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Libyan Murders; Romney Criticizes Obama Over Foreign Policy

Aired September 12, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And there's breaking news tonight. American warships and U.S. Marines on the move, drones airborne, and what appears to be a running battle on the streets of Cairo right now between police and protesters outside and near the U.S. Embassy and at a mosque in Tahrir Square.

These are live pictures you're looking at, late new developments in the wake of the siege there yesterday and the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, including J. Christopher Stevens, America's ambassador to Libya, who's being remembered tonight as a dedicated and remarkably talented advocate for this country overseas.

It is hard to overstate the significance of what happened last night at that American Consulate in Benghazi. He is the first ambassador to be killed in the line of duty in the last three decades and only the sixth in the entire history of American diplomacy.

Tonight, we're learning that his death and the deaths of three of his staffers may have come not at the hands of a random mob of Islamic fundamentalists who were riled up by a shadowy anti-Muslim YouTube film. Instead, sources say that a pro-al Qaeda group is the key suspect now and a senior U.S. official says American surveillance drones are expected to join in the hunt for them. The FBI is also investigating.

As we said at the top of the program, American warships armed with cruise missiles have begun steaming closer to Libya. A Marine unit is headed to Tripoli to protect the embassy there. And other forces may get the call to beef up protection globally.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats. I have also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.


COOPER: Well, later today after that speech on "The CBS Evening News," President Obama also had sharp words for Mitt Romney, who's come under fire from Democrats and some Republicans for his statements lashing out at the Obama administration's response to the attacks in Benghazi and Cairo, statements that whatever you believe about American foreign policy are simply not factual.

We will get to the battle over that in a moment. But first we do want to focus on the attacks themselves, what happened last night and what is happening right now with the latest information we have. Again, you're looking at live pictures now from Cairo, as we said breaking news both in Libya and Cairo to tell you about.

Yesterday's all-out assault on the American Embassy may be over, but the fighting around it continues tonight in Cairo, the compound now ringed with security forces, Egyptian security forces who are reportedly using tear gas and about 500 protesters gathering at a mosque in nearby Tahrir Square. Those are the images you're seeing.

Amid all that, we're also learning more details, some pretty bizarre stuff, about that video that seems to have lit a powder keg.

A lot to get to tonight, starting in Cairo with CNN's Ian Lee who is there, who is on the phone, and also journalist Mona Eltahawy, who joins us as well.

Ian, we have been watching live video of the protests. You can see hundreds of people near the embassy. We understand they're now spilling into Tahrir Square with police, Egyptian police using tear gas. What is the situation, therefore? What's the latest?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, what we're basically seeing right now is a war of attrition. Both sides are dug in.

The police aren't likely to push further beyond the embassy. They're there just to protect the perimeter of the embassy. The protesters are the ones now that are going to be squaring off with the police, but they seem to be kind of at a distance right now. It's really who will tire out first.

We have been seeing tear gas, we have been seeing rock throwing by both sides. We have seen molotov cocktails, a real battle on the streets, if you will. These are your hard-core protesters. These are the ones that we have seen over the past year-and-a-half, the ones who are on the front lines of any battle with the police, the most zealous protests.

What we're seeing are a few hundred very hard-core protesters battling it out with the police in Tahrir Square, very close to the U.S. Embassy.

COOPER: We're also seeing this picture, some laser sighting going on. I'm not sure if that's folks laser sighting the camera or laser sighting one of the buildings. We saw that a lot during the whole revolution in Tahrir Square.

How about the security situation at the embassy itself? You say there's a cordon of Egyptian security personnel. What about inside the embassy? LEE: Well, inside the embassy, you will have U.S. Marines who are stationed at embassies around the world, but in this particular embassy you have one of the largest contingency of Marines of any U.S. Embassy around the world, and they will be at high alert during these moments of tense times outside the embassy.

They will be ready to act and are prepared for any sort of contingency that may occur. But it looks like as of now the police have the protesters pretty much pushed back away from the embassy, probably around 100 yards or so away from the embassy and keeping them at a distance using any means possible, tear gas, rubber bullets, to keep these protesters away.

COOPER: Mona, as you look at the scene, are you still convinced, as you were last night, that these protesters don't represent a majority of Egyptians? How do you see it? What is the impression publicly that a lot of people are saying about these protests?

