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May 09, 2013

State Department Denies Demoting Benghazi Whistleblower

by Scott Stearns

A senior State Department official says he has been demoted following his criticism of the Obama administration's handling of last September's attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.  Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed.  State Department officials say there has been no retaliation against Benghazi whistleblowers.

Since his return to Washington following the Benghazi attacks, Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya, has told Congress he was punished professionally.

"The job now is a significant ... it's a demotion," said Hicks. "Foreign affairs officer is a designation that is given to our civil service colleagues who are desk officers.  So I've been effectively demoted from deputy chief of mission to desk officer."

Acting Deputy State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell says that is not true.

"The Department has not and will not retaliate against Mr. Hicks," said Ventrell. "As he testified yesterday, he decided to shorten his assignment in Libya following the attacks, in part due to understandable family reasons, and he has followed standard employment processes."

Ventrell says Hicks has had neither a reduction in pay nor in grade and is free to compete with other foreign service officers for his next posting.

A 22-year veteran of the State Department, Hicks is a fluent Arabic speaker who before Libya served in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria.

Hicks told the congressional hearing that superiors questioned his management skills after he told Republican lawmakers that U.S. soldiers in Tripoli should have been sent to Benghazi.

Hicks has criticized Washington's initial assessment of the violence as stemming from a demonstration instead of being a terrorist attack, and says he was stunned when the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, made that assertion.

The Obama administration corrected its account to say this was a terrorist attack.  The U.S. Defense Department says soldiers in Tripoli could not have reached Benghazi in time to rescue those who were killed and injured.