The U.S. official who served as slain Ambassador Christopher Stevens' second-in-command in Libya fired back at critics of his late boss, who blamed Stevens for a lack of security at the Benghazi compound before the Sept. 11, 2012 terror assault that left Stevens and three other Americans dead.
This Sept 13, 2012 file photo shows a Libyan man investigating the inside of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. (AP/Mohammad Hannon, File)
“Chris Stevens was not responsible for the reduction in security personnel,” Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Thursday. “His requests for additional security were denied or ignored. Officials at the State and Defense Departments in Washington made the decisions that resulted in reduced security.”
Hicks was one of the whistleblowers who informed Congress last year of the State Department's lack of security in Libya in the lead-up to the assault that the Obama administration initially publicly blamed on a spontaneous reaction to a YouTube video.
The Senate Intelligence Committee last week released a bipartisan report saying that the attack could have been prevented and laid most of the blame on the State Department. While Republicans have said that should extend to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, some media commentators have clung to a portion of the report that states Stevens declined an offer from then-Africa Commander Gen. Carter Ham for increased security.
“Since Chris cannot speak, I want to explain the reasons and timing for his responses to Gen. Ham,” Hicks wrote, explaining that much of the matter revolved around when to shift command of U.S. Special Forces from the State Department – where soldiers had diplomatic immunity – to the Defense Department – where they would not.
“Chris had requested on July 9 by cable that Washington provide a minimum of 13 American security professionals for Libya over and above the diplomatic security complement of eight assigned to Tripoli and Benghazi,” Hicks wrote. “On July 11, the Defense Department, apparently in response to Chris's request, offered to extend the special forces mission to protect the U.S. Embassy.”
“However, on July 13, State Department Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy refused the Defense Department offer and thus Chris's July 9 request. His rationale was that Libyan guards would be hired to take over this responsibility,” Hicks continued.
Diplomatic immunity was a serious consideration, Hicks explained in the op-ed.
“[Stevens] explained to Rear Adm. Charles J. Leidig that if a member of the special forces team used weapons to protect U.S. facilities, personnel or themselves, he would be subject to Libyan law,” Hicks wrote. “The law would be administered by judges appointed to the bench by Moammar Gadhafi or, worse, tribal judges.”
State Department foreign service officer and former deputy chief of mission in Libya Gregory Hicks testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the terror assault in Benghazi, May 8, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)
Blaming Stevens in the Media
The New York Times editorialized, “The [Senate intelligence committee] report also addressed a more delicate subject, implicitly criticizing Mr. Stevens. It said that on several occasions he requested more security resources from the State Department, which made few significant improvements.”
As a guest on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," BBC journalist Katty Kay explained Stevens was “fallible,” and that “he didn't ask for and even rejected some of the security he might have had.”
CNN host Piers Morgan said last week: “When you actually get into the weeds of this pretty lengthy report, it also is very clear that one of the people who may be most to blame for not reacting to the threat and for increasing security despite being urged to repeatedly was the ambassador himself. And obviously you don’t want to speak ill of a man who was killed in such appalling circumstances, but is it fair to also say that he as the ambassador should have done more to react to direct warnings that he was given on numerous occasions?”
The blame-Stevens mantra from the left has also agitated lawmakers such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who said on the Senate floor that Stevens “was in Benghazi because that is where he was supposed to be doing what American wanted him to do: Try to hold Libya together. … Quit blaming the dead guy.”
Hicks wrote in the Journal: “Some have been suggesting that the blame for this tragedy lies at least partly with Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in the attack. This is untrue: The blame lies entirely with Washington.”
“Chris understood the importance of the special forces team to the security of our embassy personnel. He believed that by explaining his concerns, the Defense Department would postpone the decision so he could have time to work with the Libyan government and get diplomatic immunity for the special forces,” Hicks wrote. “According to the National Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Department needed Chris's concurrence to change the special forces mission. But soon after the Aug. 1 meeting, and as a complete surprise to us at the embassy, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed the order without Chris's concurrence.”
“I have found the reporting of these so-called offers strange, since my recollection of events is that after the Aug. 6 incident, Gen. Ham wanted to withdraw the entire special forces team from Tripoli until they had Libyan government approval of their new mission and the diplomatic immunity necessary to perform their mission safely,” Hicks wrote. “However, Chris convinced Gen. Ham to leave six members of the team in Tripoli.”
“When I arrived in Tripoli on July 31, we had over 30 security personnel, from the State Department and the U.S. military, assigned to protect the diplomatic mission to Libya. All were under the ambassador's authority,” he continued. “On Sept. 11, we had only nine diplomatic security agents under Chris's authority to protect our diplomatic personnel in Tripoli and Benghazi.”
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