MONA ELTAHAWY, JOURNALIST & COMMENTATOR: I think tonight's protesters are quite different than yesterday's protesters, Anderson.

My concern is that yesterday's protesters were given enough room by the silence of President Mohammed Morsi and any clear sign from the Egyptian government, especially this first revolutionary president that we have had since we got rid of Hosni Mubarak.

The silence seems to have given some kind of green light as to what is happening outside the embassy. Yesterday, you saw mostly very right-wing fringe belonging to people who identify as Salafists. Today, as Ian said, a lot of the protesters or some of the protesters that were there are those the kind that usually are other at other embassy protests.

This is not the first embassy protest that we have seen in Egypt. But the point that I want to emphasize in all of this is that it's imperative that we have a clear and strong statement from the Egyptian government, which we have lacked so far.

COOPER: Well, Mona Eltahawy, we are going to -- who is an Egyptian columnist and a public speaker, we're check in with more with you throughout this hour as warranted.

Also, our reporter Ian Lee on the ground, we will be talking to you later on in this hour as developments warrant.

Also now to Libya. Reporting for us tonight from Tripoli, the Libyan capital, is CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and also the State Department's Jill Dougherty tonight.

Jomana, we know U.S. warships are being positioned off the Libyan coast. What is the latest you are hearing from government officials, Libyan citizens about the killing of the four American diplomats?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN PRODUCER: There has been no reaction yet regarding this announcement by the United States. But, Anderson, earlier today, we heard from senior government officials, the prime minister, the former prime minister now of Libya, and the speaker of parliament holding a press conference, strong condemnation of the attack, vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice, and saying -- the speaker of the parliament saying that this attack coincided with September 11, that they believe there is a link there, hinting that this was carried out by Islamic extremist groups that operate in Eastern Libya, and saying that Libya will not allow that its land be used by these groups to carry out what he described as revenge attacks against the West, at the same time saying that they will need the help of the international community in confronting these groups.

People here, Anderson, really shocked by what happened. Many Libyans I have spoken to today are really saddened by this attack, and hope that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

COOPER: Jill, the State Department, we saw a very grave Secretary of State Clinton condemning the attacks. CNN has confirmed it was a planned attack, the attack in Benghazi, Libya.

What more are we learning about the attacks and the measures the State Department is now trying to take to ensure the safety of its personnel, any personnel left in Benghazi, and also Tripoli, and elsewhere?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you have a couple of things, Anderson.

Number one, what they're trying to do as you said is make sure the security of the people who are left, and that's only in Tripoli, not in Benghazi, is assured. So they're sending some Marines. It's kind of like a quick reaction force to the embassy in Tripoli to beef that up.

They're also notifying troops around the world that potentially they could be used in various ways to ensure the security of American personnel, and then, of course, as you mentioned, you have got the destroyers. This would be -- the destroyers and the drones would be used more, let's say, if the president determined that it was a time to strike against whoever was the group that carried out this attack.

COOPER: And, Jill, we will have a look back at the life of the ambassador, a remarkable career.

And we're also going to talk to Senator John McCain, who knew him personally. Jill Dougherty, Jomana, we will continue to check in with you as warranted tonight.

This is a story with a lot of moving parts, in several countries with a lot of potentially unseen dimensions, which is why we want to bring in our expert, Princeton University's Anne-Marie Slaughter. Until recently, she served as the State Department's director of policy planning. Also, CNN's Christiane Amanpour is chief international correspondent and also host of "AMANPOUR," which airs daily on CNN International, and former CIA officer Bob Baer. Christiane, obviously, this points to just the powder keg of the region and the difficulty of operating here. What do you make of this? Do you see it escalating?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm concerned what's happening in Egypt right now.

It looks like in the Libya situation, in Benghazi and Tripoli, they're fairly under control. We have had the tragedy, the ambassador killed, three other personnel killed.

But, in Egypt, it seems to be gathering steam again as you reported at the top of the program. And that does worry me, because, in Egypt, it's linked to the film. And who knows what could happen. And I know leaders around the world in Tunisia, Algeria, Afghanistan, are very concerned that they will see what happened the last time there was this kind of incitement, the last time, for instance, that fringe lunatic Terry Jones tried to burn the Koran and then did.

