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May 9, 2013

Ex-US official details Libya attack

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former top diplomat in Libya on Wednesday delivered a riveting minute-by-minute account of the chaotic events during the deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi last September, with a 2 a.m. call from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and confusion about the fate of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

In a slow, halting and sometimes emotional voice, Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission who was in Tripoli, described for a House committee how a routine day on Sept. 11, 2012, quickly devolved as insurgents launched two nighttime attacks on the facility in eastern Libya, killing Stevens and three other Americans.

The hours-long hearing produced no major revelation while reviving disputes over the widely debunked comments made by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice five days after the attacks and the inability of the U.S. military to respond quickly.

“I don’t think there’s a smoking gun today. I don’t think there’s a lukewarm slingshot,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis.

The session exposed bitter partisan divisions as Republicans who are pressing ahead with the investigation eight months after the attacks insist the Obama administration is covering up information and Democrats decry politicization of a national security issue.

A scathing independent review in December faulted the State Department for inadequate security at the mission, but it has not been the final word. Nor has congressional testimony from former Obama Cabinet officials and military leaders.

In a jam-packed hearing room where Republicans and Democrats furiously traded charges, the soft-spoken Hicks presented a lengthy recollection of the events and expressed frustration with a military that he argued could have prevented the second attack.

Hicks and two other State Department witnesses criticized the review conducted by former top diplomat Thomas Pickering and retired Gen. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Their complaints centered on a report they consider incomplete, with individuals who weren’t interviewed and a focus on the assistant secretary level and lower.

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