U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she accepts responsibility for security conditions at the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, before last month’s attack that killed the American ambassador.
Clinton said in an interview with CNN yesterday that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden aren’t involved in diplomatic security decisions and shouldn’t be blamed for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
“I take responsibility,” Clinton told CNN during a visit to Lima, Peru. “We’re going to get to the bottom of it, and then we’re going to do everything we can to work to prevent it from happening again.”
The Libya attack has emerged as an issue in the U.S. presidential race, with challenger Mitt Romney and fellow Republicans saying the Obama administration failed to secure the diplomatic post before the attack and painted a misleading picture of the incident afterward.
During the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate, Biden defended the administration’s handling of the incident, saying the White House wasn’t aware of any requests for added security. A day later, Romney chastised Biden, citing congressional testimony from State Department officials who said the post in Libya had requested additional protection.
Clinton told CNN yesterday that security professionals are “the ones who weigh all the threats and the needs and make a considered decision” and not the White House.
‘Buck Stops There’
Three Republican senators on the Armed Services Committee last night called Clinton’s acceptance of responsibility a “laudable gesture” while criticizing the White House for not doing the same.
“The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the Commander-in-Chief,” Senators John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said in an e-mailed statement. “The buck stops there.”
In her CNN interview, Clinton also tried to defuse criticism that administration officials stuck for several days with a mistaken depiction of the attack as a spontaneous demonstration against an anti-Islamic video that was hijacked by extremists.
In the wake of such a violent incident, “there’s always going to be confusion” and the information about the Benghazi assault has changed over time, she told CNN.
“I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha,” she said. “I know that we’re very close to an election.”