You saw the deadly riots that took place afterwards. And the president of Afghanistan has asked for YouTube to be taken down for a while in Afghanistan so people can't see it. He's very, very worried. So this is quite scary at the moment. And as Mona and Ian were reporting, it is really a testing moment for the new government of Afghanistan. First, we do need to hear from the president.

COOPER: From Egypt.

AMANPOUR: Sorry, president of Egypt. We do need to hear from the president of Egypt. The prime minister today did speak out. He condemned the film, but he also condemned violent attacks inside his country.

He said there could be protests, but it had to be peaceful. So this is the problem that's happening right now. Now, some -- obviously, in America, people are terrified. They are saying, what is this Arab spring? Is it turning into some terrible monster that is coming back to haunt us? We got rid of these sort of pliant dictators and now look what we have.

I think it's very important to point out that, for instance, in Libya, people really love America and Americans. America, along with France and Britain, led the liberation of Libya. And polls show that the vast majority of the Libyan people and the Libyan government, of course, are very supportive.

And you have heard immediate condemnation by the people there with those signs and placards. Benghazi is not about terrorism. You have heard immediate condemnation by the officials, whether they were in Libya. I spoke to the ambassador earlier today. And so in a way, they're also fighting their own extremists.

But let's see what happens in places like Egypt and beyond, if there's not a really immediate measure to stop these protests outside that embassy and in Tahrir. COOPER: Anne-Marie Slaughter, we're hearing a lot about this anti-Muslim film that circulated on the Internet, sparked the protests at least in Egypt, whether or not it was used as a cover for the attack in Benghazi.

But protests are one thing. A heavily armed coordinated attack is another. What's your sense of how big a connection there is really between them?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, as you said, Anderson, there is a huge amount of confusion still.

But it's very unlikely that protesters came armed with rockets and other incendiary materials. This was a very well-planned attack. It appears to have happened in several stages.

And one thing I think is important to note, in addition to Ambassador Stevens, who really died with his colleagues in the line of duty, in the service of his country, there were a certain number of Libyans who were also killed in the attack defending the consulate, some reports, as many as ten.

So it's important to realize that Libyans died in this attack defending the U.S. Consulate. It does really appear to have been a very well-coordinated attack, and the head of al Qaeda, Zawahri, had explicitly called for revenge for the killing of other al Qaeda members and had called for that revenge in Libya.

And you can imagine, if you're thinking about it from al Qaeda's point of view, from an extremist's, a violent extremist's point of view, having this kind of thing happen in Libya is exactly what you want, because you want precisely an attack on the Americans in Libya, a country that is supporting many Americans and that Americans have obviously helped.

So it makes a lot of sense that it was in fact a 9/11-coordinated al Qaeda attack.

COOPER: Bob Baer, you have worked in this region. How concerned are you that this could escalate or spark larger security problems? And also how hard would it be to hunt down by the U.S. any Libyan forces, to hunt down some extremist group in the Benghazi region?

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Anderson, first, let me start with Libya.

There is no effective central government there. The population since Gadhafi fell is armed with sophisticated arms. There's multiple groups there. They have been attacking foreigners before this, not this organized. International Committee of the Red Cross, they have attacked a couple times.

The government cannot get these arms back. How big the militant groups are, this al Qaeda franchise in Libya, nobody knows. Who's the center of it, nobody knows. It could be Internet-driven. For the Libyan government to retake Libya, you know, in an organized way and disarm the population is not going to happen any time soon.

Drones are not going to help in the situation. It takes too long to gear these things up. The best we can do is since the Libyan government cannot protect our embassy there or our consulate is that we have to send Marines in to do that or close our embassy.

There's no in between. You really do need the cooperation of a government. I was in Tehran shortly before the embassy was overrun there. And, frankly, Anderson, I'm seeing the same sort of sentiment in the Middle East in the Arab world as we saw in Tehran in '78 and '79, where governments are caving to the street, if you like, or the militants.

You know, and it's not just Libya. It's Jordan under threat. I keep -- I'm in the Middle East right now. I keep on hearing it again and again. Syria is being completely hijacked by the militants. Lebanon is about to pop. So we just can't localize this in Cairo or Benghazi.

