A State Department official told Congress that his plea for troops to help defend the besieged U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, was rejected and that he knew all along that terrorists were behind the attacks.
Gregory Hicks, the second-ranking U.S. diplomat in Libya at the time of the attack, said he was told special forces troops that wanted to board a Libyan cargo plane heading to Benghazi were ordered not to go during the attacks on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Today’s hearing revived efforts by Republicans to show the Obama administration didn’t provide enough security to U.S. diplomats in Libya before the attacks, failed to respond militarily during it and engaged in what Representative Darrell Issa, the committee’s chairman, has called a cover-up afterward to hide the role of terrorists linked to al-Qaeda.
Obama administration officials have rejected all of those characterizations, and Democrats have said Republicans are trying to exploit a tragedy for political gain.
“What should have been a bipartisan investigation involving our national security was another sorry example of Republicans promising explosive new facts but delivering only a press spectacle,” Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said in a statement.
Issa of California said today that leaders of a review board appointed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- Thomas Pickering, a former undersecretary of state, and retired Admiral Michael Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- refused to testify before the panel and that the Obama administration hasn’t cooperated.
Pickering disputed that, saying in an interview on MSNBC today: “I’m willing to testify. I made that clear yesterday. The White House, I understand, made that clear to Mr. Issa. He declined.”
Hicks said in his testimony that he was stunned when Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, described the attack on national television days later as growing out of a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islamic video that sparked demonstrations in Egypt and elsewhere.
“My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed,” Hicks said. adding later, “The YouTube video was a non-event in Libya.”
The administration later corrected the “talking points” that Rice had used, acknowledging that there was no demonstration and that militant groups staged the assault.
Recounting the events of Sept. 11, Hicks said he called Stevens in Tripoli and the ambassador said, “‘Greg, we’re under attack.”
Hicks said a call later informing him Stevens was dead was “the saddest phone call in my life.”
Hicks said he tried in vain to get fighter jets to fly over Benghazi in an effort to scare off the attackers. He also said four U.S. special forces troops were ordered not to board a Libyan military transport plane that flew to Benghazi from Tripoli in the hours after the attack.
“We wanted to send further reinforcements to Benghazi,” Hicks said. “People in Benghazi had been fighting all night. They were tired. They were exhausted. We wanted to make sure the airport was secure for their withdrawal.”
Pentagon spokesman George Little said today the four-man unit was ordered to remain in Tripoli because the mission in Benghazi had already shifted to evacuation.
“We continue to believe that there was nothing this team could have done to assist during the second attack in Benghazi on Sept. 11,” Little told reporters at the Pentagon. “The team remained in Tripoli and performed admirably.”
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified last year that while troops were mobilized to prepare a response, the military assets weren’t close enough to reach Benghazi in time. He said the Pentagon “spared no expense to save American lives.”
Eric Nordstrom, who served as the regional security officer at the Tripoli embassy last year, said in written testimony that the Accountability Review Board appointed by Clinton chose to “ignore the role senior department leadership played before, during and after the 11 September attack.”
The review board found that the State Department showed “a lack of proactive leadership and management ability,” although the panel didn’t formally interview Clinton and no government employees were found to have violated their duties. One resigned and three others were relieved of certain duties. None were fired.
Nordstrom told a congressional committee in October that he was turned down by the department when he requested extension of a 16-member security support team that was scheduled to leave Tripoli in August. Clinton has testified she never was informed of the request.