WASHINGTON, May 8 -- A State Department official who was serving in Libya last year offered a riveting first-hard account Wednesday of the deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, drawing praise from House Republicans who called the hearing to question the Obama administration’s response to the attack.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said that the three witnesses deserved to be heard.
“The witnesses before us are actually experts on what really happened before, during and after the Benghazi attacks,” Issa said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, tore into the Republican Party for politicizing the Benghazi attacks in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed along with three other Americans. Cummings said Republican allegations that the Obama administration, especially then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, misrepresented the attacks as the result of protests and didn’t respond forcefully to rescue Stevens and the others.
“I am not questioning the motives of the witnesses,” Cummings said. “I am questioning the motives of those who want to use their statements for political purposes.”
Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya, provided a chilling and sometimes emotional account of the attack. He was in Tripoli at the time. The Islamic militant group Ansar-al-Sharia claimed responsibility for the attack.
“I was stunned. My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed,” Hicks said of his reaction to U.N. Secretary Rice’s depiction of the attack, which she originally said was an escalation of the protests. He said that he personally told former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at 2 a.m.at it was indeed a terrorist attack.
The Libyan government never mentioned a protest or demonstration, which allegedly lead up to the night’s events, according to Hicks.
“I am a career public servant,” Hicks said. “Until the aftermath of Benghazi, I loved every day of my job.”
Mark Thompson, the deputy coordinator for operations in the State Department’s counterterrorism bureau, said that a Special Operations team called the Foreign Emergency Support Team, was told not to deploy as first responders.
Thompson said that he was told that it would be too unsafe for FEST to be deployed.
Eric Nordstrom, regional security officer in Tripoli at the time of the attack, said that the U.S. compounds in both Benghazi and Tripoli failed to meet minimum standards required by the Overseas Security Policy Board, which are critical to security evaluated on potential threats and location.
Only the secretary of State can waive the requirements established by the Overseas Security Policy Board, he said, and no waiver was prepared for either compound in Libya.