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Tuesday , January 31 2023

Michael Bay’s movie destined to be heavily scrutinized – How ‘13 Hours’ tries to get at the truth of Benghazi

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LOS ANGELES, Jan 15, (RTRS): Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” opens with the message, “This is a true story.” In other words, not “based on a true story,” but “a true story.” Given the political controversy that has swirled around the events of the Benghazi attacks for more than three years, the movie is destined to be heavily scrutinized for how it portrays the team of six security contractors housed at a secret CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya. It shows how they put their lives on the line to respond to the Sept 11, 2012, attack on the nearby diplomatic compound.

The contractors have said that they wanted to see their story told on screen because the politics surrounding Benghazi have obscured the actual events on the ground that evening as well as the lives that were lost. Four Americans, including US Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed. “Probably the biggest challenge was remaining completely true to the events that transpired that night,” said producer Erwin Stoff. “Any time you are doing a real story or a true story, there is that temptation to say, ‘Well, it would be better if this would happen or that would happen.’

But there is not a thing in this movie that is not verifi able by two or more sources.” The movie’s origins came just months after the attacks, Stoff said, when Richard Abate, book agent with Stoff’s 3 Arts Entertainment, was put in touch with Kris “Tanto” Paronto, one of the security contractors. “We got all fi ve together and we all realized there was a book there and eventually a movie,” Stoff said. After a bidding war between a number of publishers, a Hachette imprint got the book, and Mitchell Zuckoff was hired to write it with the security team. Other Benghazi fi lm projects began to surface, so instead of waiting until the book was published, they began to develop and pitch the movie beforehand.

Four of the contractors came with them to pitch the studios. “They, as much as anybody, told the story,” Stoff said. Paramount bought it, with Chuck Hogan writing the script and Bay attached by August, 2014, Stoff said. Other studios said it “was one of the most compelling pitches they had heard but everybody was reluctant about the politics of it.” The book, “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi,” was published that September.

“The biggest challenge was getting it right,” Zuckoff said.”I felt very deeply that so much false information had fl own around this that if this book had even a small error we would be doing a disservice to them and to their service.” Production started in April, 2015, including nine weeks in Malta and one week in Morocco. Perhaps no other moment in the movie has been as hotly debated as the contractors’ assertion that they were given an order to “stand down” by the CIA annex chief, a wait of about 20 minutes before responding to the attack at the nearby diplomatic mission where Stevens was quartered. Eventually they bucked orders and left.


The contractors insist that a “stand down” order was given, even though the CIA has denied it and congressional investigations have so far found that none such order was given, even if there was a delay as the CIA chief sought out a local militia. (The chief’s identity is not revealed in the movie, and he is named “Bob”). Another report is expected this spring from a House special committee on Benghazi, and the issue is expected to be raised again, according to Politico. The issue is important because some of the contractors believe that if they had gotten their sooner they could have saved Stevens and Sean Smith, an information management offi cer who was killed.

The contractors “heard the calls immediately,” Zuckoff said. “No one has disputed that they ‘jocked up’ — in their lingo, they armored up immediately and they staged these cars ready to go. And then 20 minutes go by. There’s no question that Bob was trying to get help from the local militia forces. And so the delay did take place and the guys ultimately went on their own.” Zuckoff said that he believes what the CIA chief was doing was “sincerely trying to gather forces, but it was a misguided effort.” The problem, he said, was that the militia was unreliable. “We have never heard anything from the CIA other than, ‘No [the stand-down order] didn’t happen.’

These guys [the security contractors] are putting their lives and their reputations on the line saying, ‘We were forced to wait, and the record shows it.’” A problem, he said, was that the CIA chief was a spy, not a military tactical commander. The book and the movie do not suggest what some conservative critics have — that the “stand down” order came from higher ranks, perhaps from the White House. “We are not claiming that there was some order from on high, that there was some kind of overarching order out of Washington or even out of Tripoli,” Zuckoff said. “The book makes clear and the movie absolutely does, it absolutely gets it right, that these are fast-paced decisions, and they turned out to be wrong decisions.”