CNN Fact Check: A day after Libya attack, Obama described it as 'acts of terror'

Obama: Playing politics over Libya 'offensive'
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Story highlights

  • "It took the president 14 days" to describe Benghazi attack as a terror act, Romney says
  • "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation," Obama says a day after attack
  • Obama reiterates the stance a day later at another event

President Barack Obama said he identified the September 11 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya as a terrorist attack within a day; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said it took two weeks.

A timeline of the Obama administration's comments on the Libya attack

The claim: "The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened," Obama said. "That this was an act of terror and I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime."

The counterclaim: "It took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror," Romney responded moments later.

The facts: On September 12, the day after the attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Obama said in comments in the Rose Garden that he had learned about the attack on the consulate the night before.

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"Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe," he said. "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. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done."

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On September 13, at a campaign event in Las Vegas, Obama vowed to bring the killers to justice. He then added, "No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world, and no act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America."

Other administration officials, however, said in subsequent days that they were unaware of any credible intelligence suggesting that the attack had been planned in advance.

On September 13, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, said authorities "are very cautious about drawing any conclusions with regard to who the perpetrators were, what their motivations were, (and) whether it was premeditated" until they had completed an investigation.

On September 16, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said, "We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned."

On September 19, Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the ambassador and three other Americans "were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy."

White House spokesman Jay Carney sought to clear up any confusion on September 20.

"It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Our embassy was attacked violently, and the result was four deaths of American officials."

On September 25, on ABC's "The View," interviewer Joy Behar asked Obama about a remark made by his secretary of state. "I heard Hillary Clinton say it was an act of terrorism. Is it? What do you say?"

To that, Obama responded, "We're still doing an investigation. There's no doubt that (with) the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn't just a mob action. We don't have all the information yet, so we're still gathering it. But what's clear is that around the world there's still a lot of threats out there." Obama added that "extremist militias" were suspected to have been involved.

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Two days later, Carney responded bluntly to a question about why Obama had not labeled the incident a terrorist attack.

"I think you're misunderstanding something here," Carney said. "I'm the president's spokesman. When the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, in open testimony in Congress, answered a question by saying yes, by the definitions we go by -- this is me paraphrasing -- this was a terrorist attack -- I echoed that, because this president, this administration, everybody looks to the intelligence community for the assessments on this. And it has been since I said so, the president's position that this was a terrorist attack."

The conclusion: Romney's precise comment was false. Obama did describe the killings in Benghazi as an act of terror twice in the two days after the attack. In an interview two weeks after the incident, though, he appeared to reserve judgment, and some Obama administration officials, including Carney and Rice, suggested in the days after the attack that the United States had no indication that it was a planned assault.

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