By Sam Stockard
The day before a House hearing on the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais blamed President Barack Obama for concealing the facts surrounding the deaths of four Americans.
"I believe al-Qaida took responsibility for it, and the motive for it was 9/11," DesJarlais said in an interview with The DNJ Tuesday. "We had a president that was seven weeks from election who wanted America to think that bin Laden was dead, we had suppressed the threat of al-Qaida. And he didn't want the people knowing the truth in this case and was hoping he could push it back until after the election or people would just get tired of the story and it would go away."
DesJarlais, who will participate in a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing today on the Benghazi attack, called it a presidential cover-up.
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, another diplomat and two former U.S. Navy SEALs were killed in the Benghazi attack.
In Sunday talk shows just days after the attack, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said the attack was caused by protesters who raged out of control because of a movie trailer critical of Islam. Obama several days later used the term "act of terror" to described the incident but didn't say it was "terrorism" perpetrated by al-Qaida.
"I think it starts with the knee-jerk reactions by the president and the State Department that this was not a terrorist attack but rather a demonstration gone awry based on a movie trailer," DesJarlais said. "It just doesn't make any sense that they would pull that out when we have witnesses on the ground who have been suppressed from coming forward for fear of retaliation. And that is ultimately culminating in this hearing."
Greg Hicks, a high-ranking U.S. diplomat in Libya, is one of three "whistleblowers" set to testify today that American officials requested U.S. Special Operations troops be sent to Benghazi, only to be told troops were ordered to stand down.
Hicks, who was in Tripoli some 600 miles from Benghazi, said he was told troops would be too late to do anything other than provide first-aid, according to a partial transcript of his testimony released in advance of the hearing.
Diplomats also asked for U.S. fighter jets to fly over Benghazi in an effort to scare off Libyan terrorists, but those also were rebuffed because of logistics, Hicks testified.
Hicks further said that he never thought the incident in Benghazi was anything other than a terrorist attack and that Sunday talk shows delayed the truth from emerging.
Hicks testified that the top U.S. commander in Africa later told him, after he was ordered not to board a C-130 to Benghazi, "I have never been so embarrassed in my life that a State Department officer has bigger balls than somebody in the military."
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said this week that the State Department conducted a "critical" and thorough review of the incident and that it had addressed all criticisms previously, according to a report in The Hill, an online publication that covers Washington politics.
DesJarlais, a South Pittsburg Republican, traveled to the Middle East, but not to Libya, in the wake of the Benghazi attack with a fact-finding team to determine the safety of American embassies and how willing the host nations were to provide security.
"I think it was pretty well established that Benghazi was a threat," DesJarlais said. "In advance, there had been several requests to beef up security, but basically were denied or possibly ignored. I think that the security of other embassies or consulates depends upon region and the host nation's willingness to provide security."
The congressman said "without question" troops should have been sent to the area. "We had Americans in trouble calling for help that never came. And if it didn't come for political reasons, then this is a real travesty."
The U.S. outpost in Benghazi didn't have the security it needed, and Libya wasn't willing to provide enough protection for American facilities, he said.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took much of the initial blame, but DesJarlais said he didn't think the final decisions rested with her.
"This looks like it made it all the way to the top, so what really matters to me is that we don't have Americans in harm's way in the future when it can be prevented."
President Obama is considering appointing Ambassador Rice as the White House security adviser, a move DesJarlais said will come under great scrutiny because of the decisions made last September. The Senate will determine the appointment.
DesJarlais said he hopes today's hearing will provide the nation with answers people have been seeking for months.