Crunch time for US elections: Hilary Clinton takes the fall for Benghazi deaths
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said late Monday she takes the blame for any shortcomings in the handling of an attack last month on the U.S. mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi.
“I take responsibility” for what happened on Sept. 11, Clinton said in an interview with CNN during a visit to Peru, adding that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden would not be responsible for specific security instructions for U.S. diplomatic facilities.
“I’m in charge of the State Department’s 60,000-plus people all over the world,” Clinton said.
“The president and the vice president wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They're the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision,” she said according to Reuters.
Clinton’s comments followed stepped-up criticism of the Obama administration over the Benghazi attack, which Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney has sought to use to dent Obama’s foreign policy credibility before the Nov. 6 election.
Obama has come under fire from his critics over the attack, which left four Americans dead, and Clinton’s move will be seen as an attempt to take the heat off him three weeks before he bids for re-election in the Nov. 6 polls.
Republicans in particular have focused on the Obama administration’s shifting explanations for the attack, which Clinton said in two separate television interviews on Monday were the result of "the fog of war."
“Remember, this was an attack that went on for hours,” Clinton told Fox News. “There had to be a lot of sorting out. ... Everyone said, here’s what we know, subject to change.”
The administration initially attributed the violence to protests over an anti-Islam film and said it was not premeditated. Obama and other officials have since said the incident was a terrorist attack.
On Sept. 11, heavily-armed militants stormed the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi and fired on a nearby annex, killing the four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
In the immediate aftermath, Obama administration officials said they appeared to be linked to protests in the Muslim world against a film shot by U.S.-based activists and deemed insulting to the Islamic faith.
But it has since emerged that the prime suspects in the attack, now seen as a deliberate assault, are Islamist militants with links to al-Qaeda.
State Department officials testified at a congressional hearing last week that requests for additional security in Benghazi were turned down by their superiors within Clinton’s department.
Clinton has launched an internal investigation into whether there were any security failures in Benghazi, while the FBI and Libyan authorities have launched criminal investigations into the killings.
But Clinton said the buck stopped with her on security decisions and played down initial communications errors, saying there is always “confusion” in the first hours after an attack, AFP reported.
“The decisions about security are made by security professionals, but we’re going to review everything to be sure we’re doing what needs to be done in an increasingly risky environment,” Clinton said, according to Fox News.
Romney has accused the administration of not providing adequate security to American diplomats and misrepresenting the nature of the attack, which resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Romney’s criticisms have sought to undercut the foreign policy record of Obama, who has been praised for the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the withdrawal of troops from unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those attacks sharpened after last week’s vice presidential debate, when Biden said “we did not know” of requests by U.S. diplomats on the ground in Libya for more security -- a statement that contradicted testimony given two days earlier by State Department officials at a congressional hearing.
Congress has increased pressure on the State Department to release information about the attack. Obama and Clinton have both vowed a full investigation.
In a joint statement. Republican senators led by John McCain said Clinton’s acceptance of responsibility “is a laudable gesture especially when the White House is trying to avoid any responsibility whatsoever.”
But the statement, also signed by senators Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte, maintained that if Obama knew about earlier attacks on the Benghazi mission “then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred.”
“The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the commander-in-chief. The buck stops there,” the statement added.
Clinton also again defended U.S. officials against charges that they repeatedly changed their story about the events of Sept. 11.
“As time has gone on, that information has changed. We’ve gotten more detail, but that’s not surprising,” she told CNN.
“That always happens, and what I want to avoid is some kind of political gotcha or blame game going on because that does a disservice to the thousands of thousands of Americans, not only in the State Department and USAID but in the military who serve around the world.”
And the top U.S. diplomat said that, while it was her duty to try to protect staff in the field, they must not abandon risky places like Libya. “We can’t not engage,” she said. “We cannot retreat.”
Obama and Romney meet in a crunch debate on Tuesday, and Clinton’s intervention appears to have been timed to deflect attention from the White House as voting day looms and the polls show the race on a knife edge.
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