* Lawmakers want answers on envoy's death, security
* Probing possible collusion between attackers, guards
By Susan Cornwell and Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, Sept 20 Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton said on Thursday she was forming a panel to investigate
the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed
Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. officials.
The panel, whose creation is generally required by law when
someone is killed or seriously injured at a U.S. mission abroad,
will be chaired by Thomas Pickering, a retired diplomat who
served as U.S. ambassador to Russia, India, Israel, Nigeria, El
Salvador, Jordan and at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
Such panels, made up of four people chosen by the secretary
of state and one by the U.S. intelligence community, are charged
with writing a report on whether security systems and procedures
were adequate, and they might recommend improvements.
Lawmakers have demanded answers on how Stevens, a State
Department information management officer and two security
agents could have died in the incident, a n d whether sufficient
security was in place. Stevens' death marked the first time a
U.S. ambassador had been killed in such an attack since 1979.
The panel's inquiry is separate from an FBI probe of the
U.S. authorities are investigating possible collusion
between the militants who launched the attack and locally hired
Libyan personnel guarding the facility, three U.S. officials
said on condition of anonymity.
So far, there is no proof the attackers were helped by
Libyan security personnel hired by the consulate. One official
said the Obama administration was playing down that possibility.
But all the officials said the question of whether the
attackers had inside help was a serious issue in the U.S.
investigation into the attack, which occurred on the 11th
anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Clinton gave lawmakers a classified briefing in an effort to
answer questions and make the case for continued U.S. engagement
in the Middle East despite a wave of anti-American protests in
the region this month.
U.S. embassies in Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen have been
attacked and U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Middle East and
North Africa have been the target of protests sparked by a film
made in California that depicts the Prophet Mohammad as a
womanizer and a fool.
U.S. CANNOT WITHDRAW FROM MIDDLE EAST - OBAMA
Appearing at a forum sponsored by Univision and Facebook,
and hosted by the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida,
President Barack Obama said the United States would not retreat
from the region.
"My message to the presidents of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and
these other countries: we want to be a partner with you, we will
work with you and we stand on the side of democracy," he said.
"But democracy is not just an election, it's also are you
looking out for minority rights, are you respecting freedom of
speech, are you treating women fairly?" he added.
"The one thing we can't do is withdraw from the region. The
United States continues to be the one indispensable nation."
Speaking at a news conference before she briefed U.S.
lawmakers, Clinton also stressed the importance of U.S.
relations with such countries despite questions about whether
the United States should continue aid following the protests.
"We are concerned, first and foremost, with our own people
and facilities, but we are concerned about the internal security
in these countries because ultimately that puts at risk the men,
women and children of these societies on a daily, ongoing basis
if actions are not taken to try to restore security," she added.
A congressional committee wrote to Clinton on Thursday
demanding information about the attack in Benghazi, including
all U.S. security analyses and threat assessments before the
violence and any documents that clarify whether the attack was
spontaneous or premeditated.
"The American people have a right to know the facts about
this egregious attack on U.S. sovereign territory," Republican
Representative Jason Chaffetz wrote to Clinton, setting an Oct.
4 deadline for her to provide the information.
Adam Smith, the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services
Committee, attended part of the briefing and said - as Reuters
reported on Wednesday - that the U.S. ambassador to Libya had
five security guards with him. Smith said he thought that was an
Asked about possible collusion between Libyans working for
the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and the attackers, Smith said,
"There is no evidence of that at this time."