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Obama, Clinton Honor Fallen Americans

Obama, Clinton Honor Fallen Americans

By Alexis Simendinger - September 14, 2012

As anti-American and anti-Western violence spread in the Middle East on Friday, President Obama said the United States will maintain its missions abroad to support democratic rule and would seek justice after the deaths of four U.S. diplomats killed in Libya this week. The deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was described by some senators Friday as a well-armed and organized assault rather than spontaneous mob violence.

Obama joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a somber ceremony at Joint Base Andrews (formerly Andrews Air Force Base) in Maryland as the remains of Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and the three other men killed were returned to the United States with military honors. Relatives, State Department officials and dignitaries sat in folding chairs inside a hangar as Marines loaded the flag-draped caskets into four hearses.

The bodies of Stevens, State Department technology specialist and Air Force veteran Sean Smith, former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, and paramedic and former SEAL Glen Doherty were later flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for eventual transfer to their families.

“Even as voices of suspicion and mistrust seek to divide countries and cultures from one another,” Obama said during televised remarks, “the United States of America will never retreat from the world.”

Clinton -- who described in personal terms each man, his work on behalf of the United States, and the family members who grieve his death -- repeated her denunciations of a privately produced, anti-Muslim video posted to the Internet that has been blamed for the violent, anti-American reactions in the Middle East.

The Obama administration said Friday a full investigation to identify the perpetrators and ascertain the sequence of events in Libya had begun, but White House spokesman Jay Carney asserted there was no evidence that the Benghazi murders or the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on the anniversary of 9/11 were linked to organized terrorism.

Carney identified the inflammatory video, which denigrated the prophet Mohammed, as the spark that incited the violence and led to the Americans’ deaths. “These protests were in reaction to a video that had spread to the region,” he said. “The cause of the unrest was a video, and that continues today, as you know, as we anticipated. And it may continue for some time.”

Challenged by reporters to explain how the government affirmed that a video was the catalyst in Benghazi, the president’s spokesman said, “It's not an assumption. . . . What I'm telling you is this is under investigation. The unrest around the region has been in response to this video. We do not, at this moment, have information to suggest or to tell you that would indicate that any of this unrest was pre-planned.”

Carney’s assertions were contradicted, however, by Libyan authorities and by senators who participated Friday in a closed briefing by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Capitol Hill. Senators later told reporters the government had information that well-armed, organized attackers may have killed the Americans under the guise of a hostile street mob.

“This was a calculated act of terror on the part of a small group of jihadists,” Sen. John McCain asserted after the briefing.

McCain, defeated by Obama in the 2008 presidential race, has been sharply critical of the administration’s foreign policy and has urged GOP nominee Mitt Romney to deliver a foreign policy speech advocating stronger U.S. leadership abroad and assailing what McCain calls Obama’s “feckless” policies.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, who also attended the briefing, joined Sen. Carl Levin in saying evidence of ties to al-Qaeda was unclear. It was “a well-planned and professional terrorist act against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi,” Lieberman said, according to Bloomberg.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, interviewed Friday by CNN, echoed Lieberman, saying that determining firm links to terrorist operations would require more investigation.

McCain and Lieberman have each urged the administration to take additional steps to shore up stability that appeared to be eroding in the volatile region.

Clinton and the president both embraced the Libyan citizens who responded to the American deaths with hand-printed signs in English expressing support for the United States and appreciation for the slain ambassador. The secretary said it was time for more government leaders in the Middle East to do the same.

“The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob,” Clinton said. “Reasonable people and responsible leaders in these countries need to do everything they can to restore security and hold accountable those behind these violent acts.”

Elite Marine teams arrived in Yemen and Tripoli, Libya, this week to protect U.S. government personnel in those countries.

“We will stand fast against the violence on our diplomatic missions,” Obama said during his remarks Friday. “We will continue to do everything in our power to protect Americans serving overseas, whether that means increasing security at our diplomatic posts, working with host countries -- which have an obligation to provide security -- and making it clear that justice will come to those who harm Americans.”

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin Thursday alerting emergency responders to the possibility of violence on U.S. soil tied to this week’s events, according to ABC News. While the government said it was not aware of specific threats, the bulletin advised: "First responders should remain aware of the potential for spontaneous large crowds and protests that could overwhelm resources and should be vigilant for possible efforts to encourage peaceful protesters to commit acts of violence.”

Authorities in Libya arrested four suspects this week after the deaths of the Americans, but the administration is discussing options to identify those responsible and hold them to account.

“We will bring to justice those who took them from us,” the president pledged.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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