Silent for months, the former top deputy to slain Ambassador Chris Stevens has told congressional investigators that U.S. and Libyan officials on the ground believed immediately that the attack on the American mission in Benghazi was terrorism and not a protest gone awry as administration officials initially suggested.
“I thought it was a terrorist attack from the getâ"‘go. I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning," Gregory Hicks says in excerpts of testimony released over the weekend by the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee in advance of a hearing later this week.
Hicks, a career State Department official who served as the No. 2 to Stevens, also said he was embarrassed when UN Ambassador Susan Rice went on TV five days after Stevens was killed and suggested the Sept. 11, 2011 attack may have been carried out by demonstrators angry over an anti-Islam video. That's because Libya's own president, Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, had already gone to Benghazi personally and declared the attack the work of Islamist extremists.
“So Magariaf, at great personal risk to himself, goes to Benghazi to initiate an investigation and lend his own personal gravitasm," Hicks says in his congressional testimony. "...He is on these programs speaking from Benghazi, and he says this was an attack by Islamic extremists, possibly with terrorist links. He describes what happens. He tells the truth of what happened. And so, you know, Ambassador Rice says what she says, contradicting what the President of Libya says from Benghazi.
“There's a cardinal rule of diplomacy that we learn in our orientation class, and that rule is never inadvertently insult your interlocutor. The net impact of what has transpired is the spokesperson of the most powerful country in the world has basically said that the President of Libya is either a liar or doesn't know what he's talking about," Hicks added.0
"I have been a professional diplomat for 22 years. I have never been as embarrassed in my life, in my career as on that day. There have been other times when I've been embarrassed, but that's the most embarrassing moment of my career."
Hicks said he and Stevens, before he died in the fiery attack, never reported a demonstration but rather that the consulate had come under attack.
"I never reported a demonstration; I reported an attack on the consulate. Chris' last report, if you want to say his final report, is, ‘Greg, we are under attack,'" Hicks added.
White House officials offered no immediate comment to the release of Hicks' testimony on Sunday. But administration officials have acknowledged their initial account of the Benghazi attack were erroneous.
The excerpts were distributed over the weekend as House Republicans prepare for their latest hearing Wednesday questioning the truthfulness of the Obama administration in describing the events that transpired Sept. 11, 2011 when Islamist extremists attacked the Benghazi consulate and an adjoining annex with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and gunfire. The attack killed Stevens and three other U.S. officials.
The committee chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has begun interviewing U.S. officials on the ground, who for months were kept from talking to Congress or the media. He told CBS Face The Nation he believes the erroneous descriptions of the attack stalled the arrival of the FBI to investigate what happened at Benghazi.
“One of the tragedies of this is it took three weeks to get our FBI in, and when you tell the president of Libya – who by the way went to Benghazi at personal risk, did that broadcast from Benghazi as a courageous act – if you tell him he’s wrong, it’s not terrorism, what a surprise that you have a hard time getting FBI to the crime scene," Issa said.
"If anything we may have compromised our ability to know what really happened there as far as catching the culprits because more weeks went by with no FBI on the ground.”
The administration initially tried to link the attack to demonstrations going on across the Muslim world that were sparked by a U.S.-made anti-Islam video, a storyline that Rice and others continued to keep alive for days and weeks after. But evidence -- first reported by the Washington Guardian --shows President Obama and his top advisor were told within 48 hours that the attack was carried out Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaida.
The administration has acknowledged its initial descriptions were wrong and blamed the editing of talking points for Rice's misleading Sunday talk show statements five days after the attack, which have become a focal point of congressional investigators.