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.