Hillary Clinton's Opening Statement During The Benghazi Hearing Kicks Off High-Stakes Day For All Involved

Former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton waits to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

In an attempt to put the Benghazi drama behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her testimony Thursday morning to the House Selective Committee on Benghazi. The death of four Americans — two CIA personnel, a diplomat, and Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens — has been a source of controversy since Clinton's final days at the State Department. She first testified to Congress in January 2013. Last year, in what Democrats claim was a partisan move to distract from Clinton's presidential campaign, House Republicans formed the current committee, which has called for her to testify again. So here were are. And Clinton's opening statement at the Benghazi hearing did not disappoint.

Before we get to that, let's remember that the questioning is expected to center on security at the Benghazi compound and not, for example, Clinton's emails. The Benghazi committee was the first to discover her use of a private email server during her tenure at the State Department. Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who is heading up the committee's investigation, has suggested there is more evidence to show how the administration and military bungled securing outposts in Libya.

Gowdy has also described emails from Ambassador Stevens up to the day of the attack which were asking for more security, which Gowdy claims were ignored. Clinton said at the 2013 hearing that while she takes responsibility for the attack, she was not made aware of any requests for more security — they were denied. The Benghazi outpost was a temporary facility, not a consulate, which limited the funding and resources for security. Stevens had asked it to be named as a consulate — a move Clinton supported — but that was not carried out before the attack. 

Clinton's testimony comes at an important time for both Clinton and Gowdy. She hopes to put the Benghazi controversy behind her to move on with her presidential campaign. Gowdy, meanwhile, has been accused of bungling parts of the investigation and allowing it to take on an increasingly partisan tone.  

Here is the full text of Clinton's opening. Stay tuned for further revelations from her testimony, which is expected to take up to eight hours — not counting breaks.

Thank you Mr. Chairman, ranking member Cummings, and the Committee. The terrorist attacks at our diplomatic compound and later at the CIA post in Benghazi, Libya on September 11th, 2012 took the lives of four brave Americans. Ambassador Chris Stephens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods. I'm here to honor the service of those four men, courage of the Diplomatic Security Agency and the CIA officers risked their lives that night, and the work their colleagues do every single day all over the world.
I knew and admired Chris Stevens. He was one of our nation's most accomplished diplomats. Chris's mother liked to say he had "sand in his shoes," because he was always moving, always working, especially in the Middle East that he came to know so well.
When the revolution broke out in Libya, we named Chris as our envoy to the opposition. There was no easy way to get him into Benghazi to begin gathering information and meeting those Libyans who were rising up against the murderous dictator Gadhafi. But he found a way to get himself there on a Greek cargo ship, just like a 19th- century American envoy.

But his work was very much 21st-century, hard-nosed diplomacy.
It is a testament to the relationships that he built in Libya that on the day following the awareness of his death, tens of thousands of Libyans poured into the streets in Benghazi. They held signs reading, "Thugs don't represent Benghazi or Islam," "Sorry, people of America, this is not the behavior of our Islam or our prophet," "Chris Stevens, a friend to all Libyans."

Although I didn't have the privilege of meeting Sean Smith personally, he was a valued member of our State Department family. An Air Force veteran, he was an information management officer who had served in Pretoria, Baghdad, Montreal and the Hague.

Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty worked for the CIA. They were killed by mortar fire at the CIA's outpost in Benghazi, a short distance from the diplomatic compound. They were both former Navy SEALs and trained paramedics with distinguished records of service including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As secretary of State, I had the honor to lead and the responsibility to support nearly 70,000 diplomats and development experts across the globe. Losing any one of them, as we did in Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, Haiti and Libya, during my tenure was deeply painful for our entire State Department and USAID family and for me personally. I was the one who asked Chris to go to Libya as our envoy. I was the one who recommended him to be our ambassador to the president.

After the attacks, I stood next to President Obama as Marines carried his casket and those of the other three Americans off the plane at Andrews Air Force Base. I took responsibility, and as part of that, before I left office, I launched reforms to better protect our people in the field and help reduce the chance of another tragedy happening in the future.

What happened in Benghazi has been scrutinized by a non-partisan hard-hitting Accountability Review Board, seven prior congressional investigations, multiple news organizations and, of course, our law enforcement and intelligence agencies. So today, I would like to share three observations about how we can learn from this tragedy and move forward as a nation.

First, America must lead in a dangerous world, and our diplomats must continue representing us in dangerous places. The State Department sends people to more than 270 posts in 170 countries around the world. Chris Stevens understood that diplomats must operate in many places where our soldiers do not, where there are no other boots on the ground and safety is far from guaranteed. In fact, he volunteered for just those assignments.

He also understood we will never prevent every act of terrorism or achieve perfect security and that we inevitably must accept a level of risk to protect our country and advance our interests and values. And make no mistake, the risks are real. Terrorists have killed more than 65 American diplomatic personnel since the 1970s and more than 100 contractors and locally employed staff.

