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Petraeus testifies before US lawmakers on Benghazi
WASHINGTON: Ex-CIA chief David Petraeus told lawmakers Friday he knew from the outset that an attack on a US mission in Libya was the work of terrorists, in his first appearance since resigning a week ago.
A bitter political feud has erupted in Washington since the September 11 assault on the Benghazi consulate, with Republican lawmakers accusing President Barack Obama’s administration of misleading the public about its causes.
Congress has summoned officials to explain why in the days after the attack, which left US ambassador Chris Stevens and three colleagues dead, they blamed the violence on a spontaneous protest triggered by an anti-Muslim video.
On September 14, Petraeus had told Congress that that was the CIA’s initial take on the events. Since then, the administration’s position has evolved, and it is now seen as a pre-meditated assault by an Al Qaeda-linked militia.
According to Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, Petraeus — who resigned last week after the revelation of an extramarital affair — had changed his analysis since September.
“General Petraeus’ testimony today was from the start he had told us this was a terrorist attack or terrorist-involved from the start,” King said.
“I told him in my questions I had a different recollection of that and the clear impression given was that the overwhelming matter of evidence is that it was a arose out of a spontaneous demonstration and was not a terrorist attack.”
King and other lawmakers said they were grateful for Petraeus’ testimony but, as he went into a second hearing with a senatorial committee, they made it clear they still had other questions for the administration .
Petraeus’ appearance was given added resonance by the circumstances of his surprise fall from grace, and packs of reporters and camera crews were on hand at the US Capitol ahead of the closed door hearing.
They were left disappointed, however, as the retired general was able to slip into the building without being seen or questioned about his adulterous relationship with his 40-year-old biographer Paula Broadwell.
The US mission in Benghazi included a large CIA operation, which Petraeus would have overseen before quitting as US spy chief last week over his extramartial affair, which was uncovered by the FBI.
Republicans have accused Washington’s UN envoy Susan Rice of misleading the country by telling Sunday talk shows after the attack that it was part of a
“spontaneous” protest against an anti-Islam video.
Several congressional committees, most of them closed to the public, are probing the Benghazi killings. A heated House hearing on Thursday saw lawmakers exchange bitter accusations about the White House’s handling of the attack.
State Department and FBI probes into the attack are also currently under way, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has agreed to testify before House and Senate hearings once her department finishes a review of events.
US senators got their first look Thursday at dramatic real-time video footage of the attack.
However, the hearings have done little to resolve the partisan sparring over the administration’s response, with Republicans strongly hinting at a larger scandal and possible cover-up.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Republican, Senator Saxby Chambliss, said the hearing with US intelligence officials Thursday made clear that “mistakes were made.”
Chambliss 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.”
Critics have seized on Rice’s remarks to argue that the White House misled or even lied to Americans during a heated election season.
Rice has been floated as a possible successor to Clinton, who is stepping down early next year, but some Republicans have threatened to block her appointment over Benghazi.
Obama has accepted responsibility for any failings related to the attack and on Wednesday scolded Republicans for going after Rice. AFP