Four Americans killed in an attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya returned home Friday, their remains each carried in a slow procession by six Marines as a military band filled a vast air base hangar with the mournful hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.”
Leading a somber ceremony with the flag-draped caskets of the Libya dead laid out beside him, President Barack Obama pledged to “bring to justice the ones who took them from us” and to hold foreign governments responsible for safeguarding U.S. diplomatic installations now under threat, Reuters reports.
“Their sacrifice will never be forgotten,” Obama said.
“They didn’t simply embrace the American ideal, they lived it. They embodied it. The courage, the hope and, yes, the idealism. That fundamental American belief that we can leave this world a little better than before,” he said.
“I know that this awful loss, the terrible images of recent days, the pictures we’re seeing again today, have caused some to question this work. And there is no doubt that these are difficult days. In moments such as this, so much anger and violence, even the most hopeful among us must wonder.”
In addition to the U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens, the ceremony honored three other Americans killed in Benghazi – Sean Smith, an Air Force veteran who worked as an information management specialist for the State Department; Glen A. Doherty, a former Navy SEAL who worked for a private security firm and was protecting the consulate in Benghazi; and Tyrone S. Woods, also a former Navy SEAL who had served protective duty in various U.S. posts.
According to The Huff Post, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s voice broke as she spoke before the president, and she appeared to be fighting tears as she listened to him.
“They knew the danger, and they accepted it,” Obama said. “They didn’t simply embrace the American ideal. They lived it.”
“This work, and the men and women who risk their lives to do it, are at the heart of what makes America great and good,” Clinton said. “So we will wipe away our tears, stiffen our spines, and face the future undaunted.”
The president spoke as fury about a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad tore across the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world after weekly prayers on Friday, with protesters attacking U.S. embassies and burning American flags as the Pentagon rushed to bolster security at U.S. missions.
The obscure California-made film triggered an attack on the U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed the U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans on Tuesday, the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
Also in attendance were Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Colin Powell, who served as secretary of state under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.
Among those questioning on Friday was the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, and his running mate, Paul Ryan, who used the backdrop of the killings and protests to accuse Obama of a failure of leadership through weakness in confronting danger and betrayal of America’s closest ally in the region, Israel, writes Guardian.
“The American people are disturbed and reeling with the news around the world,” Romney said before calling on Obama to get tougher with the Egyptian government.
At the same time Ryan accused Obama of a “lack of moral clarity” and firmness in his foreign policy in confronting evil.
“Look across that region today, and what do we see? The slaughter of brave dissidents in Syria. Mobs storming American embassies and consulates. Iran four years closer to gaining a nuclear weapon. Israel, our best ally in the region, treated with indifference bordering on contempt by the Obama administration,” he told the conservative Values Voter Summit in Washington.
“Amid all these threats and dangers, what we do not see is steady, consistent American leadership. In the days ahead, and in the years ahead, American foreign policy needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose. Only by the confident exercise of American influence are evil and violence overcome,” Ryan said.
The Pentagon is sending a platoon of Marines to bolster security at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, following similar reinforcements sent to Libya and Yemen, a U.S. official said.