at his embassy post in Tripoli. Congressional investigators have asked why he had no security detail, why the State Department decided not to send in U.S. Marine embassy security guards when they were offered months before, why contingency plans were not in place on the anniversary of 9/11 and why the O-Team insisted for so long that the attack on our U.S. diplomatic post was a "spontaneous event" and not an act of terrorism.

By now, all should realize that truthful answers to these inquiries will not be furnished by the White House or State Department until after the presidential election on Nov. 6. But there is an even more important question that should be asked and answered now: Once the White House knew about the attack in Benghazi, what action did the president take to protect or save the lives of Americans?

''We the People" need to know the answer because we are about to hire -- or rehire -- a commander in chief. The response is crucial to determining whether the incumbent is competent enough to fulfill the responsibilities of the job or whether he should be replaced. Fortunately, we have a standard of behavior for a commander in chief in a previous well-documented terror event: Ronald Reagan during the Achille Lauro incident.

On Oct. 7, 1985, four radical Islamic terrorists -- members of the Palestine Liberation Front, the organization now calling itself Hamas -- hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. They then murdered Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound American passenger. His only offense was that he was an American citizen and a Jew. That was offense enough to spark what the current administration might well call a "spontaneous event."

Within minutes of the CIA alert that Americans were at risk -- and before it was known that Klinghoffer was dead -- a National Security Council-led counterterrorism task force was convened by secure conference call. From Air Force One en route to Chicago, President Reagan approved the first recommendation of the task force -- deployment of a specially trained and equipped unit from the Joint Special Operations Command to the region. While the JSOC team was heading east from the U.S., Reagan ordered every available U.S. military and intelligence asset in the eastern Mediterranean to find and track the vessel -- and asked every littoral government in the area to deny port access to the hijackers. Despite abysmal weather conditions at sea, U.S. Navy and Air Force units located the cruise ship and followed it to Alexandria, Egypt.

When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak lied to President Reagan about the terrorists having escaped, we knew better. In those days, our relationship with the Israeli government was so good that members of it contacted us to tell us where the perpetrators were, the tail number of the EgyptAir commercial aircraft Mubarak had provided to fly them to Tunisia and the takeoff time. The president immediately approved a plan crafted by the task force, the Joint Chiefs, the JSOC and the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet to intercept the civilian airliner and force it to land at the NATO air base at Sigonella, Italy. Less than four hours later, the terrorists and their ringleader -- Abu Abbas, head of the PLF -- were captured.

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