WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesdaydefended her actions during and after terrorists waged their brutalattack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya and said she is determined "tofind them and bring them to justice."
Clinton, testifying beforethe Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also promised to improvesecurity for State Department officials in North Africa and around theworld following the attack in Benghazi that left U.S. AmbassadorChristopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.
"I takeresponsibility," Clinton told the committee. "Nobody is more committedto getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department andour country safer, stronger and more secure."
Clinton, who willsoon be leaving her post, said she directed the U.S. response to theSept. 11 attack from the State Department and stayed in close contactwith U.S. officials on the ground as well as the Libyan government.
Shesaid the deaths were "personal" for her, and was near tears when shetalked of standing next to President Obama "as the Marines carried thoseflag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews (Air Force Base). I put myarms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons anddaughters."
STATEMENT: Clinton's prepared text
Sen.John McCain, R-Arizona, told Clinton that when he met with Stevens onJuly 7 -- more than two months before the attack -- Stevens expressed"his deep and grave concerns about security in Benghazi... and the needfor additional assistance." The administration's "preference for a 'softfootprint' was part of the reason for what took place" in Benghazi,McCain said.
An Independent Accountability Review Board appointedby the State Department concluded that "systemic failures" left theconsulate in Benghazi inadequately protected and confirmed that noprotest preceded the deadly attack. In a report released in December,the board recommended that the State Department strengthen security inhigh-risk posts.
Clinton said she has asked her deputy secretaryfor management and resources to lead a task force to ensure that all 29of the panels recommendations are implemented quickly and completely -and to pursue "additional steps above and beyond" those in the board'sreport.
"Benghazi did not happen in a vacuum," Clinton said. Theinstability brought on by the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 has expandedthe reach of extremists across North Africa, she said.
The StateDepartment for days after the Sept. 11 attack blamed it on a spontaneousprotest of what it called a "reprehensible" video that denigratedIslam's prophet Mohammed, while CIA and diplomats from the scene werereporting that no protest preceded the attack.
Clinton testifiedthat on the day of the attack, before it happened, she had been at theState Department dealing with a different crisis that evolved fromprotests to a YouTube video that denigrated the prophet Mohammed.
"Duringmost of the day, prior to getting notice of the attack on our compoundin Benghazi, we were very focused on the situation around our embassy inCairo," Clinton said. "There were attempts to scale the wall, and wewere in close contact with our counterparts in Cairo."
When theattack in Benghazi happened, about 4 p.m. Washington time, she calledLibyan security officials "to get assistance as quickly as possible."
Clintontestified she spoke to National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, then-CIAdirector Gen. David Petraeus, who had a compound in Benghazi, and theWhite House.
She said U.S. officials participated in talks aboutwhat to do in a secure video conference with senior officials from theWhite House, the intelligence community and the Defense Department.
"I spoke to President Obama later in the day," she said.
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, asked Clinton if she selected Susan Rice,U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to go on the Sunday talk showswhere she blamed the attack on a video days after it was clear theattack was terrorism.
"I did not," Clinton said.
Rice'stelevision performances five days after the attack derailed her possiblenomination to replace Clinton as secretary of state.
At the time,"I was not focused on talking points," Clinton said. "I was focused onkeeping our people safe. We still had people attacking our embassy inYemen, trying to scale the walls. I had to call the president in Tunisand beg him to send reinforcements, which he did and eventually savedour embassy there."
Also, the classified intelligence assessment of the Benghazi attack was still cloudy about what it was, she said.
"There were a variety of potential causes and triggers," Clinton said.
Therewere some communications and coordination before the attack, but itstill wasn't clear if it rose to the level of a pre-planned terroristattack, she said.
Clinton testified that her department reacted tothe attack by taking immediate steps to protect personnel and postingsin embassies and consulates facing large protests around the world.
Clintonis also scheduled to make an appearance before a House panel. Rep.Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, noted that when Clinton ran against PresidentObama four years ago, she ran a TV ad asking whether he was ready for a 3a.m. call that requires judgment and decisive action.
"Well, thatcall came for both of them," Chaffetz said. "The ambassador was missingfor seven hours. What was her interaction with the president? Did shego to bed?"
Contributing: John Bacon