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Libya hearings: Will political vitriol squelch effort to improve security?

One main purpose for congressional hearings into the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, is to find out how to improve security for US diplomats. But political point-scoring could get in the way.

By Staff writer / November 15, 2012

A locked canvas bag labeled 'SCCI' arrives for a closed oversight hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence into the circumstances surrounding the deadly attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Capitol Hill Thursday, in Washington.

Alex Brandon/AP

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Washington

Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle say they want to get to the bottom of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, so that lessons can be learned – and performance improved – concerning the mitigation of risks involved in carrying out diplomacy in dangerous places.

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It’s just not clear that the intensely politically charged atmosphere surrounding the investigations into the assault that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, will allow that to happen.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing Thursday that sought to begin to understand what happened in Benghazi in order to avoid similar tragedies in the future. But the hearing, only one of several congressional meetings this week on Benghazi to be held in public, was marked by the same political attacks and recriminations that dominated the Benghazi debate prior to the Nov. 6 election.

Republicans on the panel railed against President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for “lying” to the American people about what happened in Benghazi, while Democrats accused their Republican colleagues of “hypocrisy” for blasting the State Department over lax security provisions after having cut the department’s security budget requests.

Responsibility for the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, diplomat Sean Smith, and CIA security contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods falls “squarely on the shoulders of the secretary of state and the president,” said Republican committee member Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, who accused the administration of “turning a blind eye … to the dangers in the area.”

In response, Democrat Gary Ackerman of New York said the “stench of hypocrisy” wafted from the House majority, which he said had cut hundreds of millions of dollars from State Department budget requests for security. “If you want to know who is responsible in this town” for the Benghazi deaths, he added, “look in the mirror.”

The hearing did reveal that Secretary Clinton will testify before the committee, probably next month. Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Clinton has committed to testifying before both her committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a report expected soon from a panel Clinton named to investigate the Benghazi attack.

The five-member Accountability Review Board is expected to finish up its work and deliver its report by early to mid-December. Ms. Ros-Lehtinen said.

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