Diplomats criticize Benghazi response in GOP-led probe - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Diplomats criticize Benghazi response in GOP-led probe

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An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars at the U.S. consulate compound are engulfed in flames on Sept. 11, 2012, during an attack by an armed mob. An armed man waves his rifle as buildings and cars at the U.S. consulate compound are engulfed in flames on Sept. 11, 2012, during an attack by an armed mob.
BENGHAZI (NBC) -

A top diplomat on the ground in Libya during the Sept. 11, 2012, assault against a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi described a chaotic series of hours in which the government struggled to organize its response to the terrorist attack.

Gregory Hicks, a career foreign service officer who served as the deputy chief of mission in Libya at the time of the attacks, painted a picture of a frenetic scene in Libya as he worked to communicate between besieged individuals in Benghazi, and the governments of Libya and the United States. His testimony included a description of his first briefing of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the situation.

READ MORE | Official: US Special Forces weren't allowed to fly to Benghazi during attack

His testimony on Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee came amid a broader, Republican-led probe into last year's attack against the diplomatic outpost. Also testifying were Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism, and Eric Nordstrom, diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya.

But while the hearing had been expected to feature political fireworks, much of the testimony involved reconstructing the decision-making and response process during the hours following the attack.

Hicks said a response team was "furious" that military commanders ordered them to stand down when they were ready to travel from Tripoli to Benghazi to provide tactical support. And Thompson told lawmakers that he did not know why a specially-trained terrorist response group was not scrambled into action during the Benghazi attacks.

READ MORE  | Former US official describes Libya attack

But the hearing has nonetheless been imbued with political back-biting. Since last year's presidential campaign, Republicans have voiced suspicions that the administration deliberately whitewashed details about the attack to help protect Obama's re-election effort.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the committee, accused the administration of being "not cooperative" in the committee's investigation of the Benghazi incident. Republicans also complained that Ambassador Thomas Pickering (who led a State Department review of the Benghazi response) and retired Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen had declined to testify. (The Obama administration disputed that Pickering had refused to appear, and there were indications that he might appear at a subsequent hearing.)

The three witnesses expressed their displeasure with the review of the Benghazi response led by Pickering and Mullen. The said the review did not include interviews with senior enough officials, including Clinton, which left its findings incomplete.

READ MORE | FBI seeks data on 3 in Benghazi attack

Hicks also complained that Clinton's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, called to voice her displeasure when he spoke with congressional Republicans looking into the attacks during an official trip to Libya.

"I believe the Accountability Review Board did its work well," Pickering, a coauthor of the report, said Wednesday afternoon on MSNBC. "I think the notion, quote, of ‘a cover-up' has the elements of Pulitzer Prize fiction attached to it."

The most pointed questioning from Republicans has been about the administration's first explanation for the attacks – voiced by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice – by describing it as the spontaneous outgrowth of a protest related to an anti-Islamic video.

"I was stunned. My jaw dropped, and I was embarrassed," Hicks said of his reaction to Rice's appearances on a series of Sunday talk shows following the attack.

Democrats, in turn, emphasized the tragedy of Benghazi, but seized on testimony that military assets were not situated to assist in Benghazi, even if they wanted to.

During subsequent efforts to probe the Benghazi incident, Republicans have homed in upon the State Department and Clinton. An Accountability Review Board report commissioned by the State Department and published in December found that the diplomatic agency had resisted efforts to beef up security in Libya, and was caught flat-footed in its response to the Sept. 11 attack.

But even all Republicans aren't convinced of a political conspiracy being waged by the administration.

"I've been able to read all the cables, I've seen all the films. I feel like I know what happened in Benghazi; I'm fairly satisfied," said Sen. Bob Corker, Tenn., the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on MSNBC. "I'm fairly satisfied."

Corker said that it made sense to hold accountable any State Department officials for any mistakes made at the height of last September's attacks, and added that he hoped the House would convene its hearing in a "respectful way."

 

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