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US lawmakers see footage of Benghazi attack

16 november 2012, 18:07
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Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (L) and committee ranking member Saxby Chambliss. ©AFP
Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (L) and committee ranking member Saxby Chambliss. ©AFP
US senators got their first look Thursday at dramatic video footage of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya as they probed the government's response to the assault, AFP reports.

The September 11 attack killed four Americans including the US ambassador, Chris Stevens and President Barack Obama's administration is under fire over security at the consulate and for its evolving narrative about the assault.

"The film is a composite from a number of sources," said Senator Diane Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, after she and her colleagues attended a closed door viewing

"It is real time and it begins before the incident started and it goes through the incident and the exodus," she added.

The deputy chairman of the panel, Senator Saxby Chambliss, said the hearing with US intelligence officials made clear that errors were committed. "We know mistakes were made and we have to learn from that," he told reporters.

He said there would eventually be public hearings and "the American people are going to have the opportunity to see the questions asked and get the answers to questions that they have had since September 11th of this year."

Several congressional hearings, most of them closed to the public, are probing the Benghazi killings this week.

The CIA's ex-director David Petraeus, the former general who stepped down last week after admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer, testifies at two of them Friday.

Feinstein said Senators are looking forward to hearing from him, among other things because he has been to Tripoli to interview people about the attack on the consulate.

Republicans have seized on the account of Benghazi that the US envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, presented on Sunday talk shows five days after the attack.

At that point, she said the incident stemmed from a "spontaneous" reaction to a raid on the US embassy in Cairo by extremists and an anti-Muslim video made on US soil.

The administration subsequently revised its position to say that the attack was carried out by militants linked to Al-Qaeda, and State Department and FBI probes are currently under way to find out what happened.

Critics have called Rice's account an example of how the White House misled or lied to the American people about what happened in the midst of a heated election campaign.

Democrat Adam Schiff said after a closed-door House Intelligence Committee hearing that acting CIA director Michael Morell told the panel Rice was briefed with the same unclassified information that lawmakers received.

"On the afternoon of September 15th, the members of the Intelligence Committee were provided with what the intelligence community considered their best initial assessments of what took place in Benghazi when our diplomatic personnel tragically lost their lives," Schiff told reporters.

At the hearing, "Morell confirmed that this was their best assessment at the time, and that UN Ambassador Rice would also have been given the intelligence community's best assessment for her appearances on the Sunday talk shows."

Schiff also pointed to intelligence officials' acknowledgement to lawmakers at the time that "this assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed."

Rice has been floated as a possible successor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is stepping down at the beginning of President Barack Obama's second term, and some Republicans including Senator John McCain have made no secret of seeking to torpedo her nomination.

That led Obama to lash out on Wednesday in his first press conference since his re-election, daring McCain and others to "go after me" instead of Rice.

"To besmirch her reputation is outrageous," Obama said, adding that if he decided that Rice was the best candidate to succeed Clinton, he would go ahead and pick her.

Schiff joined in the push-back, saying those who suggest Rice was "misrepresenting" intelligence "are either unfamiliar with the facts, or willfully disregarding them."

On the video footage of the consulate attack, which lasted several hours from September 11 into pre-dawn hours of September 12, Senator Roy Blunt told CNN that from the video "it's not hard to establish that there was no demonstration, there was no crowd.

"When this started, it started as an act of violence. And that should have been obvious to anybody talking about that from the very start," Blunt added.

Senator Dan Coats emerged from the closed-door hearing, attended by Central Intelligence Agency, FBI and State Department officials, to say that while questions remained, "there's been total cooperation in terms of getting us everything that's available to answer those questions."

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