Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the September 11, 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on January 23, 2013.
(CBS NEWS) -- In highly-anticipated testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this morning cited a
"personal" commitment to improving diplomatic security abroad in the
aftermath of the September 11 attacks in Benghazi.
But even while taking
personal responsibility for the deaths of four Americans in the
attacks, Clinton defended her own actions and those of her staff with
regard to the response to Benghazi, and outlined the steps she says the
State Department has taken to prevent future similar occurrences.
growing emotional at times during her testimony, stressed her belief in
the continued importance of U.S. diplomacy abroad, but cited the
inherent risk of taking an active role in "unstable" political
"We have come a long way in the past four years
and We cannot afford to retreat now. When America is absent, especially
from unstable environments, there are consequences. Extremism takes
root, our interests suffer, our security at home is threatened," she
said. "Our men and women who serve overseas understand that we accept a
level of risk to protect this country we love. And they represent the
best traditions of a bold and generous nation."
argued, however, that diplomatic personnel "cannot work in bunkers and
do their jobs. So it is our responsibility to make sure they have the
resources they need and to do everything we can to reduce the risks."
a result, Clinton said, she has worked with the State Department to
swiftly to implement a series of outside recommendations aimed at
ensuring that similar attacks don't reoccur. But she once again took
responsibility for the personnel in Libya as well as in the State
Department generally, and stressed that her commitment to protecting
future diplomats stretches beyond a policy level.
"As I have said many times, I take responsibility. And nobody is more
committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State
Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure," she said.
"For me, it's personal."
Clinton called the attack in
September "one of those terrible tragic times" when the State
Department's security assessment of the situation in Benghazi failed to
take into account an imminent attack, and she emphasized her commitment
to implementing steps to increase the department's efficacy and
operational capabilities. But Clinton defended both her own response to
the attacks, as well as that of the White House and U.N. Ambassador
In the aftermath of the attacks, much of the
political controversy surrounded the manner in which the administration
characterized them: In early comments, White House officials including
U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice suggested the violence might have been the
result of spontaneous protests spurred by an anti-Muslim video. Those
comments, which were ultimately not proven to be true, were guided by a
set of unclassified talking points given to Rice ahead of a series of
television appearances on September 16, five days after the attacks.
Republicans pounced on the discrepancies between Rice's comments and
others, and the sustained criticism ultimately led to Rice's decision to
withdraw her name from consideration as Secretary of State.
Clinton, questioned by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., on why the
administration initially gave an inaccurate version of the events that
took place, grew frustrated with the focus on the White House's
explanation rather than the root cause of the violence.
had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or because of guys
out for a walk one night and decided to go kill some Americans? At this
point what difference does it make, Senator?" she asked Johnson,
visibly heated for the first time in the hearing.
Clinton said she did not tap Rice to go on television
following the attacks, but vehemently defended the ambassador's remarks
in the appearances she did make. On the suggestion that Rice had
knowingly misled the people on Benghazi, Clinton said "nothing could be
further from the truth."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was one of the lawmakers most
critical of Rice, continued to attack the Obama administration for not
consulting with people on the ground in Benghazi before speaking
publicly about what happened, and called Clinton's testimony "not
"Here we are, four months later, and we still don't have the basic information," he said.
responding to McCain's point about the administration's communication
practices, cited a "simple disagreement" with him on that matter before
turning to concerns over budget issues -- and the congressional holds on
budget requests she said had contributed to them.
"We have got to get our act together between the administration and Congress," she said. "We have to work together."