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U.S. diplomatic security back in focus at Benghazi hearing

A man walks inside the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen yesterday, in Benghazi September 12, 2012. REUTERS/Esam
A man walks inside the U.S. consulate, which was attacked and set on fire by gunmen yesterday, in Benghazi September 12, 2012. REUTERS/Esam

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former U.S. diplomat in Libya who says more could have been done to protect Americans at the U.S. mission in Benghazi when it was attacked last September will be a featured witness on Wednesday during a congressional hearing.

Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Libya at the time of the attack, will be one of three witnesses at the hearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight & Government Reform.

The other two witnesses are Mark Thompson, the acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism at the State Department, and Eric Nordstrom, a former regional security officer in Libya.

Hicks has questioned why the U.S. military did not send a plane into Libyan airspace as a show of force and why four American special operations soldiers were not permitted to go to Benghazi, U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the committee, said on CNN.

Four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens were killed on September 11, 2012, in the attack on a lightly defended U.S. diplomatic mission and a more fortified CIA compound in the eastern Libyan city.

The assault was a headache for Obama as he campaigned for re-election. Many Republicans continue to assail the Democratic president over security lapses, as well as the administration's early conflicting accounts of what happened in Benghazi.

Democrats acknowledged the attacks reflected security problems, but said they were part of a history of such violence as well as the instability since the Arab Spring of popular revolutions began in 2011.

Congressional committees already have held a series of hearings into what happened in Benghazi.

In January, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended her handling of the attack before Senate and House committees and was angered at Republican accusations that the administration had misled the country over whether the attacks stemmed from a protest.

Issa denied that Wednesday's hearing is an effort by Republicans - who hold a majority in the House - to discredit the Democratic administration.

"Why aren't the Democrats just as upset that we didn't do all we could do to save American lives?" he asked on CNN.

An official inquiry into the incident released in December concluded that "leadership and management failures" in two State Department bureaus led to a security posture "inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."

Wednesday's hearing is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. EDT./1530 GMT.

(Editing by Christopher Wilson)

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