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?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific