Hillary Clinton on Libya: “I take responsibility”

Mitigating the political fallout from the Libya consulate attack, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday that she takes responsibility for the administration’s handling of the incident. 

The ferocious assault in Benghazi on Sept. 11th took the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.

“I take responsibility. I’m in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts,” Clinton told CNN’s Elise Labott.

The White House has been harshly criticized by Republicans for (1) initially suggesting that attack resulted from a “spontaneous” protest over the controversial “Innocence of Muslims” YouTube video rather than a terrorist attack; and (2) for the State Department’s rejection of requests by the Tripoli Embassy for increased security in the months prior to the attack.

Read more: U.S. Embassy in Tripoli denied repeated requests for additional security prior to Benghazi attack

State Department officials testifying at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing confirmed that the Tripoli Embassy had requested for but were denied additional security personnel earlier this year. Under Secretary of State Charlene Lamb acknowledged that the requests were denied but insisted that the Embassy had “the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11” given the known security threat.

At the debate a day later, Vice President Joe Biden – when asked about whether there was adequate security in place before the attack – asserted that “We weren’t told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security again.”

Read more: Democrats & Republicans trade accusations over Libya; Ambassador Stevens’s father says Benghazi deaths should not be politicized

Biden’s statement, which contradicted Lamb’s sworn testimony, set off a new round of partisan attacks over the weekend. Appearing on Sunday’s Face the Nation, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested that the administration is engaged in a “cover-up” to hide its incompetence and “failed foreign policy.”

Clinton, who has made an effort to stay out of the political fray over Libya, spoke out on the eve of the second Presidential debate to defend the administration’s actions preceding and following the Benghazi attack.

Responding to criticisms over Biden’s remarks, Clinton said that she takes responsibility because security decisions for embassies and diplomatic posts are handled by the State Department, not the White House.

“The President and the Vice President certainly wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals…who weigh all of the threats and all the risks and the needs and make a considered decision,” Clinton explained.

Clinton noted that are two investigations underway to figure out what happened in Benghazi, who’s responsible for the attack, and what changes are needed to improve security at U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide.

As the incident became increasingly politicized, Clinton stressed that the Benghazi attack “should be viewed in a non-political way”, echoing the statement made by the deceased Ambassador’s father, who told Bloomberg News that “it would really be abhorrent” to turn Stevens’s death into a political issue.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t want to get to the bottom of what happened, because we should, and we should hold people accountable, make changes where necessary,” said Clinton, adding that the “political ‘gotcha’ or blame game” would do a “disservice” to the thousands of Americans serving abroad.

Highlights from Clinton’s interviews with the 5 major TV networks – CNN, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and Fox News – on Monday: 

  • Clinton told CNN that the Accountability Review Board is investigating the security level at the Benghazi consulate to determine whether it was faulty intelligence on the threat level or a “bad security decision” that led the State Department to reject the Tripoli Embassy’s request for increased security. “I’m not going to get into the blame game either about what we don’t fully yet know from our own investigation,” said Clinton.
  • On tracking down and apprehending the suspects behind the attack, Clinton told ABC News that “there’s an intense effort in our government, and I think our track record is pretty good that eventually we will find you.”
  • On the U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s initial assessment that the attack evolved from a “spontaneous” protest, Clinton told CNN that Rice’s statement was made based on the intelligence information available at the time. “In the wake of an attack like this in the fog of war, there’s always going to be confusion, and I think it’s fair to say that everyone had the same intelligence,” said Clinton in refuting allegations that the administration had mislead the American public. “Everyone who spoke tried to give the information they had. As time has gone on, the information has changed, we’ve gotten more detail, but that’s not surprising.”
  • Responding to the politicization of the Libya attack, Clinton told NBC News that “I really believe that tragedies like what happened in Benghazi should be viewed in a non-political way. Everybody should pull together as Americans.”
  • When asked about why the State Department had to rely on Libyan security personnel, Clinton also explained to NBC News that U.S. security contractors for diplomatic posts must be approved by the host nation.

Unlike Iraq or Afghanistan where the U.S. was waging war, the State Department must respect the sovereignty of its host nation and receive permission for stationing foreign private security contractors on Libyan soil.

“In a more general way, we can’t bring people into any country unless we take military action against that country. But in the ordinary course of dealing with other countries, we can’t bring anybody in who doesn’t get a visa, who isn’t approved to be there by the country,” said Clinton. “So when some people say, well, we should have just put people in, that’s not the way it works. You have to get the visas. You have to get the approval.”

After the revolution, Libya has been reluctant to grant permission for foreign security contractors given that Gen. Muammar Gaddafi had used foreign mercenaries (from South Africa, Croatia, and neighboring countries like Mali) to try to quell the rebellion.

  • On whether the White House had known about an IED attack that breached the Benghazi consulate in June, Clinton told Fox News that “I can’t speak to who knew what about that. We knew that there were security breaches and problems throughout Libya that was something that came about as the aftermath of the revolution to topple [Gaddafi], with so many militias formed, so many weapons loo.”


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