It's across the Middle East. And this is a fear that I keep on hearing over and over again in the region. So, the president is right. We do have to protect our embassies. It's really, really hard to do. These are not...

COOPER: And we continue to follow developments right now in Cairo. We're going to take you back there shortly.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, Christiane Amanpour, Bob Baer, we have to move along. Thank you very much for being with us.

We're on Facebook. Let us know what you think. Follow me on Twitter right now @AndersonCooper. Let's tweet about this right now. We will also be continuing to follow the breaking news tonight, as I said.

Also tonight, "Keeping Them Honest" about Mitt Romney's suggestion that President Obama's first response was to the deadly consulate attack was to sympathize -- that was his words -- with the anti-American forces. We will take a look at the timeline and discuss it ahead.


COOPER: We are continuing to monitor the breaking news out of Cairo, the ongoing turmoil near the American Embassy there.

Security forces -- this is a live picture you're looking at -- security forces clashing with protesters, reportedly using tear gas, the situation tense, obviously, possibly getting edgier a day after protesters stormed the embassy.

Here at home tonight, President Obama hit back at a claim that Mitt Romney made after last night's deadly consulate attack and restated today, a claim that is just not factually correct.

Last night at 10:25 p.m. Eastern time, hours after it had become known there was at least one fatality in Benghazi at the consulate, but before full details were known, we got the following statement from the Romney campaign.

It read -- quote -- "I'm outraged by the attacks on the American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American Consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."

Mr. Romney was complaining about this statement put out by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo before the embassy was attacked by angry mobs. The statement read in part: "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. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religion -- religious beliefs of others."

Mr. Romney's suggestion was that the statement was the Obama administration's response to the assault on the Cairo embassy and the deadly attack in Benghazi. But there was no evidence the statement was approved by the White House. A number of tweets were sent by the Cairo embassy and according to a number of current and former Foreign Service workers, the White House doesn't routinely vet tweets sent out by embassies.

In fact, the White House disavowed the statement after it had been sent. As for Mr. Romney's suggestion that the statement was a response to the attack on the embassy, it's important to point out it came out before the rioting and long before the killing in Benghazi.

It was apparently an attempt by embassy staff to head off what you see happening here, to diffuse the situation before it got ugly, not to apologize after it did.

You can agree or disagree with what the embassy did under pressure, whether their statement was appropriate. You can say it should have said nothing or even that it should have defended the freedom of these filmmakers to make that inflammatory video.

What you can't do is say that the embassy statement came after a particular event when in fact it came before that event. Mitt Romney's statement was made last night before all the facts were known.

But if you thought he might backtrack today, you would be wrong. In fact, today, he restated the charge. Listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values, that, instead, when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation. An apology for America's values is never the right course.


COOPER: Again, "Keeping Them Honest," the suggestion that the embassy put out that statement during the assault on it and the attack in Benghazi is simply not true.

The embassy did tweet during the attack -- quote -- "This morning's condemnation, issued before the protest began, still stands, as does our condemnation of unjustified breach of embassy."

So, what was a tragedy overseas has quickly become a political debate here in the United States. Democrats have been quick to criticize how Mitt Romney has been handling this, the timing of his statement, what he said. And so have a number of Republicans.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry called Romney's statements -- quote -- "callous and reckless." Indiana Republican Senator Dan Coats, who once served as ambassador to Germany, was asked about the Kerry criticism of Romney. Listen.


SEN. DAN COATS (R), INDIANA: Let's avoid the political statements right now.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Should that be true of Mitt Romney as well?

COATS: I think we need to keep the political focus on the election separate from the possible implications of what goes to security and how to protect our citizens abroad.


COOPER: And, late today, President Obama weighed in.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a broader lesson to be learned here. And Governor Romney seems other have a tendency to shoot first, name later.

And, as president, one of the things I have learned is, you can't do that, that it's important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts and that you have thought through the ramifications before you make them.


COOPER: Well, joining us now is Ari Fleischer, who's an unpaid occasional communications adviser of the Romney campaign, also Democratic strategist and Obama 2012 pollster Cornell Belcher.

