WASHINGTON - The former commander of a four-member Army Special Forces unit in Tripoli, Libya, denied Wednesday that he was told to stand down during last year's deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
In a closed-door session with the House Armed Services Committee, Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson said his commanders told him to remain in the capital of Tripoli to defend Americans in the event of additional attacks and to help survivors being evacuated from Benghazi.
"Contrary to news reports, Gibson was not ordered to 'stand down' by higher command authorities in response to his understandable desire to lead a group of three other special forces soldiers to Benghazi," the Republican-led committee said in a summary of its classified briefing with military officials, including Gibson.
Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in two attacks several hours apart on the night of Sept. 11, 2012.
Republicans insist that the Obama administration is guilty of a cover-up of the events despite a scathing independent report that faulted the State Department for inadequate security at the diplomatic mission.
They have accused the administration of misleading the American people about the cause of the terrorist incident during the heat of a presidential campaign, blaming a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islam video.
In nearly nine months since the attack, GOP lawmakers have repeatedly asked why the military couldn't get aircraft or forces to Benghazi in time to thwart the second attack after the first incident that killed Stevens.
The committee summary said Gibson acknowledged that if he had left Tripoli, Americans in the Libyan capital would have been without protection.
"He also stated that in hindsight, he would not have been able to get to Benghazi in time to make a difference, and as it turned out his medic was needed to provide urgent assistance to survivors once they arrived in Tripoli," said the summary from the Armed Services Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee.
Gregory Hicks, a diplomat in Tripoli at the time of the attack, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in May that the unit was told to stand down.
Earlier this month, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress there was never a stand-down order.
"They weren't told to stand down. A 'stand down' means don't do anything," he said.
"They were told that the mission they were asked to perform was not in Benghazi, but was at Tripoli airport."