Email #223: “answers they deserve”?

On July 18, 2016, one year ago today, Patricia Smith, the parent of one of four Americans killed in the terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, spoke at the Republican National Convention, saying: “I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son.” The following month she and another parent of a victim filed a lawsuit against Secretary Clinton, holding her legally responsible due to her use of a private email server. The complaint alleged:

“It is highly probable, given Defendant Clinton’s history of reckless handling of classified information, that Defendant Clinton, as Secretary of State, sent and received information about Ambassador Christopher Stevens and thus the U.S. Department of State activities and covert operations that the deceased were a part of in Benghazi, Libya. This information was compromised from the second that it left Defendant Clinton’s private e-mail server and easily found its way to foreign powers.

“As a direct result of Defendant Clinton’s reckless handling of this classified, sensitive information, Islamic terrorists were able to obtain the whereabouts of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and thus the U.S. State Department and covert and other government operations in Benghazi, Libya and subsequently orchestrate, plan, and execute the now infamous September 11, 2012 attack. From the illegal use of Defendant Clinton’s private email server, it was reasonably foreseeable that Islamic terrorists would premeditatedly kill Plaintiffs’ sons.”

The complaint also accused Clinton of making “false and defamatory statements negligently, recklessly, purposefully, and/or intentionally with actual malice” when, as Smith said at the Convention, “she looked me squarely in the eye and told me a video was responsible.”

This is heart-breaking. These deaths were tragic, and Smith is justified in believing they were also avoidable. The Obama administration misread the situation in Libya and did not protect the embassy. Even one of the victims, Embassador Stevens, twice declined security assistance from the senior U.S. military official in the region just a month before the attack. The Obama administration also vacillated in their public statements about the nature of the attack, initially believing it was triggered by the protest of an anti-Muslim film before realizing and then only later acknowledging their error.

It is fair for Patricia Smith to accuse Secretary Clinton of incompetence and deceptiveness. But her lawsuit is even more heart-breaking because it goes so much further. Her belief about Secretary Clinton’s email server is based entirely on conjecture. Though there is nothing to suggest that the terrorists who attacked the embassy did so after hacking Clinton’s emails, because it is not impossible, Smith believes that it’s true.

A judge dismissed the suit in May on the most basic grounds: Secretary Clinton was acting in an official capacity and so cannot be held liable for wrongful deaths in a civil suit. While this conclusion seems inevitable, Smith was clearly advised otherwise. And her lawyers say they will appeal the dismissal, further worsening this tragic situation.

My heart goes out to Smith for two reasons. First and foremost, for her unspeakable loss as a parent. As the father of two children, I can vividly imagine the horror of her experience. But secondly, I am further horrified by how the GOP used her as a political pawn to attack Secretary Clinton during the presidential campaign. Had someone other than Clinton been nominated by the Democratic party, the additional suffering caused by her continuing lawsuit would never have happened. She has been lied to, and in her grief, she has believed those lies.

You said in 2013 when the House released its report on Benghazi:

“As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I will continue to investigate this terrorist attack and provide the American people and the families of the victims with the answers they deserve and demand that the Administration hold accountable with appropriate disciplinary actions those who made these poor and costly decisions.”

As you determined yourself, such “appropriate disciplinary actions” do not include finding Secretary Clinton guilty of wrongful deaths. You know this. You are a lawyer. And yet despite your promise to provide the families of the victims with the truth they deserve, you did not counsel Patricia Smith against her lawsuit.  That makes you complicit in her further suffering.

As one of the most dogged critic of Secretary Clinton, your opinion carries tremendous weight. Though the public should also be told that the grounds of this lawsuit are heartbreakingly meaningless, I ask only that you contact Ms. Smith privately and counsel her not to pursue her appeal.

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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