Clinton takes responsibility for handling of Libya attack

by Jo Biddle, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 16 2012 10:36 AM | Updated as of Oct 17 2012 05:18 AM

LIMA, Peru - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday she takes the blame for any shortcomings in the handling of an attack last month on the US mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi.

"I take responsibility," she said, according to the news networks CNN and Fox, which interviewed her during a visit to the Peruvian capital Lima.

"I'm in charge of the State Department -- 60,000 plus people all over the world, 275 posts," she said, in a brief excerpt of the interviewed screened by CNN, in which she absolved President Barack Obama from blame.

"The president and the vice president certainly wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals," she said.

Obama has come under fire from his critics over the attack, which left four Americans dead, and Clinton's move will be seen as an attempt to take the heat off him three weeks before he bids for re-election.

On September 11, heavily-armed militants stormed the US consulate compound in Benghazi and fired on a nearby annex housing security personnel, killing the four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, Obama administration officials said they appeared to be linked to protests in the Muslim world against a film shot by US-based activists and deemed insulting to the Islamic faith.

But it has since emerged that the prime suspects in the attack, now seen as a deliberate assault, are Islamist militants with links to Al-Qaeda.

State Department officials testified at a congressional hearing last week that their requests for additional security in Benghazi were turned down by their superiors within Clinton's department.

Clinton said the buck stopped with her on security decisions and played down the significance of the initial communications error, according to CNN and Fox, saying there is always "confusion" in the first hours after an attack.

"The decisions about security are made by security professionals, but we're going to review everything to be sure we're doing what needs to be done in an increasingly risky environment," Clinton said, according to Fox News.

According to CNN, Clinton also said that, while it was her duty to try to protect State Department staff in the field, they must not abandon risky places like Libya, which are in dire need of US support.

"We can't not engage," she said. "We cannot retreat."

Obama's Republican rival in the November 6 vote, Mitt Romney, has accused the administration of giving a muddled response betraying a failed Middle East policy, and some of his supporters have gone so far as to allege a cover-up.

The candidates are to meet in a crunch debate on Tuesday, and Clinton's intervention appears to have been timed to deflect attention from the White House as voting day looms and the polls show the race on a knife edge.

In the vice-presidential debate last week, Romney's running mate Paul Ryan repeatedly said that the unrest in the Middle East showed Obama had mishandled the Arab Spring and that his foreign policy was "unraveling."

Vice President Joe Biden declared the White House had not been told that the Benghazi mission had requested more guards -- a defense which Clinton's statement appeared to support.

In the hours after the September 11 attack, it was Romney who came under fire for racing to condemn the administration and score political points as smoke was still rising over the Benghazi compound.

But, since then, attention has switched to Obama's White House and State Department, with opponents demanding to know why the administration initially blamed protesters and why there was so little security in Benghazi.

Officials have blamed the fog of war for a first misleading intelligence summary received by the administration, and White House supporters counter that Republicans voted to reduce the State Department security budget.

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