The U.S. military could have responded to the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi as early as 1:45 a.m. on the day of the attack, according to a deputy of slain Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Gregory Hicks, the highest-ranking State Department official at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli on the night of the attack, told Congress that he was informed by the U.S. defense attaché at around 10:45 a.m. on the night of the attack that American forces could be on site in Benghazi within two to three hours.
The defense attaché was also at the Tripoli embassy. Hicks said the attaché was in touch with U.S. African Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and informed him that there were assets in the region that could respond.
Former Navy SEALS Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed at approximately 2 a.m. when the mission came under mortar fire.
Hicks’ testimony is the first time the public has heard from a State Department official who was on the ground in Libya on the night of the attack. He gave an emotional account of the attack that deviated in key ways from the administration’s narrative.
“I am a career public servant,” Hicks began. “Until the aftermath of Benghazi I loved every day of my job.”
Hicks said there was no point when anyone from the consulate reported that the assault was part of a demonstration over an anti-Islam video, as the Obama administration claimed at times following the attack.
Hicks, who spoke to Stevens by phone shortly after the siege began, said the ambassador’s last words to him were “Greg, we’re under attack.”
When he heard U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice publicly state that the attack stemmed from a protest, Hicks said he was “stunned.”
“My jaw dropped,” he said. “And I was—embarrassed.”
Hicks said Rice never contacted him to ask for a briefing on the attack.
The Foreign Service officer said the U.S. embassy in Tripoli persuaded the Libyans to let them send a military plane to the Benghazi mission with reinforcements. A team of Special Forces was on the scene preparing to board the flight when it received orders that it was not authorized to go into Benghazi.
The Obama administration has maintained that assets were too far away to intervene in Benghazi within a reasonable time.
While Hicks’ account contradicted the administration’s, he was praised by President Barack Obama and State Department higher-ups in the days that followed the attack. He said this changed when he started raising questions with his superiors about Rice’s claim that the attack was linked to demonstrations over a video.
He said he was given the impression that he should stop asking questions.
Hicks said lawyers from the State Department instructed him not to speak to Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah) when the congressman was in Libya on an investigatory visit after the attack.
Hicks choked up during portions on the testimony, while discussing the courage of his fellow Foreign Service officers.
He said he first learned Stevens had been killed when the Libyan Prime Minister called to inform him.
“I think it’s the saddest call I’ve ever had in my life,” Hicks said.