WASHINGTON, January 23 (RIA Novosti) – In alternately emotional and combative testimony before the US Congress on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she quickly ordered security stepped up for American diplomats around the world following the deadly Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, in which the American ambassador to the country was killed.
“As I have said many times since Sept. 11, I take responsibility,” Clinton said in prepared remarks before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure.”
Clinton and other members of US President Barack Obama’s administration have come under fire from Republican critics, who say the Benghazi compound was not provided sufficient security prior to the siege by armed militants that left US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.
These critics have also accused the administration of misleading the public about the circumstances surrounding the attack by allowing Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, to suggest in television interviews immediately following the attack that the assault arose amid spontaneous street protests over a YouTube video defaming Islam.
Clinton on Wednesday struck back against this accusation, raising her voice while suggesting these critics were being pedantic in matters of life and death.
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she said in response to a question by Sen. Ron Johnson about the initial version of events given by Rice.
“Was it because of a protest or is it because of guys out for a walk one night and they decide they go kill some Americans?” Clinton continued. “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. … The fact is that people were trying, in real time, to get to the best information.”
Clinton’s long-awaited testimony on the attack had been delayed by a string of illnesses and injuries, and numerous lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing thanked her for her service and said they were pleased to see she was in good health.
But she also faced harsh censure from several Republican senators, including former presidential candidate John McCain, who said he was not satisfied with her answers.
“You ought to have your facts straight,” McCain told the former first lady. “Here we are, four months later, and we still don’t have the basic information.”
In her opening remarks, Clinton said the attack came amid a security situation in the region that has been “shattered” by the popular Arab Spring uprisings against autocratic regimes over the past two years.
“Benghazi didn't happen in a vacuum,” she said. “The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region.”
The United States now faces “a spreading jihadist threat” in the country despite having killed numerous senior al-Qaeda figures, including Osama bin Laden, Clinton said.
“We have to recognize this is a global movement,” she said. “We can kill leaders, but until we establish democratic institutions, our values, we're going to be faced with this level of instability.”
Russia and other critics of the United States’ support for regime changes in countries like Libya and Egypt have argued that these shifts in power are leading to the rise of hardline Islamist factions that will only exacerbate instability in the region.
Clinton, widely seen as a possible Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, is stepping down after serving as secretary of state during Obama’s first term.
Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, a former Democratic presidential nominee, to replace Clinton.