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Witness rips Benghazi actions

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By The Washington Post
Monday, May 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya during a 2012 attack on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi told investigators that he thought it was a terrorist strike right from the beginning, according to interview excerpts released on Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

“I thought it was a terrorist attack from the get-go. I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning,” Gregory Hicks said in an interview with investigators shared with the CBS News show. The excerpt was one of several host Bob Schieffer revealed on the Sunday program.

Hicks is one of the witnesses called to testify this week before the House Oversight Committee about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

“For there to have been a demonstration on Chris Stevens' front door and him not to have reported it is unbelievable,” Hicks said.

“I never reported a demonstration; I reported an attack on the consulate. Chris — Chris' last report, if you want to say his final report — is ‘Greg, we are under attack.' … I've never been as embarrassed in my life, in my career, as on that day,” Hicks continued in his interview with investigators.

Shortly after the attack, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice characterized the assault as a spontaneous attack. Rice's spot on “Face the Nation” that day was preceded by the new president of Libya, Mohammed al-Magariaf, who said his government had “no doubt that this was preplanned, predetermined.”

The Obama administration later said the attack was an act of terror.

“Clearly, there was a political decision to say something different than what was reasonable to say,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said on “Face the Nation.”

Hicks said in the days after the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, he was never consulted about the talking points.

According to the excerpts of his interview with investigators, Hicks said that on the morning after Rice's Sunday show appearances, he called Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones to ask why Rice had said that. Hicks said Jones told him that she didn't know.

Hicks said that Rice's contradicting Magariaf caused the Libyan president embarrassment and hindered the U.S. investigation into the attacks.

“The reason it took us so long to get the FBI to Benghazi is because of those Sunday talk shows,” Hicks said. Magariaf lost face “in front of not only his own people, but the world” at a time of democratic transition in his country, he said.

“I have heard from a friend who had dinner with President Magariaf in New York City that he was still angry at Ambassador Rice well after the incident.”

This week's hearing is expected to focus on claims in a recent Republican committee report that the State Department massaged public statements about the attack to eliminate or play down the likelihood of a terrorist connection.

That long-standing GOP claim may be better supported by documents the committee reviewed in recent months that chart the changes in language over several days following the attack.

Republicans are focusing on the scope and mandate of an independent review of the attack called an Accountability Review Board, amid accusations that potential witnesses were excluded from the review.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the review was comprehensive and the decisions about whom to interview were made by the outside inquiry board, not the State Department.

CBS News contributed to this report.

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