WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls in Nigeria by an Islamic extremist group an “act of terrorism” and accused the Nigerian government on Wednesday of being “somewhat derelict” in protecting its people.
Clinton, speaking at a philanthropy conference in New York, forcefully urged the Nigerian government to do everything it can to bring the captive girls home safely and accept help from the United States and other nations.
“The seizure of these young women by this radical extremist group, Boko Haram, is abominable, it’s criminal, it’s an act of terrorism and it really merits the fullest response possible, first and foremost by the government of Nigeria,” Clinton said in an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts at Philanthropy New York.
Despite her strong stance, the State Department under Clinton reportedly refused to label the extremist group as terrorists.
The Daily Beast reports that the State Department refused to place the group on the official list of terrorist organizations in 2011 after Boko Haram bombed the United Nations headquarters in Abuja.
“The one thing she could have done, the one tool she had at her disposal, she didn’t use. And nobody can say she wasn’t urged to do it. It’s gross hypocrisy,” a former senior U.S. official told The Daily Beast. “The FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department really wanted Boko Haram designated, they wanted the authorities that would provide to go after them, and they voiced that repeatedly to elected officials.”
Republicans say that if the Clinton-led State Department labeled Boko Haram a terrorist group, that the search for the kidnapped girls could have started sooner.
“For years, Boko Haram has terrorized Nigeria and Western interests in the region with few consequences,” Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, told The Daily Beast. “The U.S. government should have moved more quickly to list them as a terrorist organization and brought U.S. resources to track and disrupt their activities. The failure to act swiftly has had consequences.”
Johnnie Carson, who served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 2009 to 2013, said that putting the extremist group on the terrorist list would have helped in their recruitment.
“There was a concern that putting Boko Haram on the foreign terrorist list would in fact raise its profile, give it greater publicity, give it greater credibility, help in its recruitment, and also probably drive more assistance in its direction,” he told The Daily Beast, adding that the Nigerian government was against such a move by the U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry added Boko Haram to the terrorist list in November 2013.
The April 15 abduction has generated outrage around the globe and calls for Nigeria to liberate the girls before they can be sold into slavery or harmed. Nigeria’s police have said more than 300 girls were abducted from their secondary school in the country’s remote northeast. Of that number, 276 remained in captivity and 53 managed to escape.
The terrorist group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened to sell the girls during a grainy video released this week.
The Pentagon said it was sending fewer than 10 troops to Nigeria as part of the U.S. effort to help find the girls but had no plans to launch a military operation. The troops, part of a larger U.S. assistance team that will include State Department and Justice Department personnel, will help with communications, logistics and intelligence planning.
Clinton, a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, said the Nigerian government “has been, in my view, somewhat derelict in its responsibility toward protecting boys and girls, men and women, in northern Nigeria in the last years. They need to make it a priority to do everything they can to try to bring these girls home safety.”
Clinton took to Twitter on Sunday to urge their release, ending her message with the popular hashtag, “(hashtag) Bring Back Our Girls.”
At the conference, Clinton also questioned the need for more congressional oversight into the deadly attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. The Republican-led House is expected to establish a select committee to investigate the Obama administration’s response to the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012.
Clinton said there were “a lot of reasons” why some people involved in the investigations “choose not to be satisfied.”
“I do not believe there is any reason for it to continue in this way, but they get to call the shots in the Congress,” she said.
Republicans have accused the White House of misleading the nation in the heart of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign by playing down intelligence suggesting Benghazi was a major, al Qaeda-linked terrorist attack. Democrats have said the investigations are politically motivated and aimed at hurting congressional Democrats in the fall mid-term elections and damaging a Clinton presidential campaign if she decides to seek the White House again.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., issued a subpoena against Secretary of State John Kerry to testify later this month about Benghazi. Kerry said that he will cooperate with the subpoena and that he has “nothing to hide.”
Roberts relayed a question from an audience member on whether Clinton — if she runs for president — would consider Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a favorite of liberals, or San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the keynote speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, as potential running mates.
Clinton called both “extraordinary leaders and great political advocates … I admire both of them greatly.” Asked if she might be the first woman to crack the glass ceiling of the presidency, the former first lady demurred.
“Well, I think we should crack it also. I am 100 percent in favor of that,” Clinton said. “But I have nothing further to say about my path right now.”
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