13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Director Bay, known for the Transformers series of movies, has made a film that reflects the chaos, the uncertainty, the danger, the horror and the heroism of war.

Michael Bay’s film of the 2014 book 13 Hours by Mitchell Zuckoff is a powerful telling of what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. It tells the story through the eyes of the six CIA security contractors hired to defend the secret CIA Annex building near the diplomatic compound in Benghazi.

It’s a powerful film.

The contractors were Navy SEALS, Marine Force Recon and Army Special Forces veterans—the best that could have been hired.

It’s a first-person account of what happened on the ground. As the film itself portrays, there is never perfect knowledge in that kind of situation. The men who go to the diplomatic compound to attempt the rescue of the ambassador don’t know what happened to him. After searching unsuccessfully for him, they return to the annex. Thereafter, they hear news reports. They know no more than the rest of us.

The film doesn’t answer all the questions about that day in Benghazi. Partisan reviews in places like Media Matters and writers in places like Wikipedia who then quote them attempt to throw doubt on the accuracy of the events portrayed in the film. Those still trying to shield the president and the secretary of state miss the point of the film. It’s not the whole story but it is a significant piece.

Yet some of the administration’s lies and cover-up become abundantly clear from this telling of events.

The fact that this attack was no “spontaneous protest” but rather an organized attack is abundantly clear. The emails from Hillary Clinton’s email server have already settled the question about where the story of the “anti-Islam movie” originated. We have learned what the attacks were not; now we know what they were.

The movie does not definitively answer the question of whether a rescue attempt could have been made. As the attacks begin, the CIA station reports the events up channel. The presence of a drone is shown and at various points throughout the siege the screen shows the view from the drone’s feed.

This is critical intelligence information. It would have been sent to the State Department and the White House within minutes according to intelligence community reporting rules. Obama knew. Clinton knew.

Was there an order to “stand down”? With respect to the contractors going to the diplomatic compound, the movie definitively says “Yes.” In an interview with Politico, Kris "Tonto" Paronto, one of the CIA contractors, states "There is no sensationalism in that: We were told to 'stand down'. Those words were used verbatim — 100 percent.”

With respect to a rescue attempt of the CIA compound itself, the question is left open. A CIA officer begs over the radio for even just a low-altitude flyover by F-16s stationed just an hour away at Sigonella, Sicily. The movie cuts to a scene of F-16s idle on the tarmac with no further explanation.

Ultimately the movies does what it sets out to do: to portray the experiences of the security contractors who went well above and beyond what they were required to do in order to protect the ambassador and the CIA annex. Two of them lost their lives.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously testified before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, “what difference at this point does it make?”

Watch this movie. You’ll know the answer.