Noting that a State Department review board is examining the “terrorist attack” on the Benghazi compound, but not the slew of congressional investigations underway, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded late Ambassador Chris Stevens at an awards dinner last night.
The Common Ground Award was accepted in Washington by Stevens’ sister, but Clinton gave a lengthy address on the diplomat’s life and sacrifice.
Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate, which the administration initially blamed on an anti-Muhammad video.
“Chris would have been the first to say that the terrorists who attacked our mission in Benghazi on September 11th did not represent the millions of Libyans who want peace and deplore violence. You saw and you heard the president’s inspired and inspiring words about that,” Clinton said.
“Chris understood that most people, in Libya or anywhere, reject the extremist arguments that violence and death are the only way to reclaim dignity and achieve justice. He understood that’s why he was in Libya, and there was no substitute for going beyond the Embassy walls, building relationships, and finding common ground. He also knew that when America is absent, especially from the dangerous places, there are consequences. Extremism takes root, our interests suffer, and our security at home is threatened.”
Noting the global reach of State Department posts, Clinton said Stevens “understood that diplomats must operate in many places where soldiers do not, where there are no other boots on the ground, and security is far from guaranteed.”
“And he volunteered for those kinds of assignments,” she said. “He understood that we will never prevent every act of terrorism or achieve perfect security in this world, and that our diplomats cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs, that we inevitably must accept a level of risk to protect our country, a country we love, and to advance our interests and values.”
Part of the Benghazi investigation, though, focuses on Stevens’ unheeded requests for more security.
“Of course, it is also our responsibility to constantly improve, to reduce the risks our people face, to make sure they have the resources they need to do what we ask of them. And nobody takes that more seriously than I do, and the security professionals at the State Department,” Clinton said. “We now have a formal Accountability Review Board investigating the terrorist attack that killed Chris, and we will certainly apply its recommendations and lessons learned to improving security everywhere. It’s appropriate that we do so based on facts and evidence. Chris’s family, his colleagues at the department, and the American people deserve nothing less.”
“From Tehran and Beirut to Islamabad, East Africa, and Saudi Arabia, and now in Benghazi, and many other places in between over the years, we have seen our diplomats devoted to peace targeted by terrorists devoted to death. But we cannot, indeed we must not, be intimidated,” she added.
UPDATE: A photo released of Anne Stevens Sullivan, who sat next to Clinton during the ceremony, accepting the award for her late brother.