The GOP’s star witness at today’s hearings is the former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya, Gregory Hicks, who the right-wing has labeled the main Benghazi “whistle-blower.” Hicks is expected to give testimony before the panel detailing what he believes could have done above and beyond the efforts the administration expended the night of the attack, actions he claims could have saved lives:
“If we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split,” Hicks told House Republican investigators.
Hicks is also expected to explain to the panel that a team of special operations forces was told not to fly from Tripoli to Benghazi prior to the second wave of the attack. According to an excerpt of Hick’s testimony “[Col. Gibson] got a phone call from SOCAFRICA which said, ‘you can’t go now, you don’t have the authority to go now.’ And so they missed the flight … They were told not to board the flight, so they missed it.”
Republicans are latching onto Hicks’ testimony about the lack of military response during the attack as evidence of the administration’s negligence in protecting diplomats overseas and a resulting cover-up to avoid scrutiny. “We were certainly misled at every step of the way,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), one of the loudest voices on Benghazi, said on Monday to a surprisingly skeptical panel on Fox News.
The military has repeatedly said, however, that there were simply no air assets close enough to Benghazi that would have arrived in time to make a difference. Hicks himself admitted during his pre-hearing testimony that the nearest fighter jets were at Aviano Air Base in southern Italy, hours away from Libya with no tanker assets available for refueling purposes.
And while Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during the Senate’s last hearing on the military’s response to Benghazi scolded the Pentagon for not having assets available at the Souda Bay naval base in Crete, Greece, the fact remains that even the hour and a half from the island to Benghazi would have been too late to save Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens and communications specialist Sean Smith. Both died during the first wave of the attack, less than an hour after the Pentagon was first notified.
Likewise, despite what Fox News reports have said, U.S. forces based in Europe as part of U.S. Africa Command would not have arrived until after the second wave of attacks, which took place at the CIA annex in Benghazi hours after the first, had finished.
“The United States military, as I’ve said, is not and frankly should not be a 911 service, arriving on the scene within minutes to every possible contingency around the world,” then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services committee in February. That hasn’t stopped conservatives from railing against the lack of cavalry riding into Benghazi at the last minute, which in turn ignores the valiant efforts from the CIA’s response team that saved lives the night of the attack.
Much of what’s to be discussed today was already covered in the State Department’s Accountability Review Board report, which was overseen by former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Michael Mullen and former Ambassador Thomas Pickering. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from trying to tear down the Board’s findings. Instead, the House GOP released its own report with a focus on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, claiming that their findings contradicted her testimony that she was unaware of requests for additional security in Libya.
Attacking Clinton seems to be the raison d’être of today’s hearings, despite lacking the authority order Defense Department assets into the field. “They’re no longer going after the White House, perhaps because the president’s not running for reelection, and they’re going after the former secretary of state, perhaps because she will be,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, explained. And, much like the rest of today’s hearing, going after Clinton in relation to Benghazi is in itself nothing new.