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Parents of Benghazi victims: We've been left in dark

Sep. 19, 2013 - 06:33PM   |  
House Holds Hearing On The Benghazi Consulate Atta
Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., listen to testimony from witnesses during a Sept. 19 House Oversight Committee hearing on the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON — Parents of two of the four men killed in Benghazi last year testified before a committee investigating the incident that Obama administration officials have failed to answer questions about the attack despite pledges to keep them informed.

“No one in the government has told me anything,” said Patricia Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, whose body was the first one found at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. “Everything I’ve found, and I mean anything, I found by going on the Internet and asking questions.”

“It’s been true hell living through this without any answers,” Smith said.

The testimony came after lawmakers pressed the authors of two reports commissioned by the State Department to explain why more people weren’t held accountable for lax security that resulted in deaths in a known high-threat environment.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said the Accountability Review Board headed by two of the witnesses and commissioned by former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “looked like an inside job of State investigating State,” because Clinton appointed four of its five members.

“With greatest respect, this was not a ‘gotcha’ investigative panel,” said Thomas Pickering, chairman of the ARB.

The value of the panel was that it included three people from outside the State Department and two from inside, who could help provide context, Pickering said.

Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, retorted, “Obviously this was not a ‘gotcha’ panel, because nobody was ‘gotcha-ed.’”

Leaders of a separate panel, convened to recommend security best practices to the State Department after the Benghazi attack said the department’s culture and approach to security needs to change, with every employee and diplomat having a role.

“We felt it was really important for everybody to know what their responsibilities are and what their accountability is with regards to risk management, not just for the department of diplomatic security but for the whole enterprise,” said Frank Sullivan, a former U.S. Secret Service chief who headed the best practices panel, and whose report has yet to be officially released.

His panel’s most important recommendation, Sullivan said, was to create a new position of undersecretary for diplomatic security who would report directly to the secretary of State.

Charles Woods, the father of Tyrone Woods, a former Navy SEAL killed in Benghazi, said he, too, knows little more about what happened than he did a year ago, but that the information is out there and it should be shared with American voters.

“There are people out there that have firsthand knowledge, and public testimony is necessary so the voters have the truth so they can protect the freedom of America,” Woods said.

Tyrone Woods was stationed in the so-called annex, a CIA compound near the Benghazi diplomatic post, when he heard the shots and rushed to help the people there.

While acknowledging there is conflict over whether or not there was an order to stand down, he said “there are very credible sources that Ty and five of his comrades were denied three times,” Woods said. “They went anyway.”

Woods says he still wants to know who issued the order to stand down and why.

Issa told Smith and Woods that he is dissatisfied with the administration’s responses.

Issa said he issued subpoenas Thursday to two State Department regional security officers who were in Libya at the time of the attack. John Martinec was in Tripoli and Alec Henderson was in Benghazi, running the communications system, and were named by Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Benghazi.

The committee resorted to subpoenas “because the State Department repeatedly lied about these people’s availability,” Issa said. “They said these people were available if they want to come forward.”

Issa promised Smith and Woods not to end the committee’s investigation “until all your questions are answered.”

Smith said she talked to her son almost every day. She said she was told she couldn’t have a child and was 38 when Sean was born. “He was my miracle baby. And my miracle was abandoned in Benghazi. He was a wonderful kid.”

Smith said that every time she sees television images of the wrecked compound in Benghazi, “I see those bloody fingerprints going down the wall,” she said. “I ask them (do) those belong to my son, and they can’t tell me.”

At a memorial ceremony when the four caskets were returned to U.S. soil, Smith said, President Obama, Vice President Biden, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Clinton all told her the attack was the result of an anti-Islam video.

“They said they would get back to me,” she said. “I don’t trust my government anymore because they lied to me.”

Lamb and three other State Department officials were suspended with pay for eight months and reinstated last month by Kerry.

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