The remains of four Americans killed at a U.S. consulate in Libya were returned home Friday, as President Obama said his administration “will never retreat from the world” and anti-U.S. protests spread to more than a dozen Muslim nations.
Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presided over a somber ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in suburban Maryland as the flag-draped caskets bearing the remains of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty arrived on a military transport plane. They died late Tuesday as a mob, purportedly inflamed by an anti-Islam movie produced in the U.S., attacked the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“Even as voices of suspicion and mistrust seek to divide countries and cultures from one another, the United States of America will never retreat from the world,” Mr. Obama told an audience of diplomats and families of the victims gathered in a hangar at the military base. “We will never stop working for the dignity and freedom that every person deserves, whatever their creed, whatever their faith. That’s the essence of American leadership. This was their work in Benghazi, and this is the work we will carry on.”
The president said those who are responsible for their deaths will be brought to justice. Authorities in Libya have arrested several suspects in the attack.
Mrs. Clinton said the four men “gave their lives for our country and our values.”
“We owe it to those four men to continue the long, hard work of diplomacy,” she said. “This work, and the men and women who risk their lives to do it, are at the heart of what makes America great and good. We will wipe away our tears, stiffen our spines and face the future undaunted.”
A military band played “Nearer My God to Thee” as the four flag-draped caskets were carried by Marine honor guards from a transport plane to hearses in a hangar at Andrews. Mr. Smith was a State Department employee involved in communications, and Mr. Woods and Mr. Doherty were former Navy SEALS providing security at the consulate.
Among those in the audience were Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Mrs. Clinton decried the anti-U.S. violence erupting across the Muslim world.
“We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful internet video that we had nothing to do with,” she said. Mrs. Clinton added that people in Libya and other Muslim countries with pro-democracy movements “did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob.”
Mr. Obama said the Americans who died were patriots.
“They loved this country, and they chose to serve it and served it well,” the president said. “They knew the danger and they accepted it. We will bring to justice those who took them from us. We will stand fast against the violence on our diplomatic missions.”
The White House insisted Friday that the anti-American protests roiling the Middle East are not directed at Mr. Obama’s policies, but at the film that Muslims find offensive.
“This is not a case of protest directed at the United States writ large or at U.S. policy,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “It is in response not to United States policy, not to obviously the administration, not to the American people, but to a video, a film, that we have judged to be reprehensible, disgusting.”
The White House rejected as “absolutely false” a report in a London newspaper that U.S. officials had advanced warning of a possible assault on the U.S. embassy in Cairo.
“There was no intelligence that in any way could have been acted on to prevent these attacks,” Mr. Carney said.