Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has defended her handling of the September 11, 2012 attack on the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
Speaking in a congressional testimony on Wednesday, Clinton offered her first detailed account of the first days after the attack, saying she directed the US response from the State Department.
“I take responsibility,” Clinton said, stressing that she has accepted all of the recommendations of an independent review panel that ultimately held lower-level officials responsible.
“Nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer,
stronger and more secure,” she added.
Clearly annoyed with Republican complaints about the initial explanation for the attack, she rose to the defence of UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who was vilified for widely debunked claims five days after the attack that protests precipitated the raid rather than terrorism.
Clinton said, “People were trying in real time to get to the best information.” And she said her own focus was on looking ahead on how to improve security rather than revisiting the talking points and Rice’s comments. As Republican criticism of her mounted, Rice was forced to withdraw her name as a possible successor to Clinton.
Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican, pressed her on why “we were misled that there were supposedly protests and something sprang out of that, an assault sprang out of that”.
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she said, her voice rising and quivering with anger as she and Johnson spoke over each other.
“Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided they would go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.”
She said she had not seen requests for additional security for the US mission in Benghazi, which was attacked in September, because they were handled by other State Department officials and normally would not reach her level.
“The specific security requests pertaining to Benghazi, you know were handled by the security professionals in the
department. I didn’t see those requests, they didn’t come to me, I didn’t approve them, I didn’t deny them,” Clinton said.
She noted that one of the findings of an accountability review board on the Benghazi attack was that “these requests
don’t ordinarily come to the secretary of state.”
Fighters attacked and overwhelmed the US diplomatic facility in a sustained assault that killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The official inquiry concluded that the State Department was completely unprepared to deal with the attack, citing
“leadership and management” deficiencies, poor coordination and unclear lines of authority in Washington. The inquiry did not find Clinton personally at fault.
Four State Department officials were put on administrative leave following the board’s report.
A separate Senate committee report said the State Department made a “grievous mistake” in keeping the Benghazi mission open despite inadequate security and increasingly alarming threat assessments in the weeks before the attack.
Her voice cracking at one point, Clinton said the attack and the aftermath were highly personal tragedies for the families of the victims who died as well as herself.
“I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters and the wives left alone to raise their children,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at Wednesday’s packed hearing.