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Lawmakers question why Benghazi suspects missing from 'Rewards for Justice' program

 

The fact that no Benghazi suspects are listed as part of the State Department’s "Rewards for Justice" program is more evidence that the Obama White House wants to minimize the terrorism angle in that attack, according to the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

“I just think it’s a sign from the administration they’re not taking it seriously. It’s not a priority,” Republican Rep. Michael McCaul told Fox News. “It is really offensive to the victims, and we owe it to them to convict these terrorists and bring them to justice.”

McCaul has 22 signatures, including that of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., for a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking for a full explanation. 

While the Rewards for Justice program -- which pays hefty rewards for tips leading to wanted terrorists -- is described by the State Department as a highly effective tool to track down terrorists, it is not being used in the Benghazi case. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki has so far refused to say whether the suspects were considered for the list. Last week, Psaki’s deputy, Marie Harf, declined to discuss the deliberations, telling reporters they are classified. 

"Whether we pay a couple million dollars isn't the point -- the point is we believe it's a priority ... and whether they are on a website or not doesn't change that," she said. 

The McCaul letter reads in part: “According to your department, since the inception of the Rewards for Justice program in 1984, the United States has paid more than $125 million to over 80 people who provided credible information that put terrorists behind bars or prevented acts of international terrorism worldwide. The program played a significant role in the arrest of international terrorist Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. 

"We fail to understand how such an important counterterrorism tool could not be used by the administration, when you and the President claim that bringing the assailants to justice is such a high priority." 

Royce also said: "We want to ensure that no effort is being spared to bring the Benghazi killers to justice." 

Last week, Fox News was first to report that key Benghazi suspects being sought by the FBI include Faraj al Chalabi, believed to be a former bodyguard for the Al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, as well as former Guantanamo detainee Sufian bin Qumu. CBS News "60 Minutes" later identified the same suspects and their affiliations in a report on Sunday. 

On Monday, the State Department’s Psaki still maintained there was nothing to add.

Fox News has previously shown through congressional testimony, and documents, that the policy decision to have a diplomatic presence in Benghazi with security that did not meet State Department standards was made at the highest levels of the State Department, though no one has been punished at that level. In October 2012, Fox News reported on a classified cable summarizing an emergency meeting and sent to Hillary Clinton’s office which warned the consulate could not sustain a coordinated assault and State Department personnel should consider moving in with the CIA annex in Benghazi.   

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concluded in September that the State Department internal review let senior officials off the hook. The nearly 100-page report by Republicans on the panel alleged the board’s probe was not comprehensive, its interviews were not thorough, and the investigation itself may have been damaged by conflicts of interest.

The State Department argued that its review was "thorough and transparent." 

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.