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New Benghazi testimony in Congress sharply critical of Obama administration (+video)

Three State Department officials, referred to as 'whistleblowers' by some on the House panel, testified on the Benghazi attack for hours in an intensely partisan atmosphere. 

By Staff writer / May 8, 2013

Gregory Hicks, former Deputy Chief of Mission/in Libya, Department of State, testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's hearing on Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 8, 2013.

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

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Washington

The Benghazi terrorist attack returned to Congress Wednesday in hours of testimony – and sharply partisan questioning – that included the first public retelling from a US diplomat in Libya at the time of what happened the night Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

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The testimony was not kind to the Obama administration.

The hearing, called by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was framed around the appearance and questioning of three State Department officials who were closely involved with the US response to the Benghazi attack on Sept. 11, 2012, but had not yet testified on it.

All three officials, called “whistleblowers” by several committee members, were critical of the Obama administration’s actions before, during, and after the assault on the temporary US mission in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi and on an annex operated by the CIA.

But any light the hours of questioning cast on the events in Benghazi – and on the committee’s stated broader goal of making sure steps are taken so they never happen again – was dimmed by the intensely partisan atmosphere of the hearing.

Republicans, led by committee chairman and top Obama critic Darrell Issa, repeatedly referred to the Benghazi “cover-up” they said was engineered by the administration, while Democrats said time and again that Republican cuts to diplomatic security budgets were to blame for exposing Benghazi to the deadliest assault on a US diplomatic mission in more than a decade.

The officials, including the second-in-command to Ambassador Stevens at the time of the attack, were critical of a wide range of administration decisions: from the level and type of security for the Benghazi mission, to rejecting a number of military options for addressing the attack.

Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Tripoli the night of the attack, criticized “stand down” orders out of the Pentagon: one not to send jets to overfly the attack site, another not to dispatch special forces from the embassy in Tripoli in the early morning hours the day after the attack.

It was Mr. Hicks who gave the committee and its audience – which included relatives of the four Americans killed in Benghazi – a riveting “tick tock” of events the night of the attack that included phone calls with Stevens. He said the last words he heard from his boss before the last call went dead were, “Greg, we’re under attack.”

Hicks said he sought to have jets overfly the Benghazi mission in a bid to frighten away the attackers and end the assault, but was told the nearest jets were at Aviano Air Base in Italy and would take hours to get in the air.

Hicks did not appear to suggest that any US action could have saved Stevens, who died as a result of the firebombing of the mission and the “safe house” to which the ambassador had retreated. He described the attack as a “petroleum fire” that would have released extremely toxic cyanide gas that one expert told him would incapacitate anyone inhaling it “in one breath.”

But he left open the possibility that some quick action to quell the initial attack might have saved other lives.

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