It is difficult to fully absorb over five hours of hearings, but I do come away with a number of perceptions and no small collection of representative facts.
Democrats focused on three main themes: attacking Chairman Issa for his comments, continually attempting to refocus the issue on the ARB (Accountability Review Board) and protecting Hillary Clinton.
Republicans, to their credit, avoided the temptation to make speeches and remained focused on asking questions.
Mr. Hicks the Deputy Chief of Mission under Ambassador Stephens made an opening statement that was low key but dramatic and moving nonetheless. He presented himself as a man of conscience; confident and capable. There is no question that Mr. Hicks, after internally expressing his dismay at the now infamous comments made by Susan Rice has suffered at the hands of the State Department bureaucracy. Demoted, castigated, subjected to what I would judge to be unfair evaluations and essentially sent to the State Department basement. Mr. Hicks has been done a severe injustice, the same Mr. Hicks who received calls from the President and Secretary of State immediately following the Benghazi incident, commending his performance. His demise began when he viewed Ms. Rice’s Sunday show performance. He made the horrific mistake of asking Beth Jones, a superior why Ambassador Rice said what she said in direct contradiction to the statements made by the Libyan President. Mr. Hicks was left with the undeniable impression that questions from him were, to be kind, unwelcome.
There is no doubt that the Obama administration knew it was a terror attack as it happened. The embassy in Tripoli did not report the presence of demonstrations nor did Ambassador Stephens. When Mr. Hicks spoke with Ambassador Stephens that night, Ambassador Stephens described it as ‘an attack’.
There is no doubt that the ARB, which terminated responsibility at a middle management level, was wrong. Further investigation will identify Ambassador Kennedy as much more accountable for decision making in advance of 9/11 than the ARB has reported.
There is also no doubt that resources were available and not deployed. The small remaining Special Forces personnel were ordered to stand down. The FEST (Foreign Emergency Support Team) was very quickly taken out of the decision making loop.
There were ongoing reports from Benghazi all of which essentially represented that the facility was ‘under attack’. There is no question that the State Department was being sent continual updates.
Despite the resources available to us and to our NATO partners, the people on the ground in Libya were told that there were no refueling tankers available. Nothing on carriers in the Gulf, nothing in the Med, nothing in Europe; it strains credibility.
It was known that Ansar al Sharia was active in the Benghazi area; it was known that there were ties to al Qaeda. It was known that the Libyan group assigned to provide ‘security’ the February 17th Martyrs Brigade also had ties to extremist elements. Initial reports had the Ambassador taken to a hospital controlled by Ansar al Sharia, Mr. Hicks, rightly was concerned about a trap.
There were a series of security incidents in Libya in addition to threats made by way of social media outlets. Mr. Thompson confirmed that any competent Counter Terror professional would have seen the trend and moved to improve security.
Rep. Chaffetz visited Libya weeks after the attack. The State Department was clearly concerned about his visit. Mr. Hicks was directed not to meet with Rep. Chaffetz absent a State Department legal ‘minder’. Mr. Hick’s direct quote is “I received instructions not to talk to Rep. Chaffetz, I was told not to be alone with Rep. Chaffetz; I was not to be isolated with Chaffetz and not to be personally interviewed. The problem occurred, however, when the legal representative did not have sufficient security clearance to attend some of the meetings with Rep. Chaffetz. Reasonable people can disagree as to what State was afraid of; I believe they were afraid of the truth. Cheryl Miller, Secretary Clinton’s ‘enforcer’ demanded a report on the Chaffetz visit; she was according to Mr. Hicks “very upset”. It became evident that the ‘legal minder’ was unprecedented related to a visit by members of Congress.
The three witnesses all agreed that the ARB was flawed. Either by who they did not speak to, the process they used to interview the folks they did talk to and the unwillingness to take the accountability up the chain of the command at State. Mr. Hicks was asked directly; “did the ARB leave anyone off the hook”, he answered yes, Ambassador Kennedy.
Democrats want more hearings with more witnesses, at least rhetorically. They may wish they did not take that position. There is clearly more here than today’s hearing could possibly have gotten too. Mr. Hicks and his career should be one of those issues as Representatives on both sides of the aisle committed their support for Mr. Hicks.
If today’s testimony is true and it did ring true and occurred absent any histrionics. The administrations narrative on Benghazi has been chock full of falsehood; the President, Ambassador Rice, Ambassador Kennedy and Secretary Clinton have lied based on today’s testimony. It is also true that the good guys are the ones in jeopardy.
Bureaucracy prevailed over common sense and the advice of expertise. Political narratives have become more important than facts and truth. It is also clear that this administration simply does not accept or appreciate the threat represented by Islamic extremism.
Without a doubt, more to come! Hopefully the performance by the witnesses especially Mr. Hicks will provide others with the courage to speak their minds and reveal the truth.