Since 2001, there have been more than 100 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world. But if you ask our most experienced ambassadors, they'll tell you they can't do their jobs for us from bunkers. It would compound the tragedy of Benghazi if Chris Stevens' death and the death of the other three Americans ended up undermining the work to which he and they devoted their lives.

We have learned the hard way when America is absent, especially from unstable places, there are consequences. Extremism take root, aggressors seek to fill the vacuum and security everywhere is threatened, including here at home. That's why Chris was in Benghazi. It's why he had served previously in Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem during the second intifada.

Nobody knew the dangers of Libya better. A weak government, extremist groups, rampant instability. But Chris chose to go to Benghazi because he understood America had to be represented there at that pivotal time. He knew that eastern Libya was where the revolution had begun and that unrest there could derail the country's fragile transition to democracy. And if extremists gained a foothold, they would have the chance to destabilize the entire region, including Egypt and Tunisia. He also knew how urgent it was to ensure that the weapons Gadhafi had left strewn across the country, including shoulder-fired missiles that could knock an airplane out of the sky, did not fall into the wrong hands. The nearest Israeli airport is just a day's drive from the Libyan border.

Above all, Chris understood that most people in Libya or anywhere reject the extremists' argument that violence can ever be a path to dignity or justice. That's what those thousands of Libyans were saying after they learned of his death. And he understood there was no substitute for going beyond the embassy walls and doing the hard work of building relationships.

Retreat from the world is not an option. America cannot shrink from our responsibility to lead. That doesn't mean we should ever return to the go-it-alone foreign policy of the past, a foreign policy that puts boots on the ground as a first choice rather than a last resort. Quite the opposite. We need creative, confident leadership that harnesses all of America's strengths and values, leadership that integrates and balances the tools of diplomacy, development and defense.

And at the heart of that effort must be dedicated professionals like Chris Stevens and his colleagues who put their lives on the line for a country, our country, because they believed, as I do, that America is the greatest force for peace and progress the world has ever known. My second observation is this. We have a responsibility to provide our diplomats with the resources and support they need to do their jobs as safely and effectively as possible. After previous deadly attacks, leaders from both parties and both branches of government came together to determine what went wrong and how to fix it for the future.

That's what happened during the Reagan administration, when Hezbollah attacked our embassy and killed 63 people, including 17 Americans, and then in a later attack attacked our Marine barracks and killed so many more. Those two attacks in Beirut resulted in the deaths of 258 Americans.

It's what happened during the Clinton administration, when Al Qaida bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 200 people, wounding more than 2,000 people and killing 12 Americans.

And it's what happened during the Bush administration after 9/11.

Part of America's strength is we learn, we adapt and we get stronger.

After the Benghazi attacks, I asked Ambassador Thomas Pickering, one of our most distinguished and longest serving diplomats, along with Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- appointed by President George W. Bush -- to lead an accountability review board.

This is an institution that the Congress set up after the terrible attacks in Beirut. There have been 18 previous accountability review boards. Only two have ever made any of their findings public -- the one following the attacks on our embassies in East Africa, and the one following the attack on Benghazi.

The accountability review board did not pull a single punch. They sound systemic problems and management deficiencies in two State Department bureaus. And the review board recommended 29 specific improvements. I pledged that by the time I left office, every one would be on the way to implementation and they were.

More Marines were slated for deployment to high-threat embassies. Additional diplomatic security agents were being hired and trained. And Secretary Kerry has continued this work.

But there is more to do and no administration can do it alone. Congress has to be our partner, as it has been after previous tragedies. For example, the accountability review board and subsequent investigations have recommended improved training for our officers before they deploy to the field. But efforts to establish a modern joint training center are being held up by Congress. The men and women who serve our country deserve better.

Finally, there is one more observation I'd like to share. I traveled to 112 countries as secretary of state. Every time I did, I felt great pride and honor representing the country that I love. We need leadership at home to match our leadership abroad, leadership that puts national security ahead of politics and ideology. Our nation has a long history of bipartisan cooperation on foreign policy and national security. Not that we always agree, far from it, but we do come together when it counts.

As secretary of state, I worked with the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to pass a landmark nuclear arms control treaty with Russia. I worked with the Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, to open up Burma, now Myanmar, to democratic change. I know it's possible to find common ground because I have done it. We should debate on the basis of fact, not fear. We should resist denigrating the patriotism or loyalty of those with whom we disagree. So I'm here. Despite all the previous investigations and all the talk about partisan agendas, I'm here to honor those we lost and to do what I can to aid those who serve us still.

My challenge to you, members of this committee, is the same challenge I put to myself. Let's be worthy of the trust the American people have bestowed upon us. They expect us to lead, to learn the right lessons, to rise above partisanship and to reach for statesmanship. That's what I tried to do every day as secretary of state and it's what I hope we will all strive for here today and into the future.

Thank you.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth King

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