Three diplomats on the scene in Libya when Islamists killed the American ambassador and torched the embassy facility in Benghazi testified before a Congressional committee that the official State Department account of the incident is not exactly correct. The three also told of pressure they received not to tell the whole story.
From Ernesto Londoño and Karen DeYoung in the Washington Post:
Three State Department officials on Wednesday provided a riveting, emotional account of last year’s fatal attack on U.S. installations in eastern Libya as they accused senior government officials of withholding embarrassing facts and failing to take enough responsibility for security lapses.
The testimony provided new details on the Sept. 11, 2012, assaults on U.S. installations in Benghazi and their aftermath. But the new information failed to break the political logjam the attacks spawned, with Republicans and Democrats offering starkly different interpretations of what happened and who within the U.S. government is to blame. . . .
The witnesses raised fresh questions about whether then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her deputies were sufficiently engaged in assessing the security posture of diplomatic posts last year.
Speaking before the panel, they also reiterated criticism of the administration’s initial reluctance to describe the attacks as premeditated terrorist acts. The Libyan government had labeled the attacks a terrorist assault, and the absence of similar descriptions from the United States made it more difficult for Libyan officials to assist the FBI’s investigation of the incident, according to the former deputy chief of the U.S. mission in Libya. . . .
Early in the hearing, Hicks delivered a detailed account of the events of that night, keeping spectators in the crowded hearing room riveted.
After being alerted that the mission’s villa in Benghazi was being assaulted, Hicks said, he managed to get Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens on the phone for a few seconds — just long enough to hear him say, “Greg, we’re under attack.”
Hicks said he and his colleagues worked the phones madly that night, asking Libyan government officials for reinforcement while they waited for Washington to spring into action.
Scott Wickland, the ambassador’s main bodyguard, sought to rescue Stevens from the burning building, Hicks said.
“He tried repeatedly to go back in to try to rescue Sean [Smith] and the ambassador but had to stop due to exposure to smoke,” the diplomat testified.
A team from a house nearby that was used as a base by the CIA responded to the attack on the main compound and managed to repel it initially, Hicks said, but it later had to retreat under fire, leaving Stevens behind.
Hicks learned that Stevens had been taken to a hospital controlled by a militia, and he began hearing reports that the ambassador had died. A call from the Libyan prime minister confirming the news, Hicks said, was “the saddest phone call I have ever had in my life.”
When they realized the U.S. military would not be bailing them out anytime soon, Hicks said, his team sprang into action.
“Okay, we’re on our own,” he said, describing his reaction. “We’re going to have to try to pull this off with the resources that we have available.”
Alarmed by the possibility that the residential area where U.S. diplomats were housed in Tripoli could come under attack, Hicks began planning to move to an annex as soon as dawn broke. A female diplomat packed ammunition into their armored vehicles and then used an ax to destroy hard drives and other sensitive items that would be left unguarded.