Details continue to emerge surrounding the death of Grass Valley-born U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya as his family prepares to lay his remains to rest.
Stevens and three other Americans — including two former Navy SEALs — were killed in what officials now describe as an act of terrorism in Benghazi, Libya, on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Less than a month before the election, Republicans used a politically charged House hearing Wednesday to confront State Department officials about security at the U.S. consulate in Libya and assail the Obama administration’s early response to the attack, the Associated Press reported.
“(Stevens) had known he was on an al-Qaida hit list and asked for more security but didn’t get it,” said Helen Gibson, a Grass Valley resident and a distant cousin of Stevens.
“This happened to our ambassador and he had asked for help and was ignored,” Gibson said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday that in hindsight “there is no question that the security was not enough to prevent that tragedy from happening.”
Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee tried to blame Republicans for cutting more than $300 million in diplomatic security funds worldwide.
“The fact is that, since 2011, the House has cut embassy security by hundreds of millions of dollars below the amounts requested by the president,” said Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee’s senior Democrat.
A top state official acknowledged she had declined to approve more U.S. security as violence in Benghazi spiked, saying the department wanted to train Libyans to protect the consulate.
“I made the best decisions I could with the information I had,” said Charlene R. Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary for diplomatic security.
Republicans have also rejected Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy’s explanation that officials were relying on the best intelligence available when they initially characterized the attack as stemming from outrage over an anti-Muslim film produced by a California man that mocked the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.
Initial reports indicated that protestors stormed the consulate and that Stevens died of smoke inhalation after a fire was created by a rocket-propelled grenade.
In statements immediately after the attack, neither President Barack Obama nor Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton mentioned terrorism, instead they gave credence to the notion that the attack was related to protests about the privately made anti-Islam video, the Associated Press reported.
Kennedy defended U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice Wednesday for her comments indicating the attack was a protest gone awry.
“If any administration official, including any career official, were on television on Sunday, Sept. 16, they would have said what Ambassador Rice said,” Kennedy said.
“The information she had at that point from the intelligence community is the same that I had at that point. As time went on, additional information became available. Clearly, we know more today than we did on the Sunday after the attack.”
Amateur videos have appeared on the Internet of what appears to be cell phone footage of Libyans dragging Stevens’ body through a window amid a crowd of people in a low-lit room, presumably at the consulate.
Some organizations, such as the New York Times, have interpreted the videos as depicting Libyans rushing to the ambassador’s aide, based on translations of the footage.
Others, including Stevens’ cousin, see the video in more menacing light.
Gibson believes the video shows Libyans attacking Stevens, dragging his body through a window, through the streets and torturing the injured man.
“Our government had lied to us to begin with,” Gibson said.
Stevens was taken to a hospital, where a doctor unsuccessfully tried to revive him, the New York Times reported.
An FBI investigation into the attack is narrowing in on one or two people in the Libya-based extremist group Ansar al-Shariah, an Al-Qaida-linked militant organization, U.S., the Associated Press reported.
Memorial services for Stevens 52, will take place Tuesday, Oct. 16, in San Francisco.
The ambassador was the son of Jan Stevens, who graduated from Grass Valley High School in 1951, and went on to work in the California Attorney General’s Office, said Mary F. Commanday, the ambassador’s mother, in an email to The Union.
Christopher Stevens’ grandfather, Elmer “Chief” Stevens, was a teacher at Grass Valley High School, before it consolidated with Nevada City High School and became Nevada Union High School, Commanday said.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4236. The Associated Press’ Larry Margasak and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
“This happened to our ambassador, and he had asked for help and was ignored.”
— Helen Gibson,
Grass Valley resident and a distant cousin of Ambassador Stevens