Denies Citing Film for Benghazi Attack
The State Department denied Tuesday it ever concluded that the deadly consulate attack Sept. 11 in Libya was an unplanned outburst prompted by an anti-Islam movie, despite public statements early on by some in the Obama administration suggesting that was the case.
The Obama administration used that explanation for more than a week after assailants killed the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. Most notably, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said in several TV interviews five days after the attack that it appeared to be "spontaneous" violence spinning out of protests of the film.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland backed up Rice's statements in a press briefing a day later: "I would simply say that ... the comments that Ambassador Rice made accurately reflect our government's initial assessment."
And White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, as late as a week after the attack, said that based on initial information, "we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack."
Carney then went on to suggest again the violence was related to the film: "Based on the information that we have now, it was -- there was a reaction to the video -- there was protests in Cairo, then followed by protests elsewhere, including Benghazi, and that was what led to the original unrest."
The new comments from the State Department further highlight the disconnect in the attack's aftermath between what administration officials were saying publicly and what intelligence officials suspected early on -- that the attack was an act of terrorism, more coordinated than a protest that got out of hand.
New documents further suggest internal disagreement over appropriate levels of security before the attack, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the US.
Briefing reporters ahead of a hotly anticipated congressional hearing Wednesday, State Department officials provided their most detailed rundown of how a peaceful day in Benghazi devolved into a sustained attack that involved multiple groups of men armed with weapons such as machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars over an expanse of more than a mile.
But asked about the administration's initial -- and since retracted -- explanation linking the violence to protests over an anti-Muslim video circulating on the Internet, one official said, "That was not our conclusion." He called it a question for "others" to answer, without specifying. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter, and provided no evidence that might suggest a case of spontaneous violence or angry protests that went too far.
The attack has become a major issue in the presidential campaign, featuring prominently in Republican candidate Mitt Romney's latest foreign policy address on Monday. He called it an example of President Obama's weakness in foreign policy matters, noting: "As the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists."
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