U.S. House committee quarrels over Benghazi 'accountability'

Sept. 18, 2013 at 4:15 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- House Republicans and Democrats argued the meaning of accountability Wednesday in a hearing on the fatal terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., opened the hearing by citing "the troubling lack of accountability we have seen within the State Department" since the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, in which four Americans, including Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, were killed.

"The bottom line is that over one year later, no State Department personnel have been held accountable for the department's failure to protect the Benghazi Consulate and the U.S. personnel there -- not -- not one," Royce said.

Royce found fault with an Accountability Review Board report on the Benghazi attack, saying the panel "failed to interview the secretary of state and improbably capped responsibility at the assistant secretary level. Four officials are then placed on administrative leave [in] a process that appears to have violated State Department personnel policies."

Royce said four officials had been placed on paid leave while "one individual connected with failed management policies has received a promotion."

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. -- the top Democrat on the committee -- said the board was run by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, who he said have "impeccable reputations and unparalleled experience." He said Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, has already accepted "personal responsibility for the attacks and accepted all of the recommendations of the ARB."

Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, testified that the State Department has addressed "almost all" of the board's recommendations "and is working diligently with the Defense Department and others to implement those that remain, those that require more time and resources such as deploying the full contingent of Marine security guards."

When Royce questioned whether the board was "really independent," Kennedy noted the final board report included "very, very hard hitting and very, very critical comments."

Kennedy said four State Department employees were "relieved of their senior positions as assistant secretaries or deputy assistant secretaries of state."

"To me, that is serious accountability," he said.

Under questioning by Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., Kennedy said Congress cut $327 million from the administration's request for diplomatic security construction and maintenance in 2011, and then cut $183 million from the request in 2012 and another $145 million in 2013.

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