Although nearly a full year has passed since he left his career as a foreign diplomat, Eric Schwartz told FOX 9 News the death of his former coworker, U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens, breaks his heart.
"The guy was highly regarded, highly respected -- had a can-do attitude," Schwartz recalled.
Schwartz says he feels "profound sadness" at the loss, and he knows he's not the only one mourning the man who had been an integral part of helping Libyan rebels oust Moammar Gadhafi.
"I can tell you, the State Department -- where there are thousands of people, this has cast a shadow," he said.
As the assistant secretary of state for humanitarian affairs, Schwartz worked with Stevens while he negotiated with the opposition party to set up a transitional government.
Months after that transition, Stevens and three other Americans were killed when a group of Islamic protesters armed with rifles and grenade launchers set fire to the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which had been the rebel stronghold. Stevens was being guarded by Libyan security forces who, along with citizens, carried him to the hospital where he died from smoke inhalation.
"How could this happen in a country we helped liberate? In a city we helped save from destruction?" asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The attack came hours after dozens of protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, tearing down the flag and replacing it with a black Islamic flag after outrage swelled over a movie on YouTube called "Innocence of Muslims" mocked the prophet Mohamed, portraying him as a sex-addicted fraud calling for massacres.
The film, which was produced in the U.S. by a man who had previously supported burning the Koran on 9/11, has sparked protests across the Middle East.
"We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, but there is no justification for this senseless violence," President Barack Obama said in the wake of the attacks.
Both Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have spoken out about the attack, but Romney has gotten into some political hot water after he complained that the administration was being sympathetic to the protesters.
"I also think the administration was wrong to sympathize with those that [sic] breached our embassy rather than condemning their action," Romney said.
However, Schwartz said the U.S. cannot let the attack ruin the progress Stevens and other diplomats have made in the Middle East.
"We have no alternative but to stay involved in the effort to promote economic development, stability and democratic progress," he said.
Both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have insisted that the U.S. remains committed to justice in Libya.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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