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Hillary Clinton addresses Benghazi controversy

Amidst Republican challenges, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to Congress about the September Benghazi attack for six hours on Wednesday. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, suggested Clinton should have been fired over her role in the incident. 

By Arshad MohammedReuters, Tabassum ZakariaReuters / January 23, 2013

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

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WASHINGTON

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday forcefully defended her handling of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi and denied any effort to mislead the American people.

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The attack by armed militants that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans threatens to stain Clinton's legacy as secretary of state and could cast a longer shadow should she decide to make a White House run in 2016.

By turns emotional and fierce, Clinton choked up at one point in six hours of congressional testimony as she spoke of comforting the Benghazi victims' families and grew angry when a Republican accused the Obama administration of misleading the country over whether the attack stemmed from a protest.

"With all due respect, the fact is that we had four dead Americans," Clinton said angrily as she testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, an appearance delayed more than a month because of her ill health.

"Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?" she said, making chopping motions with her hands for emphasis.

"It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."

During the morning Senate hearing and a later session in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats pointed fingers at each other, with Republicans accusing Clinton's State Department of mismanagement and Democrats defending her.

But little new information about the Benghazi incident and the administration's response to it emerged from the lengthy hearings. Clinton did say that there were at least 20 other U.S. diplomatic posts under serious security threat, but declined to name them at the public session.

Clinton cast the Benghazi incident as part of a long history of such violence as well as the result of instability since the Arab Spring of popular revolutions began in 2011, toppling authoritarian rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

"Benghazi did not happen in a vacuum," Clinton said. "The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region."

'I take responsibility'

On the same day as the Benghazi assault, a mob angered by a U.S.-made video depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a fool and philanderer attacked the U.S. embassy in Cairo. There were later attacks on U.S. embassies in Tunisia, Yemen and Sudan.

Republicans harshly criticized Clinton, and President Barack Obama's administration more generally, with Senator Bob Corker saying the Benghazi attack and the U.S. response displayed "woeful unpreparedness" for the events sweeping the region. Senator Rand Paul said Clinton should have been fired.

Clinton, echoing comments she first made on Oct. 15, said: "I take responsibility." She stressed that she had accepted all the recommendations of an independent panel that investigated the incident and that held lower-level officials responsible.

"Nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger and more secure," Clinton said.

Militants attacked and overwhelmed the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 in a sustained assault.

The official U.S. inquiry released on Dec. 18 concluded that "leadership and management failures" in two State Department bureaus led to a security posture "inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."

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