WASHINGTON // Republicans are turning up the heat on the US administration over its handling of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi last month that killed four Americans, including the ambassador, J Christopher Stevens. The attack is likely to turn into one of few major foreign policy issues in the US presidential campaign. On Wednesday, a congressional committee held a special hearing into the attack and grilled administration officials for four hours. Republicans on the oversight and government reform committee accused officials in the US administration of deliberately misleading the American public after the attack. Officials initially claimed it was a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islamic movie that spiralled out of control rather than a militant attack planned to coincide with US commemorations of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, as critics now suggest. Seizing on remarks by Eric Nordstrom, a former security official in Benghazi, who told the committee that it had become "abundantly clear we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident". Republicans accused the state department of rejecting requests for more security at the Benghazi consulate and ignoring or misreading intelligence that might have predicted the attack. The hearing was "a portion of the oversight into the failures of intelligence, security and commonsense that have embodied the Obama administration's handling of this tragedy," Eric Cantor, the Republican leader of the house of representatives, said in a statement, Administration officials rejected charges of deception, though theyadmitted that with information fitful in the immediate aftermath of the attack, some initial statements that were given may have been incorrect. "We've always made clear from the very beginning that we are giving out the best information we have at the time we are giving it out," under secretary of state Patrick Kennedy said late on Wednesday in a briefing to reporters. "That information has evolved over time." Mr Kennedy rejected assertions by former security officials, including Mr Nordstrom, that the state department had rejected requests for additional security. Diplomatic missions in some places are "inherently dangerous", he said. It "was worth the risk" for the US to be on the ground as "a new Libya is born", he added. He also rejected suggestions that more security might have made a difference, quoting Mr Nordstrom, who had earlier told lawmakers that "having an extra foot of wall or an extra half-dozen guards or agents would not have enabled us to respond to that kind of assault". The September 11 attack has opened up a new front in a presidential election campaign previously fought almost exclusively over the state of the US economy. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, in a major foreign policy address on Monday, characterised it as part of a "larger struggle" with those who "seek to wage perpetual war on the West". He said it showed that the risk of conflict in the Middle East had grown higher under the administration of Barack Obama, the current president. It will likely come up Thursday night as Joe Biden, the vice president, and Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, square off in their one and only debate in Kentucky. Mr Obama has tried to avoid the topic, but he weighed in on Wednesday to reject suggestions that there was any attempt at a cover-up. "As information came in, information was put out," Mr Obama told ABC news. "The information may not have always been right the first time. And as soon as it turns out that we have a fuller picture of what happened, then that was disclosed."
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