Tearful Clinton defends Benghazi handling
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defends her handling of the September 11th attack on the mission in Benghazi that killed four Americans.PT1M35S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2d838 620 349 January 24, 2013
WASHINGTON: Defending her legacy and perhaps protecting her future, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, faced congressional committees over the killing of the US ambassador to Libya, with a performance that was at times fraught, at times angry, but always commanding.
The nation's chief diplomat - strongly rumoured to harbour presidential ambitions - has been targeted by Republican critics ever since the raid on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the ambassador, Chris Stevens.
It has been alleged Mrs Clinton sought to cover up the assault as a response to an anti-Islamic film rather than the terrorist attack it later proved to be, in order to reassure voters during last year's presidential election that al-Qaeda had been largely defeated, and that her State Department failed to properly protect its diplomats. Some had even accused her of faking her recent illness to avoid testifying to the committees.
Fighting words … Hillary Clinton was accused of lying to avoid responsibility for the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. Photo: AFP, Reuters, Bloomberg
In a statement before the Senate foreign relations committee questioning began on Wednesday morning, Mrs Clinton declared her remorse over the deaths and assumed full responsibility for them, struggling not to cry as she described standing by the President, Barack Obama, as the caskets were repatriated.
At first the questions remained respectful, with even Republican senators prefacing their questions by commenting on Mrs Clinton's remarkable term as Secretary of State.
''As a doctor, I will tell you, I have seen you work yourself to exhaustion, not for your own benefit but for the benefit of the people of this country, and the country is grateful,'' John Barrasso told Mrs Clinton, who will soon hand over to John Kerry for the Obama administration's second term.
Ron Johnson listens to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton respond to questions about the September attack in Benghazi. Photo: Reuters
But Mrs Clinton allowed her anger to show during questioning from Ron Johnson, who asked why she or her staff had not immediately called survivors to ask whether a protest had preceded the assault.
Mrs Clinton replied that she did not want to interfere with the FBI investigation.
Senator Johnson suggested this was an excuse and the two spoke over one another with raised voices until Senator Johnson retreated under her anger.
"I'm glad you're accepting responsibility" ... Rand Paul. Photo: AFP
''With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,'' Mrs Clinton said.
''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?
''It is, from my perspective, less important today looking backward as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice.''
John McCain accused the State Department under Mrs Clinton of failing to provide Libya with the support it needed to train its own forces, and said such an attack should have been foreseen. Mrs Clinton disagreed.
Rand Paul, the son of the relentless libertarian Republican candidate Ron Paul, who is rumoured to have ambitions to take over his father's political machine for the 2016 race, took Mrs Clinton to task. ''I'm glad that you're accepting responsibility. I think that ultimately with your leaving, you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11,'' he said. ''Had I been president at the time … I would have relieved you of your post.''
During the long question Mrs Clinton variously cupped her chin in her hand, smiled benignly or shuffled papers.
When Senator Paul finished Ms Clinton remained unruffled and replied: ''I believe in taking responsibility, and I have done so.''
It is not yet clear if the incident will leave a blemish on what is regarded in Washington as an otherwise highly successful term as secretary of state. A recent Washington Post poll put her approval rating at 67 per cent, a career high and roughly double the popularity of congressional Republicans.