Republicans assail Obama on 9/11 attack in Libya
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and White House press secretary Jay Carney called the violence a terrorist attack last week. But Obama has declined several chances to call the incident a terrorist attack. He said last week that extremists used an anti-Islam video as an excuse to assault U.S. interests.
And just five days after the attack, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the attack was a spontaneous reaction to the video. Her assessment was at odds with Libya’s interim President Mohammed el-Megarif, who said there was no doubt the perpetrators had predetermined the date of the assault. Panetta said Thursday it was a ‘‘planned attack.’’
The FBI is investigating, but the apparent contradictions have prompted demands for information from Congress and a flurry of scathing letters to the administration.
So far, U.S. intelligence has indicated that heavily armed extremists numbering 50 or more attacked the consulate, relying on gun trucks for added firepower. They established a perimeter, limiting access to the compound. A first wave of attacks forced the Americans to flee to a fallback building, where a second group of extremists attacked with mortar fire. Stevens died of apparent smoke inhalation when he was caught inside one of the consulate buildings, which had been set on fire.
Officials have not singled out one responsible group, but have focused their attention on Ansar al-Shariah, a Libyan militant group led by a former detainee at the U.S. military-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that there has been a ‘‘thread of intelligence reporting’’ about groups in eastern Libya trying to coalesce, but no specific threat to the consulate.
Since the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi last year, militias, weapons and terrorists are common in Libya.
‘‘It was just unbelievable that Ambassador Rice and Secretary Clinton and the White House spokesman and others would say that there was no evidence — that this was a spontaneous attack, yet they say, ‘come on, honey, bring your mortars, we’re going to a spontaneous demonstration,'’’ Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on CBS’ ‘‘This Morning.’’
McCain, who called the administration’s statements ‘‘disgraceful,’’ joined three other Republican senators this week in a letter to Rice pressing her on her ‘‘troubling statements that are inconsistent with the facts.’’
Eight Republicans who head House committees sent a letter to Obama criticizing a ‘‘pre-9/11 mindset’’ of ‘‘treating an act of war solely as a criminal matter.’’ They said they would return to Washington from their nearly two-month recess for briefings beyond the back-to-back sessions Clinton and others held last week.
Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., have asked for communications between the State Department and the U.S. mission in Libya leading up to the attacks.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., has written the State Department’s Thomas Nides asking him to provide the panel with a detailed accounting of the attacks on U.S. missions in Libya, Egypt and Yemen on Sept. 11, information on security and whether there was any prior intelligence.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a member of the panel, said the purpose of this letter is a bipartisan effort to get information.
‘‘I do think it is legitimate and appropriate to ask questions,’’ Coons said in an interview. ‘‘Some have sadly overreached and clearly are politicizing this incident.’’
Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Washington and Steve Peoples in Springfield, Va., contributed to this report.