Remarks by Deputy Secretary William Burns at a Ceremony Honoring Fallen Americans

Tripoli, Libya–(ENEWSPF)–September 20, 2012. 

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, distinguished guests: We gather with heavy hearts today to remember four remarkable men – Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty – who gave their lives serving their country and trying to build a better future for the people of Libya.

Last Friday, I accompanied my fallen colleagues on the long, sad plane flight home, where their families and friends, joined by President Obama and Secretary Clinton, gathered to honor their sacrifice – the ultimate sacrifice. I am proud and grateful to be able to join all of you this evening, here in Libya, to mourn their passing.

This is a hard moment, for all of us. It is a moment of shared loss. And it is a moment of shared hope, and shared responsibility.

We have lost four wonderful colleagues. We have lost a brilliant ambassador, full of courage and skill and passionate determination to help Libyans, to help all of you, realize the promise of your revolution, to make a reality of a free Libya, of “Libya al-Hurra.” I last saw Chris Stevens during a visit to Libya in July, just after the elections. His sense of commitment and possibility was contagious, drawing him to Libyans from all walks of life, from senior officials to students to street vendors. He was a very fine diplomat, and an extraordinary human being. He really was America at its best.

This is truly a shared loss. I can see that sense of loss on the faces of all those gathered here this evening . . . the loss of a tireless friend and advocate, a man who dreamed your dreams and wanted deeply to help you achieve the dignity you deserve, after so many decades of tyranny. I could see that sense of loss, as well as a profound sense of honor and decency, in the bravery of the Libyans who risked their lives to try to fight off attackers and rescue Chris . . . in the grief-stricken faces of the doctors and nurses who did all they could to try to save his life . . . in the outpouring of condolences and support from your leaders . . . in the simple, heartfelt, hand-printed signs of ordinary Libyan citizens, urging the world to understand that the extremists who did this do not speak for them and do not speak for Libya.

Tonight it’s difficult to see beyond that sense of loss. But the truth is that what Chris Stevens embodied most of all was a sense of shared hope. He was an optimist, about Libya and about the potential for friendship between Libyans and Americans. He saw the promise of a free Libya, of a better future for Libyans and their children and their children’s children.

Chris saw the promise of a free Libya even in the hardest days of the revolution in Benghazi, when so many others couldn’t see it, when so many others began to waver, when so many others began to doubt. Chris never wavered. He believed in Libya. He believed in all of you. He believed in what you could build, in what you could overcome, in what you could become as a nation.

Neither Chris Stevens nor our three other fallen colleagues were naïve. They were not blind in their optimism. They knew the troubles Libyans faced, and the risks they had to endure. Chris understood better than most that it was only through a shared sense of responsibility that those hopes could be realized. If Chris were here this evening, I know he would be the first to say that – for all the pride and jubilation of the revolution, for all the pain we feel tonight – it is the days ahead which matter most.

Chris would be the first to remind us that dignity, respect, hope, and freedom are powerful words and noble aspirations – but translating them into reality takes hard work and great sacrifice. That is the responsibility before all Libyans, and before all of us in America and around the world who remain committed to supporting you in this crucial effort. There are formidable tasks ahead: to build democratic institutions to safeguard human rights for every Libyan; to build security institutions to protect your own citizens and the diplomats who serve here; to build an economy which realizes the full potential of all Libyans.

None of this will be easy. It will take time. There will be more difficult moments along the way. But you have already achieved so much, and so much more is possible. Libyans will have to continue to make hard choices, to live up to your responsibilities, and to ensure that violent extremists don’t hijack the promise of your revolution.

Chris Stevens would have had no doubts about your ability to do that. He would not have wavered. And he would have drawn strength from your resolve, which is so evident this evening.

Chris would not have let the profound sense of loss we feel tonight obscure the hopes we share, or the responsibilities we must accept. The best way to honor his memory, and the memory of Sean and Tyrone and Glen, and the memory of all the Libyans who have sacrificed so much for the revolution, is to renew our shared determination to build a free Libya, “Libya al-Hurra.” We owe them – we owe ourselves – no less.

Thank you.