The nation's highest ranking military officer on Wednesday disputed the story of a top American diplomat who served in Libya, saying no military forces were told to "stand down" after attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
"They weren't told to stand down," Army General Martin Dempsey told the Senate Budget Committee. "Stand down, means don't do anything."
Dempsey said the four soldiers from the Special Operations Command for Africa were told by their commanders they would be better used at the Tripoli airport instead, where a flight might soon be arriving with U.S. casualties from Benghazi.
"They were told that the mission they were asked to perform was not in Benghazi, but was at Tripoli airport," Dempsey told Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who pressed the General for details.
"They had requested to go" (to Benghazi), Ayotte noted.
"That's correct," Dempsey replied.
"They asked to go to support the, what was happening in Benghazi, from Tripoli, correct?"
"That is correct," said Dempsey, who said the determination was made that the special forces would contribute more by being available at the Tripoli airport, since one of the men was a medic.
You can listen to the Ayotte-Dempsey exchange below:
That testimony does not square with what Gregory Hicks told the House Oversight Committee earlier this year.
"We wanted to send more reinforcement to Benghazi," Hicks told lamwakers, as he went through a riveting description of the attacks, and how he tried to help from back in Tripoli as the number two American on the ground.
"Lt. Col. Gibson was furious," Hicks said as he described the reaction of the Special Forces Commander.
"I had told him to bring our people home. Apparently, no one had been authorized to go," Hicks testified.
"We live by a code, that code says you go after people when they're in peril," said Mark Thompson at the same hearing, the State Department's acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism, as he expressed frustration over the lack of a U.S. military response.
By chance, as Gen. Dempsey was answering questions about Benghazi today, both Hicks and Thompson were giving testimony at the same time, behind closed doors to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the top Republican on that panel said the testimony was done "to advance the committee's review of the events and circumstances related to the Benghazi terrorist attacks."
Chambliss issued this statement about their testimony:
“The American people deserve to know the truth about Benghazi, especially the families of the four brave Americans who lost their lives that night. I will continue to seek answers until we get the truth. I am grateful for the willingness of Mr. Hicks and Mr. Thompson to step forward and share their perspectives on the Benghazi attacks with the committee so the United States can take steps to prevent future attacks. I will not tolerate any retaliatory personnel actions against these two dedicated public servants. If we do not protect these legitimate whistleblowers, our national security and the integrity of the Congressional oversight process will certainly suffer.”
More hearings are still expected on the Benghazi investigation in coming months.