An emotional Defense Secretary William Perry accepted personal responsibility on Wednesday for failing to prevent the deaths of 19 American airmen in a terrorist truck bombing in Saudi Arabia last June 25.
“To the extent that this tragedy resulted in the failure of leadership, that responsibility is mine and mine alone,” said Perry.
In appearances before House and Senate military committees, Perry, 68, argued, though, that he had done the best he could. And despite angry criticism from Republicans, he did not offer to resign.
Looking pale and tired, the Perry said in a breaking voice that the blast, in which a truck loaded with explosives was allowed to park within 80 feet of the Khobar Towers housing complex in Dhahran, “was a tragic failure.”
“In the wake of this failure, many in Congress and many in the media are asking who is to blame,” Perry told members of the House National Security Committee.
“I will not participate in the game of passing the buck,” he said. “I will not seek to delegate the responsibility … on any of my military commanders. They have served our country with enormous distinction and considerable sacrifice, and they deserve our gratitude, not our blame.
An independent report on the disaster, prepared by retired Army Gen. Wayne Downing, was released Monday. It spread blame for the blast from Air Force Brig. Gen. Terry Schwalier, who was in command in Saudi Arabia, on up the line as far as the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Commanders were blamed for failing to adequately protect the 1,500 American military residents of the complex near Daharan, despite clear evidence that the buildings were being cased after a similar attack in Riyadh six months before.
At least one senator - Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican - had called for Perry’s resignation when security deficiencies were revealed in the days after the blast.
Republicans on Wednesday didn’t go quite that far, but still pointed sharp fingers toward Perry.
“Why was it Mission Impossible to contemplate that somebody might have a big truck and might put (explosives)…in the back of that truck, drive it up to the public parking area about 80 feet away from where our people were housed, and blow it up?” asked Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.
Perry replied: “It was contemplated by the terrorists; it could have been contemplated by the people who were trying to protect against the terrorists. That was a failure.”
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