In his embarrassment over his tangled affair and ruined career, it’s understandable that David Petraeus may be reluctant to go before congressional committees to answer questions about the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Then again, talking about Libya may be more appealing than any other conversations that might come his way. Either way, Petraeus’s obligation to respond to Congress on the attacks that killed an ambassador and three other Americans doesn’t end with his resignation as CIA director.
Shortly before the revelation of his extramarital affair with his biographer, Petraeus traveled to Libya to discuss the failures of security and intelligence that may have contributed to the Americans’ deaths. As Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed out on Tuesday, Petraeus’s discussions with the CIA station chief in Libya could shed important light on the circumstances surrounding the attacks last September. As is normal when discussing classified material, Petraeus’s testimony before the committee would be shielded from the public. Feinstein said she hoped to arrange for Petraeus to testify as soon as Friday. As of publication, it was unclear whether Petraeus would cooperate. He should.
Petraeus should also agree to testify behind closed doors to the relevant House panels. Even though some House Republicans have sought to make political hay of the Obama administration’s actions surrounding the Benghazi attacks, the House’s role in providing congressional oversight of national security agencies must be respected. This is precisely the type of situation in which congressional hearings are necessary.
Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director appeared to end a storied career in public service. But Petraeus has at least one more service to perform, and he should do so with the sense of responsibility that characterized his earlier career.