CAPITOL HILL —
A senior State Department official has criticized America’s security response during last year’s deadly attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, and has expressed dismay over the Obama administration’s initial characterization of the assault as a popular protest rather than a terrorist act. Three officials testified before the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee - the latest congressional probe into the attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
The attack, and the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, shocked the nation and sparked calls for an investigation. Eight months later, the controversy and the allegations continue.
The former deputy head of the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, Gregory Hicks, told lawmakers that a request to airlift additional security forces to Benghazi during the attack was denied.
“They were not authorized to travel. They remained in Tripoli with us,” Hicks said.
Who is Testifying at the Benghazi Hearing?
Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Libya at the time of the 2012 attack
Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism at the State Department
Eric Nordstrom, former regional security officer in Libya
Hicks said he also was told that U.S. aircraft in Italy could not respond in time, leaving him with this chilling thought:
“OK, we are on our own. We are going to have to pull this off with the resources that we have available [in Libya],” he said.
When Susan Rice, Washington's ambassador to the U.N., went on national television and characterized the Benghazi attack as a popular protest. Hicks was dismayed.
“I was stunned. My jaw dropped. And I was embarrassed,” Hicks said.
Some Republican lawmakers have accused the Obama administration of incompetence in responding to the Benghazi attack, and of attempting to mislead the American people afterwards.
Democrats point out that exhaustive reviews of the incident identified security lapses but no intentional wrongdoing. Congressman Elijah Cummings sympathized with Gregory Hicks’ desire for U.S. air support over Benghazi.
“If I were in your shoes, I would have wanted them to get there [to Benghazi] yesterday. And that is completely understandable. But the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff said they simply could not get there quickly,” Cummings said.
The three State Department whistleblowers said they wanted to provide a full accounting of events in Benghazi. Hicks alleged that superiors pressured him against speaking with lawmakers probing the attack. The State Department denies attempting to muzzle anyone.
Diplomatic security officer Eric Nordstrom said the truth matters.
“It matters to me personally. And it matters to my colleagues at the Department of State. It matters to the American public we serve,” Nordstrom said.
The committee’s chairman, Republican Darrell Issa, agreed. “Our goal in this investigation is to get answers,” Issa said.
Issa said the families of those killed in Benghazi especially deserve answers. But Democrats see politics at play. Once again, Elijah Cummings:
“What we have seen over the past two weeks is a full-scale media campaign that is not designed to investigate what happened in a responsible and bipartisan way, but rather unfounded accusations to smear public officials,” Cummings said.
The Benghazi attack occurred at the height of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. It could resurface in presidential politics in 2016 if former secretary of state Hillary Clinton decides to run for office.