Ari, the governor said last night the administration's first response of the death of an American had been to apologize. Now, regardless of what somebody may think of the Governor Romney statement, isn't it clear from the timeline that the heart of his attack wasn't accurate? That statement from the embassy was put out before the assault on the consulate in Benghazi. And is a tweet by an embassy worker really administration -- a statement by the Obama administration?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, I thought you did a good job walking people through the timeline and I'm glad to see that you put the piece up at the end where the administration, the officials in Egypt, which are our State Department, part of the Obama administration, reiterated support for that initial foolish, misguided statement after the attack took place.

What I would have done if I was advising Mitt Romney was, I would have made sure there was a clear reference to that, that the administration stood by our Egyptian Embassy's earlier statement. I think if they had done that, they would have been on more solid ground.

But I think Mitt Romney is making a broader, bigger point about the Obama administration policies.

COOPER: But wait. Sorry. But was it the administration's stand? Because the administration basically retracted the statement. That was the statement from the administration. It was the embassy which reiterated the statement and said, and we also criticize the breach of the embassy.

FLEISCHER: Well, it's a fine distinction, but I don't think you can separate an embassy from the administration.

The embassy is a tool, arm of the administration. I say that in the benevolent sense of a tool. That is what administrations do. They have embassies that represent the administration.


COOPER: But some embassy worker who's worried about getting attacked, is that really fair?

FLEISCHER: If it's good enough for the administration to disown the statement, it's good enough for Mitt Romney to also criticize the statement.

It shouldn't be only one party gets to criticize the statement. They both should. That was a terrible statement. It represented American weakness, a retreat on American values. And the bigger point here is that when American officials make apologies to the Muslim world so we don't offend Muslim feelings by backtracking on American values, it shows weakness and invites more trouble. It doesn't avoid trouble.

COOPER: Cornell, the Romney campaign says, look, the embassy was representing administration policy. They made the statement more than once, including their tweets, and if the administration didn't agree with them, they took way too long to say so and that the White House was sending mixed signals.

CORNELL BELCHER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN POLLSTER: Look, first, I think sort of we ought to send our hearts and sympathy out to the brave Americans who died fighting to spread democracy. And that is something that should transcend politics.

Here, it didn't transcend politics. And, quite frankly, it's a little bothersome that we're on national television talking about the partisan or the political aspect when we had Americans dying trying to spread democracy for our country.

Look, Mitt Romney showed incredibly poor judgment. At a time when -- you know, when you should have been getting larger, getting bigger, showing leadership, you know, you use this for a craven, partisan, myopic, misleading statement that was just about partisanship.

And it is out of the pale. And it's really telling that you don't see a lot of Republicans running to Mitt Romney's defense on this. McCain's silence on this is startling. And even the speaker's silence in this area is startling. It's because it's something that should not be done.

When Americans are dying for our country to spread freedom and democracy, we should not have partisan figures making partisan statements to try to gain political gain. His poor judgment disqualifies him to be president of the United States.

COOPER: Ari, given that at that point last night, at 10:25, whenever it was, full details weren't known, we didn't know if the threat, the attack was still going on. We knew one person was dead. We didn't know if they were an American citizen, who they were. We didn't know it was the ambassador. We didn't know the other people had died as well.

Should he have just waited? Is it inappropriate in the heat of a political campaign to weigh in when American lives are in the balance?

FLEISCHER: Well, that's a great question.

But let me remind people about what John Kerry said about George Bush in 2004 and certainly what Barack Obama said about John McCain and George Bush in 2008. Cornell has an interesting new standard that, in 2012, the Republican candidate should not weigh in at a time when there are deaths, talking about the interesting -- the important differences in foreign policy approaches.

Yet, certainly, that is exactly what John Kerry did regularly to George Bush, as was his right, while people were dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, as it was Barack Obama's right.

But I don't remember people criticizing either John Kerry or Barack Obama for criticizing the Bush and/or McCain foreign policy. In fact, in July 2008, nine servicemen were killed in one day in Afghanistan. On that very day, Barack Obama weighed in to criticize George Bush and John McCain's foreign policy. And I don't remember any of this media double standard saying to Senator Obama, isn't it inappropriate for you to criticize the foreign policy of the person you're running against on the day when people died? It's a double standard, Anderson.


COOPER: Is it the same thing, though? Because that's an ongoing war where, you know, if you say you can't comment on anything about an ongoing war, it goes on for years at a time and you can't make any statement.

