Sept. 11 already was a day of remembrance, but Wednesday confirmed that the day is now known as the anniversary of two terrorist attacks, and lawmakers spent Wednesday walking a fine line between commemorating the nearly 3,000 who died in 2001 and vowing vengeance or placing blame for the four who died in Libya in 2012.
President Obama and members of Congress, along with countless others across the nation, spent much of the day paying tribute to those killed in Washington, New York City and Shanksville, Pa., 12 years ago. They took part in moments of silence, vigils and other observances that have become annual traditions.
But Wednesday also stirred memories of the much more recent deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
That attack, which touched off a political firestorm at home and spurred accusations of an administration cover-up, became a key component in Mr. Obama’s speech Wednesday at a Pentagon memorial service, and also was raised by a number of lawmakers.
“We pray for all those who have stepped forward in those years of war — diplomats who serve in dangerous posts, we saw this day last year in Benghazi, intelligence professionals, often unseen and unheralded who protect us in every way — our men and women in uniform who defend this country that we love,” Mr. Obama said at the Pentagon service, where he was joined by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In a statement Tuesday night, the White House went a step further, pledging to bring the Benghazi attackers to justice.
“The events of last year, losing four brave Americans — Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods — brought home the reality of the challenges we face in the world,” the statement reads in part.
Republicans — many of whom have spent the past 12 months hammering the administration over its handling, or mishandling, of the Benghazi affair — walked a fine line with their statements Wednesday, raising questions about last year’s attack without politicking on what has become one of America’s most solemn days.
“We also honor and remember the four Americans who were killed one year ago today while serving our country in Benghazi, Libya,” said Rep. E. Scott Rigell, Virginia Republican, in a statement that also paid tribute to those killed on Sept. 11, 2001. “Serious questions about the security lapses that resulted in their deaths remain unanswered, and my commitment to uncovering the truth surrounding this tragedy is stronger than ever.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, was more nuanced in his statement on the Senate floor Wednesday, calling for Americans to “remember all who have lost their lives or been injured in the line of duty” since 2001.
Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, used Wednesday’s anniversary to discuss the need to protect Americans around the world. Critics have argued that a lack of adequate security at the Benghazi contributed to last year’s deaths.
“We still live in a dangerous world with enemies who wish us harm. We were reminded of this just one year ago,” Mr. Blunt said in his statement. “I will continue working to ensure our nation’s military and intelligence community have the necessary resources to protect Americans.”
Other lawmakers also paid tribute, including House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who offered remarks on the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday morning.
In addition to speaking at the Pentagon, Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama — along with Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his wife, Jill — took part in a moment of silence on the White House lawn at 8:46 a.m., the moment the first plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center.
After his Pentagon speech, Mr. Obama spent part of the afternoon packing meals at Washington’s Food and Friends, which provides meals to those with serious illnesses.
The president filled paper bags with fruit, sandwiches and other items, while asking other Americans to honor the Sept. 11 victims by helping others.
“I want to make sure we encourage everyone out there to volunteer in their own communities,” he said.