Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s voiceÂ cracked today during the Senate testimony about the investigation into theÂ attack on the American consulate in Benghazi on September 11.
She grew emotional at one point asÂ sheÂ discussed the four American victims of the Benghazi attack, sayingÂ the incidentÂ is not just about ‘policy, it’s personal.’
‘I put my arms around the mothers andÂ fathers, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters and the wivesÂ leftÂ alone to raise their children,’ she said, her voice shaking.
‘I stood next to President Obama asÂ theÂ Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews.
‘As I have said many times since SeptemberÂ 11, I take responsibility,’ Mrs ClintonÂ told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
She insisted on Wednesday that the departmentÂ is moving swiftly and aggressively to strengthen security at U.S. missionsÂ worldwide after the deadly September 11 raid on the consulate inÂ Libya.
In probably her last appearance on CapitolÂ Hill as America’s top diplomat, Clinton once again took full responsibility forÂ the department’s missteps leading up to assault at the U.S. Consulate inÂ Benghazi, Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three otherÂ Americans.
Mrs Clinton alternated between beingÂ feistyÂ and emotional in her responses, though one thing that did notÂ change throughoutÂ the hearing was that Senators- from both parties-Â praised her service to theÂ country in her most recent governmental role.
‘It’s wonderful to see you in goodÂ healthÂ and as combative as ever,’ said Senator John McCain, who has long been criticalÂ of the Obama administration’s handling of the BenghaziÂ investigation.
Clinton said the department isÂ implementingÂ the 29 recommendations of an independent review board thatÂ harshly criticizedÂ the department as well as going above and beyond theÂ proposals, with a specialÂ focus on high-threat posts.
‘Make no mistake about it, we have got toÂ have a better strategy,’ she said.
She also defended the State Department’sÂ immediate response to the attacks, saying it was ‘timely and exceptional’ andÂ ‘saved American lives.’
But she noted that the U.S. is facingÂ ‘increasingly complex threats.’
‘We should never forget that our securityÂ professionals get it right more than 99 per cent of the time,’ she said.
But ‘we have been facing a rapidly changingÂ threat environment,’ she added.
‘We now face a spreading jihadist threat. WeÂ have to recognize this is a global movement.’
Senator Bob Corker, a Republican fromÂ Tennessee, insisted that the attack could have been prevented.
‘There were systemic (security) deficienciesÂ and I know you know that,’ Mr Corker said to Mrs Clinton. ‘To my knowledge noÂ one has been held accountable.’
He referred to cables showing that AmbassadorÂ Stevens had asked for greater security at the consulate prior to the attack.
‘These officials were screaming out for moreÂ security,’ he said.
In response to those charges, Clinton said,Â ‘We can’t think now about what could have, should have, would haveÂ happened.’
‘Benghazi didn’t happen in a vacuum,’ sheÂ said.
‘The Arab revolutions have scrambled powerÂ dynamics andÂ shattered security forces across the region. And instability inÂ 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.’
Clinton was the sole witness atÂ back-to-backÂ hearings before the Senate and House foreign policy panelsÂ on the SeptemberÂ raid, the independent panel’s review and steps theÂ Obama administration hasÂ taken to beef up security at U.S. facilitiesÂ worldwide.
Clinton had been scheduled to testify beforeÂ CongressÂ last month, but an illness, a concussion and a blood clot near herÂ brain forced her to postpone her appearance.
Her marathon day onÂ Capitol Hill willÂ probably be her last in Congress before she steps down as secretary of state.
President Barack Obama has nominated SenatorÂ JohnÂ Kerry to succeed her as Secretary of State, and his swift SenateÂ confirmation isÂ widely expected. Kerry’s confirmation hearing is scheduled forÂ Thursday.
Clinton’s testimony was to focus on theÂ attack after more than three months ofÂ Republican charges that the ObamaÂ administration ignored signs of aÂ deteriorating security situation in Libya andÂ cast an act of terrorismÂ as mere protests over an anti-Muslim video in the heatÂ of a presidential election. Washington officials suspect that militants linkedÂ to Al Qaeda carried out the attack.
‘It’s been a cover-up from theÂ beginning,’Â said Senator John McCain, the newest member of the SenateÂ Foreign RelationsÂ Committee.
Politics play anÂ outsized role in anyÂ appearance by Clinton, who sought the DemocraticÂ presidential nomination inÂ 2008 and is the subject of constantÂ speculation about a possible bid in 2016.
The former first lady and NewÂ York senator – a polarizing figure dogged by controversy – is about toÂ end her four-yearÂ tenure at the State Department with high favorableÂ ratings.
A poll early last month by the Pew ResearchÂ Center forÂ the People & the Press found 65 per cent of Americans held aÂ favorable impression of Clinton, compared with 29 per centÂ unfavorable.
Challenging Clinton at the hearing will beÂ two possible 2016 RepublicanÂ presidential candidates – Florida’s Marco RubioÂ and Kentucky’s RandÂ Paul, also a new member of the committee.