US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pounds her fists as
she responds to questioning on the September attacks on US
diplomatic sites in Benghazi, Libya, during a Senate
Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in
Washington. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has angrily defended
her handling of the September 11 attack on the US mission in
the Libyan city of Benghazi and denied any effort to mislead
The attack by armed militants that killed US Ambassador
Christopher Stevens and three other Americans threatens to
stain Clinton's legacy as secretary of state. It also may
dent any hopes that Clinton, who mounted an unsuccessful
presidential campaign in 2008, may run for the White House
again in 2016.
By turns emotional and fierce, Clinton choked up as she spoke
of comforting the victims' families and grew angry when a
Republican senator accused the Obama administration of
misleading the country over whether the Benghazi incident
stemmed from a protest.
"With all due respect, the fact is that we had four dead
Americans," Clinton shot back as she testified before the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, an appearance delayed
more than a month because of her ill health.
"Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out
for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some
Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?" she
said, making chopping motions with her hands for emphasis.
Clinton cast the incident as part of a long history of such
violence as well as the result of regional instability since
the Arab Spring of popular revolutions began in 2011.
Clinton is expected to step down in the coming days once her
designated successor, Senator John Kerry, is confirmed by the
Republicans harshly criticized her, and President Barack
Obama's administration more generally, with one saying the
Benghazi attack and the US response displayed "woeful
unpreparedness" for the events sweeping the region and
another saying Clinton should have been fired.
Militants attacked and overwhelmed the US diplomatic facility
in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 in a sustained assault.
An official US 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.
Four lower-level US officials were placed on administrative
leave following the release of the inquiry, which did not
find Clinton personally at fault.
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.
Clinton was originally due to testify on Dec. 20 but had to
cancel after she suffered a concussion when she fainted due
to dehydration. Doctors later found she had a blood clot in
her head and hospitalized her for several days.
Several senators, noting the ferocity of Clinton's defense,
said she appeared to have fully recovered. While many
senators praised her four-year tenure as secretary of state,
some Republicans were unsparing in their criticism.
Clinton at one point said that she had not seen requests from
US officials in Libya seeking additional security.
"Had I been president at the time and I found that you did
not read the cables ... I would have relieved you of your
post. I think it's inexcusable," Republican Senator Rand Paul
of Kentucky told Clinton.
'AS COMBATIVE AS EVER'
"It's wonderful to see you in good health and as combative as
ever," Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, told
Clinton, who responded by laughing. He then went on to say
that he categorically rejected one of her answers and found
While tarnishing Clinton's tenure at the State Department,
the controversy over the Benghazi attack also cost Susan
Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, her chance to
succeed Clinton as secretary of state.
Republicans in Congress harshly criticized Rice for her
comments days after the attack in which she said the incident
appeared to be the result of a spontaneous demonstration
rather than a planned assault.
Rice, who has said her comments were based on talking points
from the US intelligence community, eventually withdrew her
name from consideration for the top US diplomatic job.
"We were misled that there were supposedly protests and then
something sprang out of that, an assault sprang out of that,"
Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, told Clinton,
referring to Rice's appearance on Sunday television talk
"People have accused Ambassador Rice and the administration
of, you know, misleading Americans," Clinton said. "Nothing
could be further from the truth."
Clinton also appeared to try to subtly distance herself from
"The very next morning, I told the American people that
heavily armed militants assaulted our compound, and I vowed
to bring them to justice. And I stood with President Obama in
the (White House) Rose Garden as he spoke of an act of
terror," she said.
Clinton's voice cracked as she spoke of comforting families
who lost loved ones in the attack, the first since 1988 in
which a US ambassador was killed.
"For me, this is not just a matter of policy - it's
personal," Clinton told the Senate panel on what is likely to
be the last day that she will testify before Congress before
stepping down as secretary of state.
"I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those
flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews," she added, her
voice breaking as she described the ceremony at Andrews Air
Force Base in Maryland when the men's remains were brought
"I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, the sisters
and brothers, the sons and daughters and the wives left alone
to raise their children," she said.
"I take responsibility," Clinton said, echoing comments she
first made in a TV interview on Oct. 15 and stressing that
she has accepted all of the recommendations of the
independent review panel that held lower-level officials
"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.
Clinton was due to testify later in the day before a House of