From Elise Labott, reporting from Lima, Peru
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday tried to douse a political firestorm around the deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, saying she is responsible for the security of American diplomatic outposts.
"I take responsibility" for the protection of U.S. diplomats, Clinton said during a visit to Peru. But she said an investigation now under way will ultimately determine what happened in the attack that left four Americans dead.
The attack on the night of September 11 killed Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans at the American consulate in Benghazi.
The Obama administration has been heavily criticized after Vice President Joe Biden said during last week's vice presidential debate that the White House did not know of requests to enhance security at Benghazi, contradicting testimony by State Department employees that requests had been made and rejected. After the debate, the White House said the vice president did not know of the requests because they were handled, as is the practice, by the State Department.
Clinton said President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are not involved in security decisions.
"I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha," she added, noting that it is close to the election.
Clinton also sought to downplay the criticism that administration officials continued to say the attack was a spontaneous product of a protest over an anti-Muslim film, a theory that has since been discarded. In the wake of an attack, there is always confusion, Clinton said. But the information has since changed, she said.
The secretary of state also described the desperate scene in the State Department during the hours of the attack on the night of the assault. It was an "intense, long ordeal" as staff tried to find out what had happened.
Clinton said her mission now is to make sure such an attack will never happen again, but also that diplomacy, even in dangerous areas like Benghazi, is not stopped.
"We can't not engage," she said. "We cannot retreat."