At Benghazi Trial, C.I.A. Officers in Wigs and Mustaches Recount Bloody Attack

At Benghazi Trial, C.I.A. Officers in Wigs and Mustaches Recount Bloody Attack

Mr. Charles was given $30,000 to hire a plane, and he, four agency security officials and two military commandos boarded a jet to Benghazi shortly after midnight. One of those heading to Benghazi was Glen A. Doherty, a former Navy SEAL, who had joined the C.I.A. as a security contractor, and was a highly trained medic.


Ahmed Abu Khattala is accused of orchestrating the 2012 attacks on the American Consulate and the C.I.A. base in Benghazi, Libya.

via Associated Press

An hour later, they landed in Benghazi, facing a tense situation as militia members started to stream into the airport. After a standoff of about three hours, they abandoned their efforts to find the ambassador and left the airport, heading for the C.I.A. base, known as the Annex. Mr. Charles told the pilot of the charter plane to stay at the airport, in the event they needed to escape quickly.

When they arrived at the base, about 5 a.m., they found some of the people there terrified. There was sporadic machine gun fire coming from an area nearby called “zombieland.”

Minutes later, Mr. Charles said, “all hell broke loose.” Militants began firing mortars at the C.I.A., each round seeming to get closer. The mortars shook the ground, Mr. Charles said. Parts of the cement building crumbled. Water pipes began leaking. Mr. Charles said he thought he was going to die.

“At that time, I can see that was my last night on my earth,” he said. Mr. Charles thought the mortar attack was an ambush. And whoever was responsible appeared to have known that the rescue team had left the airport and was waiting for its arrival.

“Roy Edwards,” the second C.I.A. operative who testified, who also had flown in with the rescue team from Tripoli, said of the mortars: “I knew we were taking direct hits and it was bad.”

He was right. Mortar fire had killed Tyrone S. Woods and Mr. Doherty, both of whom had gone to the roof, where they had staked out fighting positions.

When Mr. Edwards found Mr. Woods, he was still alive. Before Mr. Edwards could get him off the roof, though, Mr. Woods died.

Two others had also been badly wounded on the roof: David Ubben, a State Department security agent, and Mark Geist, another C.I.A. security contractor.

Mr. Geist managed to get off the roof on his own, but Mr. Ubben had to be taken down. Mr. Geist was bleeding badly from the neck and had other wounds. Mr. Ubben, whose leg was nearly severed and whose arm was missing a big chunk of flesh, was yelling in pain despite being given a heavy dose of morphine.

“I can never forget that scream,” Mr. Charles said. He said part of Mr. Ubben’s foot was hanging off his leg.

At dawn, the Americans evacuated the base under the protection of heavily armed Libyan militia members, though it was not initially clear whether they were friend or foe. Mr. Edwards said that if they had stayed at the base, Mr. Geist and Mr. Ubben would probably have died. The base might also have been overrun, killing everyone, he said.

At the airport, Mr. Charles said, he learned from two of the militia members that an American was at the hospital. It was the ambassador. A Libyan commander suggested that the Americans retrieve the ambassador’s body, but Mr. Edwards, who was the top C.I.A. security officer in the country, rejected that idea. Instead, the Libyans left the airport and returned shortly with the ambassador’s body.

The charter plane took off with the wounded around 7:30 a.m. Mr. Ubben’s leg was placed in a fiberglass cast and wrapped with duct tape. He was still screaming in pain. A Libyan C-130 cargo plane soon arrived to take the other Americans, including the four killed, back to Tripoli.

Mr. Edwards said that the cargo plane was in horrible condition and that he doubted it would make it to Tripoli. He said he felt like he was “going to die on the aircraft.”

While waiting for the C-130, Mr. Charles said, he received a call from his wife.

“I realized how lucky I was to be alive,” he recalled. “She asked me where I was. I said I was in Benghazi.”

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