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Emotional Clinton defends herself in Benghazi 'hot seat'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 23rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

"As I have said many times since September 11, I take responsibility," Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at times choked with emotion. Clinton was visibly distraught as she fielded questions at the first of two long-anticipated congressional hearings. Under scrutiny was her department's handling of the September terrorist attack in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, which became a major issue in the November presidential election.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Clinton took on her harshest Republican critics. Clinton was questioned on the lack of security at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, where Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others were killed. Also at issue was the incorrect account given by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice that the attack grew from a protest over an anti-Islam film produced in the United States.

Tea party-backed Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson accused Rice of "purposely misleading" the American people. Clinton shouted back that with four Americans dead and the focus now on preventing future security breakdowns, "what difference, at this point, does it make?"

Clinton did admit the "systemic breakdown" cited by an Accountability Review Board she appointed and noted she had accepted all 29 of its recommendations, adding her department was taking additional steps to increase U.S. diplomatic security around the world.

Clinton also told the committee she had no direct role in requests by Stevens and other diplomats for increased security in Benghazi. "I didn't see those requests. They didn't come to me."

Conservative Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky told Clinton she should have been fired her for not reading cables from Stevens and others in Libya.

The independent report from the review board said it did not find "that any individual U.S. government employee engaged in misconduct or willfully ignored his or her responsibilities" leading up to the attack. One State Department official resigned and three others were placed on administrative leave in December.

In reference to the erroneous talking points by Rice that were broadcast on September 16, Clinton said she was focused at that time on ensuring the safety of U.S. personnel.

"I was pretty occupied about keeping our people safe, doing what needed to be done," Clinton said, adding "I wasn't involved in the talking points process."

Clinton, in her opening statement said the Benghazi attack didn't happen in a vacuum but was part of a "broader strategic challenge in North Africa and the wider region." Defending her department's response, Clinton said that there was "timely" and "exceptional" coordination between the State Department and the Pentagon on the night of the attack.

"No delays in decision making. No denials of support from Washington or from the military," Clinton said. The review panel's report "said our response saved American lives in real time -- and it did," she added.

Clinton said she also took immediate immediately steps to beef up security at U.S. posts around the world and to implement the review panel's 29 recommendations.

Clinton was originally scheduled to testify last month but postponed her appearance as she was treated for illness, a concussion and a blood clot near her brain.

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