House Republicans will hear behind closed doors from a senior U.S. Marine Corps officer who was responsible for special forces in Africa on the night of last year’s deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, despite what some GOP members are saying was an effort by the Pentagon to hide him.
Defense Department officials have previously told congressional investigators and the news media that Col. George Bristol cannot be compelled to testify because he is retired, but Marine Corps Times this week reported that he remains on active duty until the end of the month.
“There is every reason to expect that a briefing [with Col. Bristol] will take place in the near future,” Claude Chafin, the spokesman for the Republican majority on the House Armed Services Committee, told The Washington Times Friday. “We are working out the details with the Department of Defense.”
He said the briefing would likely be in a classified setting. “Questioning our witnesses in a closed briefing allows members to receive information without worrying about the disclosure of classified material.”
“Col. Bristol will be available to meet with House and Senate members and their staffs very soon,” Air Force Maj. Robert A. Firman, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed to The Times.
The report in Marine Corps Times earlier this week brought an angry reaction from several Republicans who have accused the Obama administration of seeking to whitewash their own culpability in underestimating the threat beforehand and misrepresenting the attack afterwards.
“If these reports are accurate, this would be a stunning revelation to any member of Congress … and also more importantly to the American people,” Virginia GOP Rep. Frank Wolf told the House chamber Thursday.
He said it was another example of what he called “the administration’s efforts to silence those with knowledge of the Benghazi attack and [their] response.”
A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, insisted that the Pentagon “has fully cooperated with congressional requests to understand the attack on the Benghazi compound in response.”
The official blamed inaccurate information given to Congress and the press on a bureaucratic snafu.
“The initial confusion on Col. Bristol’s retirement status was due to a military personnel administrative error, but that has now been rectified,” the official said.
The Republican chairmen of several congressional committees have run a number of highly aggressive investigations into the events of Sept. 11 last year, when dozens of heavily armed extremists overran the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, setting the building ablaze and killing U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and State Department officer Sean Smith.
Several hours later, many of the same individuals, reinforced with mortars, also attacked a nearby CIA annex, killing security contractors and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
One reason that officials might be willing to see Col. Bristol testify to the armed services committee is to debunk more of the accusations that have been leveled at the administration.
Last month, Army Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson told the committee in a classified setting that no “stand-down” order was given that night, contrary to persistent allegations, according to a committee statement at the time.
Instead, after a rescue team had been dispatched from Tripoli to Benghazi, the remaining three U.S. special forces personnel in the Libyan capital were ordered to remain there to secure embassy staff and protect or evacuate them in case of coordinated or copy cat attacks there.
One of those personnel, a trained medic, used his skills to “save the leg and probably the life” of a Benghazi attack survivor who had been evacuated to Tripoli, according to congressional testimony.
The lack of a U.S. military response to the assault has been a key point of contention for Republican lawmakers, and Col. Gibson’s revelations have helped blunt Republican efforts to paint the attack as an avoidable failure by the Obama administration and, in particular, by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, tipped as a likely Democratic presidential candidate for 2016.