The Cable

Top Dem: No evidence former Gitmo detainee was involved in Benghazi attack

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee said Monday that the Obama administration has not found any evidence that a former Guantánamo Bay inmate was involved in the Sept. 11 attack on the Benghazi consulate that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) emerged from a classified briefing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Sept. 21 saying that administration officials had discussed Sufyan Ben Qumu, who was released from Guantánamo into Libyan custody in 2007, as a "person of interest" in the Benghazi investigation. But today in a conference call organized by the left-leaning National Security Network, Smith clarified that he had heard nothing directly tying Ben Qumu to the Benghazi attack.

"All I meant was that the person I mentioned has known al Qaeda affiliations and was in Libya. And really, that's it," Smith said. "Whether or not he was directly involved with the people engaged in the attack, there's no evidence of that."

Smith said the Libyan government had been quick to condemn the attack and help with the investigation. But he slammed Republicans for referencing the Ben Qumu rumor and other reporting about the attack to criticize the administration's handling of the crisis.

"It is fairly disturbing the number of Republicans who have leapt to erroneous conclusions about what this means and have missed no opportunity to bash on the president rather than try to find a common approach to this," he said. "That has been extremely unhelpful."

Former Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Pickering said on the call that he had not yet started work on the Accountability Review Board (ARB) that Clinton appointed him to lead to investigate the Benghazi attack.

"As far as I know no other members have been appointed and obviously the process has not yet begun," Pickering said.

The ARB will have five members, four appointed by Clinton and one appointed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, according to a senior State Department official. The board will investigate, "the extent to which the incident was security related; whether the security systems and security procedures at that mission were adequate; whether the security systems and security procedures were properly implemented; the impact of intelligence and information availability; and  such other facts and circumstances which may be relevant to the appropriate security management of the United States missions abroad," according to the law that established the board's mandate.

By law, the board must be convened within 60 days of the incident. Such panels typically take an average of 65 days to complete their work, and Clinton must submit the findings to Congress within 90 days of receiving them. According to that timeline, the board would issue its report in January and Congress could receive it as late as next April.

Both Smith and Pickering emphasized that they did not believe that time had run out to convince Iran not to pursue a nuclear weapon, and both argued that increased U.S. military involvement in Syria would only inflame the violence in the country.

"The situation in Syria is horrific. It is a full scale civil war," said Smith "It's a matter of whether or not there is an option that would make the situation better and reduce the violence in Syria."

The Cable

Senate passes dozens of bills in the middle of the night

Early Saturday morning, the Senate finally acted to pass a host of legislative items and confirm a slate of ambassadors, just before leaving town ahead of the 2012 election.

Following days of stalemate caused by Sen. Rand Paul's insistence on a floor vote to on his bill to cut all aid to Pakistan, Egypt, and Libya, a deal was finally struck Friday to give Paul his vote as part of a package that included a vote on Sen. Lindsey Graham's resolution establishing the sense of the Senate that containing a nuclear Iran is not an option for U.S. policy.

The Paul bill was defeated 10-81. The Graham resolution, also led by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Bob Casey (D-PA), passed 90-1, with only Paul voting against it.

The deal also included a vote to pass, by a 62-30 margin, the continuing resolution to keep the government funding past Oct. 1 and a cloture vote on Sen. Jon Tester's "Sportsmen's Act," a bill to relax restrictions on hunting on federal lands, which succeeded 84-7. A final vote on that bill will be the first item of business when the Senate reconvenes Nov. 13.

Other foreign-policy items passed early Saturday morning included a Senate resolution (S.Res. 466) calling for the release from prison of former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and a bill (S.Con.Res.50) expressing the sense of the Senate that U.S. policy should be to keep the Internet free from government control around the world. Both of those were approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

The Senate also passed by unanimous consent a bill to give the Obama administration the flexibility to vote yes on lending to Burma in international financial institutions. The administration was not permitted to support such lending under previously imposed legislative sanctions, and this action represents significant sanctions relief timed with last week's visit to Washington by longtime dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi, now a member of the Burmese legislature.

The Senate also passed a bill (S.3341) to support implementation of the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, a bill to make Oct. 26 the "Day of the Deployed" to honor service members, and a resolution "commending the 4 American public servants who died in Benghazi, Libya, United States Ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty, for their tireless efforts on behalf of the American people, and condemning the violent attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi."

Several ambassadors were confirmed just before Senators left town, including Sharon English Woods Villaros to be ambassador to Mauritius and the Seychelles, Dawn Liberi to be ambassador to Burundi, Stephen Mull to be ambassador to Poland, Walter North to be ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, Richard Olson to be ambassador to Pakistan,
Joseph E. Macmanus to be the U.S. representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Robert Stephen Beecroft to be ambassador to Iraq.

The Senate also conferred the rank of "career ambassador" on three State Department officials: Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement William Brownfield, Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney, and Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon.