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During an introduction to a foreign policy speech on Iraq on March 17, 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton reminisced about her days as first lady and a trip to Tuzla, Bosnia, she made in March 1996.
"I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."
Clinton has made remarks about the Bosnia trip before. The Des Moines Register reported her saying on Dec. 30, 2007, "We landed in one of those corkscrew landings and ran out because they said there might be sniper fire. I don't remember anyone offering me tea on the tarmac there."
The Bosnia trip has become a part of the portfolio Clinton presents to prove that she's ready to be president because of foreign policy experience she gained as first lady. But she's described other overseas trips in ways that make them appear more significant to foreign policy than they actually were. We found her statements that she helped bring peace to Northern Ireland and that she stood up to the Chinese government on women's rights to be Half True, and we found her statement that she negotiated open borders for Kosovars to be Barely True.
In a pop culture twist, the comedian Sinbad -- now a Barack Obama supporter -- made the trip to Bosnia with Clinton to entertain the troops, along with singer Sheryl Crow. Sinbad criticized Clinton for exaggerating its significance even before her March 17 remarks about sniper fire, telling the Washington Post , "I think the only 'red-phone' moment was: 'Do we eat here or at the next place.' "
Immediately after her speech about Iraq which began with her memories of Bosnia, a reporter questioned Clinton about the trip and relayed Sinbad's remarks. Clinton stood by her account of sniper fire. "There was no greeting ceremony, and we basically were told to run to our cars. Now, that is what happened," she repeated.
But that's not what happened, as demonstrated by CBS News video that shows Clinton arriving on the tarmac under no visible duress, and greeting a child who offers her a copy of a poem. The Washington Post Factchecker also turned a skeptical eye on Clinton's comments, reporting that a review of more than 100 news stories from the time documented no security threats to the first lady.
CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson, who covered Clinton on the Bosnia visit, wrote of her memories of the trip : "To be sure, it was not the 'safest' trip for a first lady to take: there were serious risks in traveling to Bosnia, even for the president's wife under the vigilant protection of the U.S. military. It took some guts for her to go. But I don't recall, and did not note, any close calls on this trip with sniper fire or any other dangers. "
Clinton retracted the remarks a week after she made them, telling the Philadelphia Daily News editorial board on March 24, 2008, that she "misspoke," correcting herself to say she had been told there was a threat of sniper fire in the area. The next day she told reporters, "So I made a mistake. That happens. It shows I'm human, which for some people is a revelation."
Interestingly, Clinton's memoir Living History depicts an arrival that, though dangerous, included neither actual sniper fire nor running. It matches the CBS footage and appears to contradict Clinton's later retelling:
"Security conditions were constantly changing in the former Yugoslavia, and they had recently deteriorated again. Due to reports of snipers in the hills around the airstrip, we were forced to cut short an event on the tarmac with local children, though we did have time to meet them and their teachers and to learn how hard they had worked during the war to continue classes in any safe spot they could find. One eight-year-old girl gave me a copy of a poem she had written entitled 'Peace.' Chelsea and I presented the school supplies we had brought, along with letters from seventh-grade children at Baumholder (in Germany) whose parents and teachers had initiated a pen pal program. We were then hustled off to the fortified American base at Tuzla, where over two thousand American, Russian, Canadian, British and Polish soldiers were encamped in a large tent city."
We have questioned Clinton's previous remarks about her foreign policy experience, and in each case she overstated the details on her resume. This is another example, and in fact, the worst one. We find her claim to have run from sniper fire to be Pants on Fire wrong.
C-SPAN, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) Speech on Iraq war at GW University , March 17, 2007
CBS News, Clinton embellishes past , March 25, 2008
CBS News, 1996 Clinton Bosnia Trip , March 25, 1996.
CBS News, Not The Safest Trip, But No Sniper Fire , March 24, 2008
The Washington Post, Sinbad unloads on Hillary Clinton, March 11, 2008.
The Associated Press, Clinton 'misspoke' about '96 Bosnia trip , March 25, 2008.
Philadelphia Daily News, Hillary's Bosnia 'misstatement,' March 25, 2008
The Associated Press, Clinton says she erred on Bosnia story , March 25, 2008.
Des Moines Register, "Clinton touts electability, readiness for 'unexpected,'" Dec. 30, 2007.
Hillary Clinton, Living History, 2003.