This is a thing where hours matter, and we don't know if people are alive or dead. We don't know if the attack is still going on.

FLEISCHER: Anderson, this has been a 20-year war against Muslim terrorists who attacked our country.

BELCHER: Anderson...

FLEISCHER: We were struck four times in the Clinton administration, once in the Bush administration, and now once in the Obama administration.

This is an ongoing war, too.


FLEISCHER: Debates about foreign policy are an absolute vital part of our democracy.

And I don't know why the media is rushing to criticize Barack -- I mean, criticize Mitt Romney for criticizing a foreign policy when they did not do that to Barack Obama or John Kerry when they exercised their right to criticize Republican foreign policy.

BELCHER: Two quick things. One is, it's apples and oranges. You know, that's just not a fair comparison. A fairer comparison would be what Democrats did directly after 9/11. And you know, on the 12th, you had statements by people like Hillary Clinton, who at that time was then-Senator Clinton and seen as a very partisan figure, who said, "We stand united behind the president." That's a leadership -- that's what leaders are supposed to do.

The other part of this, which is now disturbing, is it's OK to sort of say that mistakes were made. You know, as people work in this industry, you know, we sort of have a responsibility to be care takers of this industry. And when we just follow, you know, our partisan leaders down whatever partisan dark rabbit hole that they tend to go to, you know, we get the sort of politics that we have now, and I think that's shameful.

COOPER: Well, I want into -- we have an obituary for the ambassador, and I want to get -- get to that, so I'm going to end the discussion here. Guys, I appreciate your perspectives. Cornell, Ari, thank you very much. Cornell mentioned John McCain. He did open up on the subject to us. You're going to hear what he had to say next.


COOPER: We're monitoring the breaking news in Cairo, Egypt. Hundreds of protestors gathered near the U.S. embassy one day after it was stormed by police using tear gas against them. We'll have the latest on that ahead.


COOPER: We've been focusing tonight on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The latest on who's suspected to be behind it and the politics that now surround it, both important parts of the story. But we also want to take a moment to remember the lives that were lost. Four people killed that we know about, four Americans.

We know two of their names. The other two victims' names have not been released as the government tries to contact their families. There's also reports of a number of Libyans who died trying to protect the consulate in Benghazi.

We know the name Sean Smith, a foreign service information management officer. Ten-year veteran of the State Department, a husband and father of two.

And we know the name Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, just 52 years old with a remarkable career. Take a look.


COOPER (voice-over): Chris Stevens was sent to Tripoli by the State Department in 2007. Then last year he was tasked with a formidable and dangerous assignment: be America's point man with the rebel forces fighting Gadhafi.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: In the early days of the Libyan revolution, I asked Chris to be our envoy to the rebel opposition. He arrived on a cargo ship in the port of Benghazi and began building relationships with Libya's revolutionaries.

COOPER: When the fighting stopped and Gadhafi was gone, Stevens was officially named ambassador to Libya. One of the first things he did was create this video with Arabic subtitles to reach out to Libyans.

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS, AMBASSADOR TO LIBYA: I look forward to exploring those possibilities with you as we work together to build a free, democratic, prosperous Libya.

COOPER: The death of Stevens and his three colleagues have sent shock waves through the halls of power, across the nation and the world. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no doubt that their legacy will live on through the work that they did far from our shores and in the hearts of those who loved them back home.

COOPER: The president has ordered flags be flown at half-staff to honor the fallen.

For Stevens, Libya was the latest in a lifetime of service. After graduating from Berkeley, he served in the Peace Corps in Morocco teaching English. Friends say he fell in love with the Middle East.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: He had this extraordinary love of culture, of the food, of the people. He was regarded as something of a hero. I think he loved them, and he was as loved in return because, I think, people in the region believed that he really was there with them and fighting with them.

COOPER: He was fluent in Arabic and French and served the U.S. in Damascus, Cairo, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Stevens made friends everywhere he went.

ALI SULEIMAN AUJALI, LIBYAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: He was welcomed by the people. He visited the Libyans. He eat with them, he sit with them and he's very enthusiastic about this relation.

