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Originally published on Wed September 12, 2012 9:28 pm
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne. We're getting more details, this morning, on the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the consulate in Libya. They died at the hands of protestors in Benghazi, protesting an American-made video that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad. The responses are coming in, this morning, to those deaths, from the White House, from President Obama, from Mitt Romney, and also Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
INSKEEP: We are expecting responses from President Obama in the next few minutes, and we will bring you that statement, live. We have also heard, this morning, from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who said, among other things, there is no justification for this - none. Making a statement, that regardless of the motives of the Libyan attackers - and it is believed to have something to do with this video, but it is not clear, as some analysts have warned us today - regardless of the motives, there is no justification for violence here. Four Americans, in total, were killed, including - as Renee said - Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Now, this happens in the midst of a presidential campaign and it has already been made a partisan issue this morning. Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney has criticized the Obama Administration's response to the attack - both in Libya and against the U.S. Embassy in Cairo where an American flag was taken down and torn apart. Mitt Romney spoke just a few minutes ago. Let's listen to a little bit of his statement.
MITT ROMNEY: I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt, instead of condemning their actions. It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values. The White House distanced itself, last night, from the statement, saying it wasn't cleared by Washington. And that reflects the mixed signals they're sending to the world.
INSKEEP: Now there are many questions, here, about the statement that Romney was criticizing - about the details, about the chronology here. We're going to dig, at least, a little bit into this, for now, and get more into it as we go along, with NPR's Ari Shapiro who is traveling with the Romney campaign. And Ari, a rather strong statement by Mitt Romney this morning
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Very strong. There was a lot of criticism, initially, this morning, that perhaps Romney had jumped the gun by issuing this statement early last night when we didn't know the full details of what had happened. He took some tough questions today and completely stood by his attack on president Obama. It's worth going back and just describing what this statement was.
MONTAGNE: The president is speaking, guys.
INSKEEP: Do that in a moment, if you don't mind. Let's go in a moment. President Obama is heading to the lectern now.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: ...the interests and values of our nation. Often they are away from their families. Sometimes they brave great danger. Yesterday, four of these extraordinary Americans were killed in an attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi. Among those killed was our ambassador, Chris Stevens, as well as foreign services officer Sean Smith. We are still notifying the families of the others who were killed. And today, the American people stand united in holding the families of the four Americans in our thoughts and in our prayers. The United States condemns, in the strongest terms, this outrageous and shocking attack. We're working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats. I've also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.
Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.
Already, many Libyans have joined us in doing so, and this attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya. Libyan security personnel fought back against the attackers alongside Americans. Libyans helped some of our diplomats find safety, and they carried Ambassador Stevens's body to the hospital, where we tragically learned that he had died. It's especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi, because it is a city that he helped to save. At the height of the Libyan revolution, Chris led our diplomatic post in Benghazi. With characteristic skill, courage, and resolve, he built partnerships with Libyan revolutionaries, and helped them as they planned to build a new Libya. When the Qaddafi regime came to an end, Chris was there to serve as our ambassador to the new Libya, and he worked tirelessly to support this young democracy, and I think both Secretary Clinton and I relied deeply on his knowledge of the situation on the ground there. He was a role model to all who worked with him, and to the young diplomats who aspire to walk in his footsteps.
OBAMA: Along with his colleagues, Chris died in a country that is still striving to emerge from the recent experience of war. And today, the loss of these four Americans is fresh, but our memories of them linger on. I have no doubt that their legacy will live on through the work that they did far from our shores into the hearts of those who love them back home.
Of course, yesterday was all are ready a painful day for our nation, as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks. We mourn with the families who were lost on that day. I visited the graves of troops, who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan, at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed. And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.
As Americans, let us never ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for, to stand up for. And in some cases, lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those, both civilian and military who represent us around the globe. No act of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.
Today, we mourn for more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.
But we also know that the lives these Americans led stand in stark contrast to those of their attackers. These four Americans stood up for freedom and human dignity. This should give every American great pride in the country that they served, in the hope that our flag represents to people around the globe who also yearn to live in freedom and with dignity.
We grieve with their families but let us carry on their memory, and let us continue their work of seeking a stronger America and a better world for all of our children.
Thank you. May God bless the memory of those we lost and may God bless the United States of America.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Was this an act of war?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (unintelligible) charges from the Romney campaign?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (unintelligible)
INSKEEP: President Obama speaking just now at the White House, we heard his entire statement there. He's now stepped away from the lectern that was set up outside the White House on a sunny morning. Condemning the attack, he says, in the strongest terms that took place in Libya and took the lives of four American employees of the U.S. State Department; among them, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
A number of remarkable things about the statement there, at least things worth noting, repeating Hillary Clinton's language from earlier in the morning that there is no justification for this attack - none; repeating it almost word for word. Also, issuing words of support for the Libyans, even though it appears that Libyans who would have been behind this attack in Libya - in Benghazi, Libya yesterday.
Let's go now to NPR's Mara Liasson, NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson who is at the White House today.
And, Mara, as you watch and listen to the president's statement, what struck you?
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, what struck me is that events can intercede in a presidential campaign. This is something that nobody planned for or was prepared for. And I think he did exactly what presidents do it this time. He said the world must stand together to condemn these attacks. There's no justification, none, he repeated the exact wording of the Secretary of State for this kind of violence. Although he said we reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.
I mean one of the big controversies, this morning, was about Mitt Romney's insistence that the United States had done something disgraceful by issuing a statement from the embassy in Egypt, saying that they rejected the efforts, apparently, of this obscure filmmaker, who made a film that angered a lot of Muslims, because it denigrated the image of the Prophet Muhammad.
LIASSON: There's a lot of debate about when that happened. We do know that Mitt Romney stuck to his guns on this. It turns out that the embassy, although they had issued a statement like this before the violence began, they did reiterate it after the embassy was breached, a Twitter message from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo said: Sorry, but neither breaches of our compound or angry messages will dissuade us from defending freedom of speech and criticizing bigotry.
LIASSON: But it's a real side issue here. This is a serious and solemn day.
INSKEEP: That's exactly right. Mara Liasson, stay with us. We're going to talk about this for a few minutes more and bring some other voices into the conversation.
But before we go totally into politics, I do want to remember Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens who was known to many, many diplomats and journalists and widely admired by Libyans on the ground. And President Obama, in his statement a moment ago, noted the irony that he died in the city that he had helped to save.
We're going to break for just a second for some of our local stations and be back here in a second on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.