Benghazi heroism commemorated by Winchester road race

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WINCHESTER – If Barbara Doherty’s son were alive today, he’d be the first to sign up to run in his hometown’s road-race events, she said.

Photo courtesy of the Doherty family.

Photo courtesy of the Doherty family.

“There wasn’t a sport he didn’t love,” she said about Glen Doherty, one of four Americans killed in a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that began on Sept. 11, 2012. “He would have loved to do the run on Sunday.”

The charitable event, dubbed the Glen Doherty Memorial Road Race, is now entering its third year with 5- and 10-kilometer runs. Barbara Doherty said each race has been more popular than the last.

“The number of racers going up means the number of recipients is also going up,” she added.  Money raised at the event supports higher education pursuits for current or former special operations professionals, a group that included her son.

Some of the money will also help special operations and foreign service professionals pay for their children to attend outdoor leadership camps. Before he became a Navy SEAL, Doherty spent several years in Colorado and Utah, working as a ski instructor in the winter and leading whitewater rafting trips in the summer.

“He loved the outdoors,” his mother said, adding that he and his older brother Greg first learned to ski on a neighborhood hill.

The hurt involved with losing a son will never go away, she said. There is comfort in knowing, however, that the community’s memory of her son isn’t going away either.

Barbara Doherty is also involved in another mission: finding a way to convince the federal government that death benefits should extend to the families of federal contractors killed overseas.

Evacuation mission

Glen, who left the SEALs in 2005, was a security contractor for the Central Intelligence Agency at the time of his death. He wasn’t in Benghazi when the attack started with more than 60 armed terrorists storming the diplomatic outpost and setting it aflame. He was 400 miles away, stationed in Tripoli.

A man walks near a charred vehicle at the entrance of the U.S. Conulate, in Benghazi, Libya, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. The deadly Sept. 11 attack on the consulate killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

A man walks near a charred vehicle at the entrance of the U.S. Conulate, in Benghazi, Libya, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. The deadly Sept. 11 attack on the consulate killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

As the assault began, at approximately 9:42 p.m. local time, Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and Sean Smith, a State Department information management officer, took refuge inside a “safe room” in the diplomatic compound. Security personnel stationed at a nearby CIA annex reached the consulate about 30 minutes later and discovered Smith was dead.

Stevens would be assassinated by the terrorists later that night.

In Tripoli, Doherty managed to charter a plane, arriving in Benghazi just after 5 a.m. the next morning on a rescue mission. Reaching the rooftop of the CIA annex building under heavy fire, Doherty and teammate Tyrone Woods took up defensive positions.

Minutes later, both died as incoming mortar rounds exploded near them. Today, more than three years after the terror attack, only one person, Ahmed Abu Khatallah, has been captured and charged with the crime. Khatallah is currently awaiting trial in Washington, D.C.

“Dealing with Washington is not easy”

After the federal government refused to grant death benefits to his survivors, Barbara Doherty and her family sued the State Department and the CIA, claiming the compound lacked sufficient security. Doherty said the real problem traces all the way back to the Defense Base Act of 1941, a law that requires overseas federal contractors to buy so-called Defense Base Act insurance.

The law does not provide for death benefits, save for $3,000 to cover funeral expenses, for unmarried personnel. U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Boston) earlier this year filed legislation in Glen Doherty’s name to amend the law to ensure that “full death benefits are extended to the families or designated beneficiaries of these federal contractors who have died in service to our country as a result of a war-risk hazard or an act of terrorism.”

For Doherty’s family, their loss became even more difficult.

“Dealing with Washington is not easy and can be quite unpleasant,” Barbara Doherty said. “But we’re not alone in this endeavor.”

She said a CIA official told her that her family was the only one involved in this particular death benefits situation.

“That was a lie,” she said. “We now know of 80 other families.”

There have been other painful moments involving dealings with Washington. Doherty recalled that it took nearly two months before then-FBI Director Robert Mueller reached out to her. She said he apologized for the delay and explained he couldn’t find her “contact number.”

“That’s what he called it – contact number,” she said with a laugh. “My contact number is in the phone book. That’s how you found me, right?”

The blame game

One Washington official she does not blame is then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who condemned the attack but didn’t initially call it an act of terrorism, hewing to the White House line that the violence was a spontaneous event that developed from a protest against an anti-Muslim YouTube video. Later investigations showed that there was no sign of unrest or protests before the attack began. Barbara Doherty said she has spoken with Clinton on multiple occasions.

“I do not hold her responsible for what happened,” Doherty said about Clinton, who didn’t call the incident a terrorist attack until Sept. 20, 2012. “If you take a closer look you’ll find out that there are undersecretaries. One of the ones in charge is gone.”

Doherty was referring to Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary for international programs. The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence later determined that it was Lamb’s office that denied requests from Stevens for additional security personnel in Benghazi in March 2012.

Lamb isn’t exactly “gone.” Following the Senate investigation, Lamb was transferred to the position of regional security officer in Canada.

Brandon Webb, one of Glen Doherty’s closest friends, is a little more critical of Clinton. Webb, a former Navy SEAL who trained with Doherty and later co-authored a book with him about what it takes to be a wartime sniper, said he still can’t believe nobody has been held accountable.

“In the military, if a ship runs aground (the) captain is going to be relieved,” Webb said. For Clinton “not to take responsibility right away, or hold anyone else accountable, to me that’s an epic fail.”

Webb said Lamb’s transfer actually equated to a promotion. He also said the other central figure in the Benghazi tragedy was Patrick F. Kennedy (no relation to the Kennedy political family), the State Department’s undersecretary of management. Webb pointed to the agency’s failure to implement security recommendations that had been made following the 1998 terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, a criticism that surfaced in the Senate report.

“Nothing was done after that at the State Department to improve the situation,” Webb said. “Everyone was just looking to point fingers and not take any blame.”

“What kind of example does that set?”

Barbara Doherty acknowledged the difficulty in talking about her son but added that she refuses to shy away from the media.

“We’re getting more and more information out there and I know there are people in Washington that don’t like that,” she said. “As long as it’s on TV and in the newspapers, then we have a chance. The people in Washington do not like to be put on a bandstand.”

As for her family’s lawsuit against the government and Lynch’s bill, Doherty said she hopes people don’t get the idea that all they are seeking is monetary compensation.

“What this is about is righting a wrong and helping not just us but other families too,” she said. “Our family, however, is the only voice so far.”

“Hopefully everything will be settled before they spread my ashes somewhere,” she said.

The race

There is still time to register for the Sunday afternoon event in this Boston suburb. Signups take place from 12 to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Winchester Public Library, 80 Washington St., and from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday at the Jenks Center at 109 Skillings Rd., where the race starts at noon. Parking is available at the high school, 40 Skillings Road.

By Friday, more than 1,500 participants had signed up. Evidently, a lot of people in the community remember the sacrifice made by Glen Doherty, Woods and others like them.

Contact Evan Lips at [email protected] or @evanmlips