COOPER: In an e-mail to friends two months ago obtained by "The New York Times," Stevens sounded optimistic about the future of Libya. "The whole atmosphere has changed for the better," he wrote. "People smile more and are much more open with foreigners. Americans, French and British are enjoying unusual popularity. Let's hope it lasts."


COOPER: Let's hope it lasts. As we said, Christopher Stevens was just 52 years old.

Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, condemned the Benghazi and Cairo attacks from the floor of the Senate today. He also urged the United States to continue its support of democratic movements in the Middle East.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: In Ambassador Chris Stevens' death, the Libyan people have lost a great champion and believer in the peaceful aspirations of their democratic revolution.

If we turn our backs now on the millions of people in Libya and Egypt and Syria and other countries across the Middle East, people who share so many of our values and interests, people who are the true authors of the Arab Spring, we will hand our common enemies, the terrorists and extremists, the very victory that they seek.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: The loss of Ambassador Stevens is personal for Senator McCain. In his remarks on the Senate floor, he called the ambassador a friend. I spoke to Senator McCain earlier.


COOPER: Senator McCain, you knew Ambassador Stevens. You counted him among your friends. Earlier today, you called him a selfless, a dedicated servant, one of America's finest and bravest foreign service officers. I wondered if you could just share some of maybe your fondest memories of him or thoughts about him?

MCCAIN: Well, I have several, but one of them is when I came to Benghazi while the fighting was still going on. Chris Stevens was living in a hotel room in Benghazi, in constant danger, in threat of his life, representing the United States with what was then the council, the Libyan National Council. And with -- doing it with -- with verve, with joy and with dedication, because he knew that he was being a part of a revolution that would bring down, eventually, one of the most brutal dictators in history.

COOPER: There -- you know, no doubt those who see the actions of the last 24 hours and -- and say what is going on in Libya, you know, did we support the wrong side, have extremists taken over? How do you see -- how do you see this?

MCCAIN: I see it as a newly-elected government that is having, obviously, the growing pains that any government would have that's never -- in a country that's never had any kind of democratic government before.

I see people who overwhelmingly voted just on July 7 to reject Islamist government. They voted for, in overwhelming numbers for a moderate, centrist government.

But there's also a country where weapons are everywhere, Anderson. You know that. They are everywhere. And there are jihadists who have come into the country and continue to come into the country, because they haven't got control of their borders.

So the overwhelming majority of the people in Libya embrace democracy and the same values that we have. But there are very dangerous people also trying to hijack that revolution, and it is a threat. And -- but one that I believe the Libyan people could overcome.

I'd like to make one other point. One thing I know about Chris Stevens is he would be appalled if this was a reason for the United States to withdraw, to not try to help this fledgling democracy achieve what all men and women throughout the world seek and deserve. And so Chris Stevens would be the last one to say it's time to withdraw.

COOPER: Congressman Mike Rogers, who's chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that the attack appeared to be very coordinated, a military-style attack. CNN has confirmed the planned nature of the attack. Can you say more about the attack, about the details, anything that you can say publicly?

MCCAIN: Anderson, I have no information besides that. It was a carefully planned attack. It was done by people who were obviously Muslim extremists who wanted to do everything they can to drive the United States out of the country. And you know their ultimate goal is to destroy America.

And it is different from what happened in Cairo, which was a mob that was being incited to violence.

COOPER: We've talked to folks who were in Libya recently and who were alarmed about the deteriorating security situation there. Reports that al Qaeda seems to be gaining a foothold in the east not too far from Benghazi. I know you're in contact with your sources there. You were there in July. What do you make of that assessment? How worried are you about the growth of extremism there?

MCCAIN: I am worried, and we all should be worried. We know that al Qaeda takes place -- takes roots in many parts of the Middle East. And the best way, I think, to counter it is to help them train their police -- and by the way, there are countries that are training their police -- train their army, get the weapons under control, and have us help them with intelligence capabilities so that we can prevent these strikes from happening. I'm confident we can do that.

COOPER: Governor Romney, as you know, condemned the Obama administration for, in his words, I believe the word was sympathizing with the attackers and he said apologizing for the anti-Muslim movie. Do you stand by those remarks, both the timing of those remarks by the governor and also the substance of them?

MCCAIN: Apparently, that was -- those -- that comment was before the attack in Libya.

I do think that the statement that the embassy made was weak. They must have, too, because they withdrew it.

