Obama: Buck stops here on protecting U.S. diplomats

Wednesday - 10/17/2012, 7:24am EDT

President Barack Obama said it was his job to protect U.S. diplomats overseas, and investigate the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and hold those responsible accountable.

"I am ultimately responsible for what's taking place there because these are my folks, and I'm the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home," Obama said, during Tuesday's presidential debate against Republican Challenger Mitt Romney.

Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack, which came on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Earlier on Tuesday, CNN published an interview with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in which she took responsibility for the safety of American diplomats abroad.

"I'm in charge of the State Department's 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts," Clinton said, in the interview. "The president and the vice president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They're the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision."

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama spar during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, in Hempstead, N.Y. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

But Obama disagreed with Clinton's statement. "She works for me," he said. "I'm the president and I'm always responsible, and that's why nobody's more interested in finding out exactly what happened than I do."

The president said he would beef up security procedures at all embassies and consulates, investigate the Sept. 11 attack fully and track down those responsible.

Obama went on to criticize the Romney campaign for making the attack a political issue.

"While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release, trying to make political points, and that's not how a commander in chief operates," Obama said. "You don't turn national security into a political issue. Certainly not right when it's happening."

Romney acknowledged the correctness of the president taking responsibility "for the failure in providing those security resources." However, he questioned the administration's delay in informing the public that the attack was a terrorist action and not part of a demonstration protesting an online video offensive to Muslims.

"Whether there was some misleading, or instead whether we just didn't know what happened, you have to ask yourself, why didn't we know five days later when the ambassador to the United Nations went on TV to say that this was a demonstration?" Romney said. "How could we have not known?"

In a Sept. 12 Rose Garden speech, Obama did not explicitly call the incident a "terrorist attack." However, he did say: "No acts 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."

After praising Secretary Clinton and her team Tuesday night for their hard work, Obama shot back at his opponent.

"The suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, governor, is offensive," he said. "That's not what we do. That's not what I do as president, that's not what I do as commander in chief."

Tuesday's debate was the second between the presidential candidates. Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the Republican vice-presidential nominee, debated on Oct. 11. The final debate between the presidential candidates is scheduled for Oct. 22, and will focus on foreign policy.

RELATED STORIES:

Obama, Romney define role of government during presidential debate

Biden, Ryan wrangle over budget, defense cuts

After Clinton, Obama takes Benghazi responsibility

New details of Sept. 11 consulate attack in Libya