After a day of turmoil in the Middle East claimed the life of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens and three other staffers at a consulate in Benghazi, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) chose to weigh in on the tragedy with a rape analogy.
Kyl focused on the controversy over an initial statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, which also came under siege Tuesday when protesters shredded an American flag and appeared to replace it with a pro-Islam banner.
"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," the statement said, apparently in response to a vitriolic video mocking Islam that was promoted by anti-Muslim Florida pastor Terry Jones. "Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."
Kyl seems to have construed that statement as an apology to the demonstrators, and likened it to blaming a victim for her rape.
Here are Kyl's comments, via Roll Call reporter Meredith Shiner:
"It's like the judge telling the woman who got raped, 'You asked for it because of the way you dressed.' OK? That's the same thing. 'Well America, you should be the ones to apologize, you should have known this would happen, you should have done -- what I don't know -- but it's your fault that it happened.' You know, for a member of our State Department to put out a statement like that, it had to be cleared by somebody. They don't just do that in the spur of the moment."
The embassy later followed up in a series of tweets both condemning the violence and standing by its general admonition against "bigotry," but conservatives such as Kyl were quick to criticize the original statement as an "apology" to the perpetrators.
The Romney campaign took this line of attack a step further a day earlier, charging that the official position of the Obama administration had been sympathetic to the protesters.
"I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi," Romney said in his own statement. "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."
Around the same time, the White House disavowed the embassy's prior statement and later released one of its own, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the assault "in the strongest" terms. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt also seized on the timing of Romney's statement, calling it inappropriate.
“We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” LaBolt said in a statement.
UPDATE -- 6:15 p.m. EDT:
Kyl spokesperson Joe Hack later clarified the senator's remarks.
"Senator Kyl's comments were meant to demonstrate that innocent victims of violence need never apologize to those committing the heinous acts of violence," he said.
Laura Bassett contributed reporting to this story.
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