Emotional and angry, Hillary Clinton faces her accusers over Benghazi attack

Mistakes, but no cover-up: outgoing Secretary of State defends handling of embassy raid

In her last public act as America's diplomat-in-chief, Hillary Clinton confronted her critics on Capitol Hill today, defending her handling of last year's assault on the US consulate in Benghazi and fiercely rejecting all notion of a cover-up in the days that followed it.

If Republicans had been hoping to clip Ms Clinton's wings as she prepares to step down as Secretary of State – and hurt her chances of running for president in 2016 – they were probably disappointed.

Instead, she took the initiative to acknowledge errors made in the run-up to the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others and dismiss claims that she had tried to mislead the nation about what had happened.

She notably became irate when Ron Johnson, a Tea Party-backed Senator from Wisconsin, pressed the cover-up theme, quizzing her on the length of time the administration took to acknowledge that the attack was the work of terrorists and not an outgrowth of a street protest over an American anti-Islam video. 

The exchange with Senator Johnson cut to the heart of the hearings that had been delayed for several weeks to allow Ms Clinton to recover from a blood clot in the brain.

Did the administration try to obscure the terrorist nature of the attack which killed the US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, to minimise possible damage to Barack Obama as he sought re-election?

“The fact is we had four dead Americans,” she said, gesticulating angrily. “Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?… People were trying in real time to get to the best information.”

As she was testifying, the Pentagon revealed that it was lifting all restrictions on US women serving in the front line of conflicts overseas. Ordered by outgoing Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, it is a ground-breaking decision that lifts curbs on combat roles for women first imposed nearly 20 years ago.

In her opening statement, Ms Clinton, whose original appearance before the committee last month was delayed when she suffered complications from a concussion, showed unusual public emotion as she recalled those days after the attack.

“I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews,” she recalled, her voice cracking. “I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters.”

She told the senators that the State Department is enacting all of the 29 recommendations contained in an independent review board report into the attack, which focused in particular on why appeals for more security from the ground in Benghazi in the months ahead of it had gone ignored by Washington.

Ms Clinton used her time at the microphone to also underscore the growing concern in Washington about events in North Africa generally. In that context, she spoke of Mali and the terror attack in Algeria. In both instances, she said, guns coming out of Libya were implicated.

“Benghazi didn't happen in a vacuum,” she said. “The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region and instability in Mali has created an expanding safe haven for terrorists who look to extend their influence and plot further attacks of the kind we saw just last week in Algeria.”

While Ms Clinton said she accepted ultimate responsibility for the fact that the Benghazi facility had been insufficiently protected, she rejected claims she should have known about security requests that went ignored.  “I didn't see those requests, they didn't come to me, I didn't approve them, I didn't deny them,” she said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks