WASHINGTON — Here is a timeline of comments by the administration and Libyan officials on what they believed happened in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, beginning the night of the assault and continuing through September.
Republicans have criticized the administration for its description of the attack, suggesting they insisted it was a protest over a film that insulted the Prophet Muhammad because acknowledging it was a terror attack would have affected the presidential campaign. The administration says it gave out the information it had, as it became available, and has strongly objected to the accusation that its messaging was politically motivated.
Sept. 11, 2012:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a statement on the attack on Benghazi, notes that “some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.”
From the Rose Garden, President Barack Obama calls Benghazi an “outrageous and shocking attack.” He says the U.S. rejects efforts to denigrate religious beliefs of others, but that there is no justification “to this type of senseless violence.” He adds that “no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation...”
Later, at a campaign event in Las Vegas, Obama sends a message to “anybody who would do us harm: No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world, and no act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America.”
Clinton, in a statement, condemns what she calls a “vicious and violent attack.” She says later, “This was an attack by a small and savage group — not the people or Government of Libya.” She says that “as long as there are those who would take innocent life in the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace.”
At a campaign event in Colorado, Obama again says, “To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished.”
In Washington, Clinton addresses the “video circulating on the Internet that has led to these protests in a number of countries.” She later returns to the “small and savage group in Benghazi” and says again “some seek to justify this behavior as a response to inflammatory, despicable material posted on the Internet.”
In Libya, Wanis el-Sharef, then eastern Libya’s deputy interior minister, said the attacks were suspected to have been timed to mark the 9/11 anniversary and that the militants used civilians protesting an anti-Islam film as cover for their action. Infiltrators within the security forces may have tipped off militants to the safe house location, he said.
At the repatriation ceremony for the victims of the attacks, Clinton calls Benghazi a “heavy assault” and adds: “We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful internet video that we had nothing to do with.”
In his weekly address, Obama stresses that the U.S. “has a profound respect for people of all faiths” and rejects the denigration of Islam. “Yet there is never any justification for violence,” he says. “There is no excuse for attacks on our embassies and consulates.”
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, goes on morning shows at NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX and CNN. Based on the administration’s best information, she says, the Benghazi attack was a “spontaneous — not a premeditated — response” to the anti-video protests in Cairo. A small number of protesters came to the consulate “and then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons,” she said. Rice called the attack a “direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated, that the U.S. government had nothing to do with.” She said the U.S. had no information at the time “that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”
In Libya, interim President Mohammed el-Megarif said: “It was planned, definitely. It was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago. And they were planning this criminal act since their arrival.”
Clinton says U.S. and Libya are working closely together to bring to justice those who “murdered” the four Americas in Benghazi. She notes that in a number of places where protests have turned violent, “we are seeing the hand of extremists who are trying to exploit people’s inflamed passions for their own agendas.” She cites Clapper’s assessment that the U.S. had no actionable intelligence that an attack in Benghazi was planned or imminent.
Matthew Olsen, the national counterterrorism center director, tells the Senate committee on homeland security and government affairs that the Benghazi events were a “terrorist attack.”
At a town hall event in Miami, Obama says what we’ve seen over the last week-and-a-half “is an offensive video or cartoon directed at the prophet Muhammad. And this is obviously something that then is used as an excuse by some to carry out inexcusable violent acts directed at Westerners or Americans.” He says the U.S. is investigating, and that the circumstances differ in each country. But, he adds, “What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.”
Clinton calls Benghazi a “terrorist attack.”
At a U.N. event focusing on Africa’s Sahel region, Clinton says al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and other groups “have launched attacks and kidnappings from northern Mali into neighboring countries.” She says terrorists are “working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions underway in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi.”
Obama administration officials defend their response to the attack amid new claims that the White House failed to send help quickly enough as militants overran the mission.
In response to a report alleging that security officers working for the CIA in Benghazi heard the attack but were twice told to wait before rushing to the compound, CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood says the CIA “reacted quickly to aid our colleagues during that terrible evening in Benghazi.”