Obama again hits Libya attackers, American free speech

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama used a Wednesday Rose Garden appearance to repeat his administration’s opposition to critics of Islam, as he denounced the Sept. 11 killing of four Americans during an Islamist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

“Since our founding, the U.S. has been a nation that respects all faiths and rejects all effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” he said, adding that “there is absolutely no justification for this senseless violence.”

Obama ignored criticism of his outreach to Islamist advocates in Egypt, Syria and Libya, but did indirectly praise his foreign policy for bring “freedom and dignity” to Arabs in Libya and other countries, and said government fighters help protect the U.S. ambassador.

Instead, Obama portrayed the attack as a non-political criminal event. “We will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers,” he said, shortly before he walked back to the Oval Office while ignoring questions from reporters.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney offered sharp disapproval of the administration’s opposition to criticism of Islam during a hostile press conference held before Obama’s event.

The controversy over the administration’s policy began Sept. 11, when the embassy in Cairo sought to defuse a protest by criticizing Americans’ exercise of free speech.

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions,” said the embassy statement.

The Cairo rioters — who eventually broke into the embassy compound and burned a U.S flag while the government’s police forces did not intervene — claimed they were defending Islam from a low-budget movie being produced in California.

The movie criticizes the prophet of Islam, Mohammad.

The Cairo embassy’s statement was “disgraceful,” Romney said during the press conference.

“I think it is a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values,” he said.

Amid Democrats’ claims that his criticism was unfounded, Romney reaffirmed his criticism. “When a mistake is made of that significance, you speak out,” he said about the embassy’s criticism of Islam’s critics.

In his Rose Garden statement, Obama ignored the attack on the embassy in Cairo.

In 2011, Obama also used a White House press conference to denounce critics of Islam, and said they put American soldiers in danger.

Romney also sought to criticize the Obama administration’s foreign policy in Arab countries, which has included support for the Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Egypt.

Obama’s “is a hit or miss approach, [and] is not based on a sound policy,” Romney said.

As of Tuesday morning, Egypt’s Islamist government had not publicly denounced the Cairo riot.

Democrat partisans furiously responded to Romney’s criticism, partly because they see the president’s relatively high poll ratings on foreign policy as an important factor in the nose-to-nose 2012 campaign.

“Romney is lying… Romney is getting pummeled in this press conference for jumping the gun on statement and for, well, lying about what happened,” Democratic spokesman Brad Woodhouse tweeted during Romney’s press conference.

Obama’s statement came after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backpedalled on the embassy’s condemnation of Islam’s critics.

“There is no justification for this” attack, she said Sept. 12. “Violence like this is no way to honor a religion or faith,” said Clinton, who grew up as a Methodist Christian. (EARLIER: Obama condemns embassy attackers, critics of Islam in statement)

In the afternoon, the president is slated to depart on a campaign swing to Nevada and Colorado.

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