But what -- Romney is talking about what I'm talking about, is that this president is weak in his leadership. We are losing in Iraq, after -- in the words of General Cane (ph), we won the war and we're losing the peace. Because we didn't leave a residual force.

Things are going bad in Afghanistan. I just came from the region. They believe America is weak, and they believe America is withdrawing, not to mention this latest crisis between the United States and Israel over Iran.

So Mitt Romney is talking about weak leadership. I agree with him.

COOPER: Senator McCain, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Coverage of the breaking news out of Cairo, the violence now erupting near the U.S. embassy. The reporting continues throughout the hour. That's a live picture right there. We're monitoring the new unrest. We'll get a live update from Cairo next.


COOPER: Huge news tonight in the case of Jason Puracal, the American citizen who spent almost two years in jail in Nicaragua on what he said all along were false charges. A major update when we continue.


COOPER: We're following breaking news in Cairo where protests outside the U.S. embassy have again turned violent. Let's check back with CNN's Ian Lee, who's on the phone from Cairo.

Ian, we know now that the attacks at the consulate in Libya were coordinated, military-style attacks. What we're seeing in Cairo appears to be quite different, yes?

IAN LEE, CNN (via phone): Yes, that's exactly right, Anderson. This is really more haphazard: people in the street, angry protestors in the street, really no coordination at all.

Right now it's going on about 3 a.m. in the morning here in Cairo and you still have quite a few protesters in the street, hundreds. And we're still seeing this war of attrition where police and the protesters are pretty much in a stalemate, continuously throwing rocks at each other. Tear gas is being fired, but neither side looks like they're ready to give in. And they're the -- but they're the ones that are protecting the embassy from these protesters.

But I want to point something out from the video that we've been seeing and that you guys will probably be seeing, is that there's a lack of flags at this protest, as there was last night. And that's significant, because yesterday when we saw them storm the embassy, a lot of the crowd had big, black flags. And these are flags that are usually associated with jihadist movements or holy war, the ultra- conservative Muslim movements.

Tonight we're not seeing any flags. I think that kind of tells us about the group that is on the street, that these are more youth, more hooligans than really any -- any ultra conservatives with agendas.

COOPER: And this is still -- I mean, is this really about that anti-Islam movie or that movie that was made and shown, I guess, on Egyptian television, or at least parts of it shown? Are they -- fanning -- they are groups that are fanning resentment against the U.S.?

LEE: You know, it's -- a lot of these people, on the street talking to them, asking him if they've seen this video. A lot of people haven't actually seen the video. And protests like this have a way of morphing and becoming something completely different than what they initially started out to be, where basically they just turn into a raw street fight between the police and these protesters. This group of protesters that we're seeing now are the same groups we've seen all throughout the last year and a half during the revolution. One that say just really from what we've seen go up and challenge the police and almost seem to take pleasure in going up and challenging the police -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ian, I appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

In other news today, here at home, the family of Milton Hall, a homeless man who was shot and killed by police in July, got an answer today.

What prosecutors decided about the six police officers who fired 46 rounds at him. A "360 Follow-up" is ahead.


SESAY: I'm Isha Sesay. Breaking news in a story we've been following closely. Jason Puracal, shown here with his wife and child, may soon be freed from La Modela Prison in Nicaragua. His attorneys were told the order to release their client will be given in the next 24 hours. The 35-year-old American has been held on drug charges for more than 18 months.

A "360 Follow": six Michigan police officers who shot and killed a 49-year-old homeless man will not face criminal charges. Prosecutors said a 10-week investigation showed the officers did not act with criminal intent. This graphic videotape captured the shooting. The officers fired 46 rounds at Milton Hall; 11 bullets hit him.

The Democratic National Convention Committee today apologized for showing images of Russian warships on a giant screen during a tribute to U.S. veterans at the party's convention last week. They blame the gaffe on vendor error.

And this 1879 Renoir painting could fetch as much as $100,000, maybe more, at auction this month. Not bad considering its owner bought it for seven bucks at a flea market in West Virginia. She just liked the frame. That was two years ago. It was a year before she discovered what she thought was a kitschy knock-off was, in fact, a masterpiece.

Anderson is back in a moment.


COOPER: That's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.