WASHINGTON – In a grueling day of long-awaited testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vehemently defended her handling of Sep. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, again taking responsibility for the State Department’s security failures while denying any effort to mislead people about the circumstances that led to the deaths of four Americans.
The outgoing secretary of state faced strong Republican challenges to the administration’s response to the Benghazi raid by armed militants that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other officials. The event threatens to stain her tenure as the nation’s top diplomat and could present a political obstacle should Clinton decide to mount another presidential campaign in 2016.
At congressional hearings that had been delayed more than a month by Clinton’s concussion and subsequent health problems, she said she had not seen requests sent from the U.S. consulate staff in Benghazi for more security before the attack.
At times fierce and emotional, Clinton lashed out in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee morning hearing when Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., criticized the administration’s initial statement that the attack erupted from a nearby protest of an online anti-Islamic video, a report later proven false.
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four Americans dead,” Clinton said in a raised voice. “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.”
Casting the incident in line with a history of violence resulting from the instability since the Arab Spring revolutions began in 2011, Clinton said reliable security was difficult to guarantee in the region.
Clinton told the House Foreign Relations Committee in the afternoon that the State Department is implementing 29 recommendations by an independent panel that investigated the incident, saying that the majority of those recommendations would be in place by March. Official inquiries released in December cited poor coordination and unclear lines of authority in the department were some of the causes of the incident at Benghazi.
“Nobody is more committed to getting this right,” Clinton said in her prepared statement. “I am determined to leave the state department and our country safer, stronger and more secure.”
During the Senate hearing, Clinton choked up as she recounted contacting the victims’ families.
“For me, it’s not about the foreign policy,” Clinton said, with tears in her eyes. “I stood next to President (Barack) Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at [Joint Base] Andrews.”
In addition to inquiries surrounding the Benghazi attack, congressmen asked Clinton a number of questions regarding Northern African terrorism and jihad, including about the current situation in Algeria and 20 other classified incidents.
“We now face a growing jihadist threat,” Clinton said. “But until we can help these [new governments] establish strong democracy, we can’t help the situation.”