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Friday, May 17, 2013

Did State Department Officials Commit Involuntary Manslaughter in the Four Benghazi Deaths?

     There are, theoretically, two sets of perpetrators criminally responsible for the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the three Americans--Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone S. Woods--who fought the terrorists who attacked the U. S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. These four men were murdered in the first degree by Islamist terrorists. State Department officials who knowingly, or at least recklessly failed to perform their duty to protect the Benghazi compound and its personnel could, theoretically, be prosecuted for negligent homicide. (This theoretical discussion of homicide law as applied to the Benghazi deaths does not take into consideration procedural issues of jurisdiction or sovereign immunity.)

     In many states involuntary manslaughter is also called negligent homicide. The offense involves victims who have been killed as a result of defendants' reckless or highly negligent behavior. For example, a drunk driver who runs over and kills a pedestrian will likely be charged with involuntary manslaughter. It is a lesser homicide offense because the culpable party did not intend to take a life. In most states, pursuant to sentencing guidelines, defendants found guilty of involuntary manslaughter are sentenced to 10 to 16 months in prison. Generally, the more reckless the behavior, the more serious the sentence.

     Take the hypothetical case of an apartment building fire that results in the death of a tenant. Assume that fire scene investigators determine that the blaze quickly raged out of control because of a sprinkler system that had fallen into disrepair. If fire safety inspectors had repeatedly cited the owner of the building with code violations pertaining to a faulty sprinkler system, broken fire-escapes, and blocked exit doors, the landlord could be held criminally culpable for the tenant's death. The appropriate charge would be involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide. The landlord, by knowingly or recklessly putting his tenants at risk, had violated his legal duty to protect them from fire. In cases like this, prosecutors have to prove a direct causal link between the defendants' negligent behavior and the victims' deaths.

     In the weeks and months prior to the terrorist attack of the U. S. Consulate in Benghazi, State Department officials in Washington received a steady stream of warnings from the Ambassador and others that the Islamist threat in the region was severe, immediate, and growing. The CIA had warned the State Department that ten Islamist militias including members of Al Qaeda had set up training centers in Benghazi. Moreover, the consulate, already attacked by terrorists, was under constant enemy surveillance. British diplomats and their staff had already fled the city. American Red Cross personnel, feeling threatened by terrorism and political instability in the region, had also departed. Ambassador Stevens, aware of the impending danger, pleaded with State Department officials to send help in the form of added security.

     Under these conditions, a reasonable and prudent person would expect that security at the U. S. Consulate would either be beefed-up, or the foreign service personnel in harm's way would be pulled out of the danger zone. Instead, Ambassador Stevens received a State Department cable signed by Hillary Clinton proposing a scaling back of consulate security, a proposal that was carried out. Despite repeated requests for added protection, Ambassador Stevens and his people, already in harm's way, were placed, by their colleagues in Washington, into even greater danger. (While it is not necessary in criminal law to prove motive, the only explanation that makes any sense regarding why the State Department knowingly placed Ambassador Stevens and his people in such danger is politics.)

     Ranking State Department officials have a legal duty to protect the people they send to dangerous places. In the Benghazi case, these officials breached that responsibility. Unfortunately, no one will be held criminally responsible for not protecting these four Americans. A few low-level bureaucrats may lose their jobs while the people truly responsible for this dereliction of duty will probably not even be held politically accountable.

     Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while testifying before a Congressional Committee on the Benghazi affair, said something to the effect, "Who cares how these men died?" Since I believe the Ambassador and the other three Americans were essentially murdered by politicians and bureaucrats, I found this comment not only ironic but offensive.

     It is not surprising that because of the Benghazi outrage and the other government scandals involving the IRS and the Department of Justice, an increasing number of citizens do not believe or trust politicians and bureaucrats and the political pundits and journalists who lie for them. Watergate involved the cover-up of two burglaries. Benghazi involves the cover-up of four homicides.



  1. I really enjoy reading your blog on crime and punishment.
    However, your forays into predictable right-wing nuttery
    are not so enjoyable. They are silly, sophomoric
    and beneath anyone purporting to have any insight
    into anything.

    To compare watergate (a complete subversion of the constitution
    and the rule of law) to Benghazi is political hackery at its worst

  2. I did not compare Benghazi to Watergate. While you can't keep politics out of political scandals, my analysis of the Benghazi affair was intended as primarily legal. But I will admit that I have never been a fan of Hillary Clinton who I believe is a pathological liar and a sociopath.

  3. Correction, I did compare the crimes underlying the Benghazi and Watergate scandals. But when political pundits make the comparison, they do it in the context of presidential involvement. I presume that President Obama was not directly involved in the decisions and omissions that led to the Benghazi deaths. If it turns out that he was, then he, like Richard Nixon, should be held culpable.

  4. With all due respect, Jim. I know you
    right-wingers despise our president more
    than you love our country. In fact, you would
    rather see it fail than succeed under a
    liberal democratic president.

    But now that you have had to swallow
    hard on president Obama get ready for
    Mrs Clinton. Despite your hatred she will be
    elected the next president. The majority
    Of Americans want sane, competent leadership
    not ideologues enamored of biblical prophesy,
    Endless war and economic oligarchs.

  5. Consider this: We "right-wingers" despise the present because we love our country. Why did you "left-wingers" despise President Bush? Give me a break.