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.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are currently...

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering