- Law Cases
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jan. 23, 2013) — 2:19 p.m. EST – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying to the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the Benghazi attack which killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans on September 11, 2012.
She testified that there were “no denials of support” from the U.S. military or “Washington” in stopping or mitigating the attack carried out by Islamic extremists.
Clinton said that many of the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board which investigated the event are in the process of being implemented.
She extended condolences to Americans killed in a terrorist attack on an Algerian gas plant last week.
“The United States must continue to lead,” Clinton said. She said progress had been made during the last four years.
Clinton asserted that she asked J. Christopher Stevens to go to Libya and that Stevens was aware of the risks. “He never wavered; he never asked to come home…” Clinton said, describing a bomb that exploded outside of a hotel where Stevens had stayed.
“They cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs,” Clinton said of State Department employees working in various countries and “275 posts” across the globe. “When we suffer tragedies overseas, the number of people applying to the Foreign Service increases,” she said.
Clinton said her faith in the United States is “stronger than ever” after having served as Secretary of State for four years. She said she believes the U.S. is “exceptional.”
Committee chairman Ed Royce responded to Clinton that the requests for more security “could have been answered” to prevent the Benghazi attack of September 11, referencing the attack on the British ambassador earlier that summer.
“Instead of adding security, they took it away,” Royce said of senior State Department officials. He asked why security was withdrawn and disputed Clinton’s testimony to the Senate Committee this morning that she had not seen all of the cables.
Clinton responded that she was aware of some of the memos and the attack on the British contingent. She said that diplomats in dangerous places rely on “security people.” “I was also engaged…to try to see what we could do, to support the Libyan government, to deal with the many militias,” she said.
Royce said he saw “a commique” which said that security “assets were pulled.” He asked why the security team could not have been extended and referenced a response indicating that it would cause “embarrassment,” referencing an “SST,” or Security Support Team.
Clinton said that the responsibilities of the SST “were focused on Tripoli” and “intended as an interim measure.” She said she believed that the SST “did not pay much attention to Benghazi.”
Rep. Elliott Engel took the floor and cited a decrease in funding for security around the world. He said that therefore, some of the blame rests with Congress. He asked Clinton if she felt her budget had enough resources for adequate security and whether or not a “sequester” would negatively affect her department.
Clinton said that the Accountability Review Board (ARB) has asked for an increase in funding. Clinton said that the funds provided by Congress were “inadequate.” She said that “more Marine security guards” language as recommended by the ARB was included in a Senate bill but not in a corresponding House bill and asked the committee to investigate the department’s stated needs.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spoke next at 2:41 p.m. She asked Clinton why she was not reviewed by the ARB in the course of its investigation. “I think that’s outrageous,” she told Clinton.
Ros-Lehtinen cited mainstream news reports of four people having been fired as “not true” and asked Clinton why she did not correct the record and “discipline” State Department employees for their “mismanagement” and “lack of leadership.” Ros-Lehtinen said that the four are still employed at the State Department. She asked why security protocols were not “revamped” as the violence in Libya escalated in the months before the attack.
“What actions have you taken…?” Ros-Lehtinen asked. She said that State’s request for more money might be misplaced in that waste is reportedly rampant. “What do you think is a higher priority: national security or global climate change…?” she asked Clinton.
Rep. Chris Smith addressed Clinton, stating that there were “disturbing” similarities between the bombings of the African embassies in 1998 and the Benghazi attack. He asked Clinton “When did you become aware of Amb. Stevens’ requests?” Clinton had told Ros-Lehtinen that it was not “relevant” for her to be interviewed, with which Smith took issue.
Clinton said that “a lot of diplomatic security” had been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Smith then asked if Stevens had every asked Clinton “personally” to become involved in providing more security, to which Clinton said “No.”
Rep. Brad Sherman commended Clinton for “restoring and maintaining American influence” while Secretary of State and indicated his regret that she would not be continuing in her position. Sherman said that Clinton’s appearance had become a political fight between Democrats and Republicans and expressed a desire for Clinton to “come back again and do the hearing that I’d like to have…on the bigger issues of foreign policy.”
Sherman said that 16 security people were scheduled to be in Benghazi with Stevens, but that “ultimately, all we can have in our embassies is enough to stave off an attack for a few hours,” stating that security depended “on the host country.” He considered the terrorists “criminals” and said they should be brought to justice.
Sherman asked Clinton if the Libyan government had the “will and capacity” to arrest the perpetrators and try them. “What do you think of the Libyan government?” he concluded.
“I have found the Libyan government willing but without capacity,” Clinton said. “They’re having their own problems now, so we have to do more to help them build up their security capacity,” she said. Clinton recommended that the U.S. “give them the resources like we have with other countries over the last 40 years.”
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher disagreed that the hearing was political in nature. He stated that Charlene Lamb had testified that State Department funding is not an issue, with which Clinton disagreed. Clinton said that the “ARB” found that funding had been important.
“When did you talk to the president?” Rohrabacher asked.
Clinton refuted Lamb’s sworn testimony and said that she saw no “real-time video.” Rohrabacher asked Clinton if she believed that the Islamic video first blamed for the attack was the cause as she learned of it.
Clinton said that she had reported that it was an attack right away and that “we were managing a number of events.”
“We all remember what the emphasis was…it was repeated that we had enraged the Islamic terorrists,” Rohrabacher said, clearly irritated. “The only one in jail is the filmmaker,” he said. He asked Clinton if that were a problem.
Clinton repeated that she called it “an attack” the next day. “The ARB said that the picture is very complicated,” she said.
Abruptly at 3:10 p.m., live streaming of the hearing concluded on C-Span and elsewhere.