The White House continued to fend off suggestions it misled the public about the attack on the US mission in Libya in September, a day after ex-CIA chief David Petraeus told Congress that mentions of al-Qaeda were edited out of public talking points.
The White House insisted on Saturday that it did not make significant changes to its talking points about the September attack on a US diplomatic building in the Libyan city of Benghazi, as it continued to fend off accusations by Republicans that the Obama administration had misled the American public about the terrorist nature of the attack.
“The only edit that was made by the White House and also by the State Department was to change the word ‘consulate’ to the word ‘diplomatic facility,’ since the facility in Benghazi was not formally a consulate,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One on Saturday.
“Other than that, we were guided by the points that were provided by the intelligence community. So I can't speak to any other edits that may have been made,” Rhodes said about notes that were used by UN Ambassador Susan Rice to speak to the press about the attack that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.
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On Friday, former CIA chief David Petraeus revealed that the original taking points about the attack had mentioned groups linked to al-Qaeda, but those mentions were removed from the texts used by Rice, according to US lawmakers who heard Petraeus’ testimony to Congress.
Petraeus –who is caught up in a career-ending sex scandal– appeared before House and Senate intelligence panels that were closed off to reporters. The respected ex-spy chief also said the changes to talking points were not made for political reasons during President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, as some Republicans have suggested.
After his testimony to Congress, Petraeus was escorted through a back exit to avoid contact with journalists. His testimony to Congress was later relayed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers who attended the closed-door hearings.
‘Changes made to protect classified information’
On Saturday, Rhodes deflected responsibility for removing the Al Qaeda references onto the CIA and other members of the US intelligence community. “If there were adjustments made to them [the talking points] within the intelligence community, that's common, and that's something they would have done themselves,” the deputy national security advisor told reporters.
Democratic lawmakers said that Petraeus was adamant that there had been no White House interference. The recently resigned four-star general explained that references to terrorist groups suspected of carrying out the violence were removed from the public statement by Rice and others so as not to tip off those groups that US intelligence was on their trail.
“There was an interagency process to draft it, not a political process,” Congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California said. “They came up with the best assessment without compromising classified information or source or methods. So changes were made to protect classified information.”
Republicans remain skeptical
However, Republicans remained skeptical over the White House and Petraeus’ explanation, maintaining that the Obama administration may have watered down information to cover up for poor intelligence or inadequate security of US personnel in Libya.
Ambassador Rice has been floated as a possible successor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is stepping down early next year, but some Republicans are threatening to block Rice’s nomination.
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, said Petraeus' testimony showed that security measures were inadequate “despite an overwhelming and growing amount of information that showed the area in Benghazi was dangerous, particularly on the night of September 11.”
Peter King, a Congressman from New York and the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Friday he saw a contradiction between the account Petraeus had given to an earlier House hearing and the one given during his most recent appearence.
“His testimony was he told us that from the start it was a terrorist attack. I told him that was not my direct recollection. The clear impression we were given was that the overwhelming amount of evidence was that it arose out of a spontaneous demonstration and [not] that it was a terrorist attack.”
On Saturday King told Fox News television that it remained unclear who had made the edits concerning al Qaeda involvement in Benghazi, and did not rule out the White House.
“That's why it's important to find out why it was done. It could be anywhere in the Defense Department, the State Department, the Justice Department, the White House,” King told the right-wing news channel. “[We need] to find out why it was done, what the purpose of it was.”
(France 24 with wires)
Date created : 2012-11-18