Libya will allow reporters in but won't let U.S. law enforcement near Benghazi to arrest those responsible for last year's attacks because the security situation there is too tenuous, a senior State Department official told Congress on Wednesday.
Patrick F. Kennedy, under secretary for management at the department, was trying to explain why CNN was able to interview potential suspects who may have been involved in the terrorist attack that killed four Americans, while U.S. authorities have yet to arrest or "take out" anyone, as one Republican member of Congress called for.
"Benghazi has taken, even since the events of 9/11, has taken a serious turn for the worse. Yes, they will let journalists in, but they are not letting U.S. law enforcement in to arrest people there because the government of Libya is not in control to that degree," Mr. Kennedy testified.
He declined to say whether the U.S. has been able to obtain specific authorization to go after those the Obama administration believes are responsible for the attack, saying only that the U.S. is "working very closely" with the Libyan government.
More than a year after the attack questions continued to roil Congress, where Republicans said they are shocked no high-level American officials have been fired for the security lapses that led to four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, being killed.
GOP lawmakers have also questioned the State Department's internal investigation done by the Accountability Review Board, which placed blame on four mid-level employees but did not call for anyone to be fired. Republicans said the ARB didn't interview key officials to see where all of the problems were.
"Accountability can be painful. Those making bad decisions may have long and otherwise good records. But the department cannot have a culture of accountability, which is what any well-functioning organization needs and which is essential to protecting its personnel, if no one, literally no one, is held accountable for the mismanagement and poor leadership the ARB itself identified," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce said.
Mr. Kennedy said it wasn't fair to say nobody has been held accountable, since four persons identified as having responsibility have been assigned to new jobs with lesser responsibility.
"They were relieved of their senior-level positions. That is a serious action," he said.
The ARB will be the subject of another hearing Thursday before the House oversight committee.
Mr. Kennedy repeatedly tried to push back against some of the reports about the attack and its aftermath, saying there was no easy way to get U.S. assets into the region in time to help prevent a second attack on an annex hours after the initial assault on the main diplomatic compound.
He also said all but one of the requests for more resources that came from the diplomats in Libya were approved. He said the only security request that was denied involved building "massive guard towers."
In response to a question from Rep. Randy K. Weber Sr., Texas Republican, who asked if Mr. Kennedy was convinced the department had gotten to the bottom of who was accountable, he replied, "Yes sir, I am."
He defended the administration's efforts since the attack to beef up security, and said diplomatic outposts continue to face danger.
"The unfortunate fact is that our diplomats and facilities abroad will face attacks again, as they just did last week in Herat, Afghanistan. Since the tragic attacks in Benghazi, the tempo of threats and attacks against us has not diminished," he said.
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