WASHINGTON – “Greg, we are under attack,” were the last words whistleblower U.S. diplomat Gregory Hicks, present in Libya at the time of the Benghazi terrorist attack, recalled U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens saying to him in a desperate phone call moments before Stevens was killed.
“We were under attack, and we were on our own,” Hicks said today in emotionally charged testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Hicks, who was in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, during the attack, summarized the failure of the Obama administration to bring in military resources to save Stevens and the other three Americans killed in an attack that began late in the evening of Sept. 11, 2012, and continued into the early morning hours of the next day.
The other witnesses were Eric Nordstrom, formerly the regional security officer in Libya, and Mark Thompson, a former Marine and official with the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau.
Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Libya at the time of the Benghazi attack, reconstructed today a minute-by-minute account of the attack.
He described it as a four-phase assault that began around 9:45 p.m. local time in Libya and lasted until dawn the next day.
Hicks, who became the top U.S. diplomat in Libya after Stevens was killed, implied political decisions were made not to bring military assets to the scene.
“The night I was involved in this incident I was at my desk at the end of the day when the first reports came in that we had an attack going on at our diplomatic facility in Benghazi,” Hicks testified.
“Later, when I heard Ambassador Stevens had gone to a safe haven and later could not be contacted, I recommended to the White House the deployment of the FAST (Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Team) team.”
But Hicks said he “was told the FAST response had been taken off the table of options.”
In the early hours of the morning of Sept. 12, as the attack was yet continuing, Hicks was frustrated by the White House’s denial of an urgent request to dispatch four Special Operations troops from Tripoli to Benghazi to help evacuate Americans.
“People in Benghazi had been fighting all night,” he recalled, at times tearing up and having to pause a moment to regain composure. “They were tired, exhausted. We wanted to make sure the airport was secure for their withdrawal.”
But the military personnel were not authorized to travel.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asked, “How did the personnel react at being told to stand down?”
“They were furious,” Hicks replied. “I can only say, well, I will quote Lieutenant Colonel Gibson. He said this is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more balls than somebody in the military.”
Hicks insisted a fly-over by U.S. fighter jets would have been sufficient to hold off a later predawn mortar assault.
“In my personal opinion, a fast-moving, fly-over Benghazi at some point, as soon as possible, might very well have prevented some of the bad things that happened that night,” Hicks insisted, acknowledging it might have required the approval of the Libyans to enter Libyan airspace.
“I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe the Libyans would have split. They would have been scared to death we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them.”
Hicks claimed he was told fighter jets could have been over Benghazi within two or three hours, if scrambled immediately out of Aviano Air Base in Italy, but the problem was there was no tanker aircraft available to refuel the aircraft.
Hicks explained he and other diplomats in Tripoli virtually begged the U.S. government to provide a military response, to no avail.
Democrats on the House Committee defended the Obama administration by arguing there was insufficient time to bring military resources to repulse the terror attack.
“It is stunning no one in the Obama administration asked Libya if we could use their airspace to protect our ambassador in Libya,” said Chaffetz, expressing the frustration the Republican members of the committee.
All three witnesses agreed there was no basis for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on the Sunday news shows following the Benghazi attack to claim the attack began as a protest of an anti-Islamic film. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly made that claim in the hours and days after the incident.
Hicks pointedly said he was “stunned” by Rice’s response to the Benghazi attack.
“My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed,” he said.
Hicks was asked if there was any indication of a protest in Benghazi in response to the Internet video.
“The YouTube video was a non-event in Libya,” he said
Hicks testified that throughout the night, he was in contact with Washington.
“About 2 a.m. local Libyan time, Secretary of State Clinton and her staff called for a briefing,” he said.
Hicks recalled that most of that conversation was focused on searching for Ambassador Stevens.
He testified that early in the attack, when the safe-haven area of Benghazi burst into a petroleum fire, Stevens was killed.
About 3 a.m., Hicks received a phone call from the Libyan foreign minister informing him that Stevens was dead and that his body had been moved to a hospital under the control of the Ansar al Sharia Brigade, the Islamic militant group identified as initiating the attack.
After learning the location of Stevens’ body, Hicks described a series of frantic calls made to the facility to learn more about what had happened.
“Have you seen the ambassador?” Hicks recalls asking of anyone who would answer the phone at the hospital facility where he believed Stevens’ body was being held. “Can you send us a picture of the ambassador? Can I speak with the ambassador?”
All three witnesses were extremely critical of the findings of the Accountability Review Board convened by the State Department to investigate the Benghazi attack, charging the testimony of key witnesses who had information critical of the Obama administration was largely ignored.
Asked if he, as someone with a first-hand knowledge of what happened that fateful night, had been interviewed by the FBI, Hicks replied, “No, I was never interviewed by the FBI.”