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Clinton to testify over Benghazi attack

Decision comes after US president tells Republicans to "go after him" rather than pick on envoy Susan Rice over attack.
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2012 02:52
Obama says he has not yet made any decisions on the composition of his second-term cabinet [AFP]

Hillary Clinton will testify before a congressional committee next month on the handling of the deadly September 11, attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

The US secretary of state said in October that she takes responsibility for the Benghazi incident.

"The secretary has committed to testifying before our committee ... on the Accountability Review Board's report, which is expected to be concluded by early to mid-December," Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican chairwoman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, said on Thursday.

The US state department launched an independent Accountability Review Board to review the circumstances surrounding the Benghazi attack, which killed four Americans including Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya.

On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama told Republican senators that if they have a problem with the handling of the Benghazi attack in Libya, to "go after him" rather than pick on Susan Rice, his ambassador to the UN and a possible contender to replace Clinton, who does not intend to stay, or for another top post.

Combative tone

Obama's comments, in a combative tone, came after two senior Republican senators said they would block any attempts by the president to put Rice, tipped to be recommended as secretary of state, into a cabinet position that would require Senate confirmation.

Republicans have criticised Rice for going on a round of Sunday talk shows five days after the September 11 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi and saying that preliminary information suggested it was the result of protests over an anti-Muslim film rather than a premeditated strike.

The White House has said repeatedly the comments were based on the best information Rice had at the time.

Republicans have used her early assessment as a cudgel for criticising the administration as not being forthcoming about what happened in Benghazi, and the senators' remarks on Wednesday suggested they would continue to pursue the issue.

"We will do whatever's necessary to block the nomination that's within our power as far as Susan Rice is concerned," Republican Senator John McCain, who was joined by fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, said.

"For them to go after the UN ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous," Obama said.

The attack in Benghazi has raised questions about the security of the diplomatic mission, US intelligence about the threat, and the adequacy of the immediate US response.

The issue continues to be a sensitive one for the administration after Obama's re-election last week as he shapes his cabinet for a second term.

'Go after me'

At his first news conference since being re-elected, Obama retorted: "If Senator McCain and Senator Graham, and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them."

Obama said he had not made decisions on his second-term cabinet yet, but if he decided that Rice would be the best person to lead the state department, "then I will nominate her".

Asked why, if Rice had nothing to do with Benghazi, she was sent on the talk shows to give the administration's point of view, Tommy Vietor, White House spokesman, said: "It made sense to have Ambassador Rice, one of our most senior diplomats, speak about the critical work our diplomats do every day.

"Ambassador Rice was also uniquely qualified to speak about the broader unrest in the region at the time."

The Senate and House intelligence committees have scheduled separate closed-door hearings on Thursday about Benghazi.

David Petraeus, former CIA director, had initially been scheduled to testify, but after his resignation last week over an extramarital affair, Michael Morell, acting CIA director, will take his place.

Some senior politicians said they still wanted to hear from Petraeus about Benghazi because he had been CIA director at the time of the attack.

The House Intelligence Committee announced on Wednesday night that Petraeus would testify behind closed doors on Friday morning about Benghazi.

The administration's response to Benghazi became a key issue in the last months of the presidential campaign and Obama said at the news conference that "it is important for us to find out exactly what happened" and pledged to co-operate with Congress.

"And we've got to get to the bottom of it and there needs to be accountability. We've got to bring those who carried it out to justice. They won't get any debate from me on that," he said.

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