The Sept. 11 assault by armed militants on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and a nearby annex used by CIA personnel claimed the lives of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans: Information Management Officer Sean Smith and security personnel Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. Stevens was visiting from his post in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, at the time. Doherty and Woods were former Navy SEALs.
The Benghazi attack has become the subject of intense controversy because of conflicting accounts of how it originated and charges that the U.S. government should have heeded warnings to strengthen security at its posts in the eastern Libyan city.
Prominent Republican senators called Wednesday for the establishment of a temporary select committee to investigate the attack and condemned Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, for initial statements about it that they said were inaccurate and misleading.
The comments by Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) drew a sharp rebuke from President Obama, who told a news conference Wednesday that “they should go after me” instead of trying to “besmirch” Rice’s reputation.
“We are committed to identifying what went wrong and what needs to be done to prevent any further American lives from being lost in such attacks,” Ros-Lehtinen said at her committee’s hearing on the Benghazi attack Thursday morning.
“The coordinated preplanned and brazen attacks against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on September 11 was an outrage,” she said in an opening statement. “Also disgraceful is the sad parade of conflicting accounts of the attack that we have received from administration officials in the weeks and months since.”
She charged that the Obama administration ignored warnings of “the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi” and “denied repeated requests for additional security measures” at the U.S. outposts.
The open hearing came as senior CIA, FBI and State Department officials briefed the House and Senate intelligence committees about the Benghazi attack behind closed doors.
Democratic lawmakers who attended said the briefings essentially vindicated Rice by confirming that the account she gave on Sunday television talk shows five days after the attack was based on the best intelligence assessments available at the time. Rice had said that the assault “was not a preplanned, premeditated attack” but a “spontaneous reaction” to protests in Cairo over an anti-Muslim video that outraged the Arab world.