President Obama said Thursday the deaths of four Americans at the hands of terrorists in Libya was “not optimal” and rejected accusations that his administration appeared confused about the cause of the attack.
“We weren’t confused about the fact that four Americans had been killed,” Mr. Obama said in a taping of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” with host Jon Stewart. “I wasn’t confused about the fact that we needed to ramp up diplomatic security around the world right after it happened. I wasn’t confused about the fact that we had to investigate exactly what happened so it gets fixed. And I wasn’t confused about the fact that we’re going to hunt down whoever did it.”
Asked about the administration’s changing explanations for the attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Mr. Obama said, “If four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal. What happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up. And you make sure that you find out what’s broken and you fix it.”
U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack on Sept. 11. The administration originally blamed the violence on Muslims’ reaction to an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S.; some government officials began to acknowledge about a week later that terrorists had killed the four in a premeditated attack. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has criticized Mr. Obama for mishandling the episode and failing to be honest with the public about the nature of the attack.
The president told Mr. Stewart that he wasn’t hiding anything from the public.
“Every piece of information that we get, as we got it we laid it out to the American people,” he said. “The picture eventually gets fully filled in. The American people need to know exactly how I make decisions when it comes to war, peace, security and protecting Americans. And they will continue to get that over the next four years of my presidency.”
Mr. Obama also said he still wants to close the prison at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, where detainees in the war on terror are being held. He pledged during the 2008 presidential campaign to close Gitmo, but has relented in the face of strong opposition in Congress.
“I still want to close Guantanamo,” Mr. Obama said. “We haven’t been able to get that through Congress. One of the things we have to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need congressional help to do that so that not only am I reined in, but any president’s reined in in terms of some of the decisions we’re making.”
Earlier this month, the federal Bureau of Prisons announced it was buying the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois from the state for $165 million. Officials said they intend to use it as a maximum security facility for federal inmates who have proven to be difficult to manage in other prisons.
Some Republican lawmakers accused the administration of planning a “back door” move to transfer some of the Guantanamo detainees to the Illinois prison, but Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. noted that such a move is barred by federal law.
In 2010, the administration floated the idea of using the prison to move some of the terrorism suspects from Guantanamo, prompting an outcry from lawmakers, human-rights advocates and civil libertarians. Congress approved legislation barring such a move.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the purchase of the prison could further the administration’s plan to “import the terrorists housed at Guantanamo Bay to the United States.”
“A majority of the American people and a bipartisan majority in Congress oppose bringing the terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay into the United States, yet the White House continues to take steps to move forward with its dangerous plan,” Mr. Boehner said.