Senate Armed Services
4:28 pm
Thu February 7, 2013

McCaskill, Blunt Question Departing Defense Secretary On Benghazi Attack

From the start, Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo) has been critical of the Obama administration’s response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya last September that resulted in the death of an ambassador and three other Americans. And on Thursday, Blunt had the opportunity to question departing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the attack.

Panetta testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in what will likely be his final appearance before Congress.

Although Blunt has been a critic of the Obama administration’s response to Libya, going so far as to say the president misled the public, Blunt did not come out as aggressively as more senior Republican members.

“I am concerned when Senator Graham asks who’s in charge and there’s not an answer," Blunt said. "I guess the focal point should be the president but the president didn’t seem very engaged and that’s a concern.”

Panetta defended the response, insisting the government spared no effort to save lives.

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill spent her time questioning the use of private security contractors to protect embassies.

“I really would like, General Dempsey, to talk about the cost benefit for us putting marines on our embassies when we are in contingencies," McCaskill said. "Why in the world is this so hard? And where is the analysis that’s showing us we’re saving any money?”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey responded that that isn't the role of marines.

“Why is it that this has to be a contract function," McCaskill asked. "Why can’t we use the best military in the entire world to protect our most valued assets in our most dangerous places?”

Panetta responded that the US is deployed in too many areas for marines to cover every at-risk area, and that they have to contract local security.

Panetta says the raid was not a prolonged assault the military could have ended, but rather, two short attacks six hours apart. He is wrapping up a Washington career of some 40 years.

Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter@csmcdaniel