June 28th, 2014
05:18 PM ET
9 years ago

Controversy grows over prosecution of alleged Benghazi attack mastermind

(CNN) – While the suspected mastermind of the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi is now on U.S. soil, the political fallout related to his prosecution may just be beginning.

The criminal complaint against Ahmed Abu Khatallah was filed nearly a year ago, and he was nabbed two weeks ago in eastern Libya. He appeared in a federal court in Washington on Saturday – much to some Republicans’ chagrin.

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“I have serious concerns that conducting a rushed interrogation onboard a ship and then turning Abu Khatallah over to our civilian courts risks losing critical intelligence that could lead us to other terrorists or prevent future attacks,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, said in a statement Saturday. "I've asked the Defense and Justice Departments for an update on his status-including whether he has been told he has the right to remain silent."

Shortly after the White House announced Abu Khatallah’s capture on July 17, Republicans like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio began to criticize President Barack Obama’s administration because they believed the alleged terrorist should go through a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay instead of being tried in a federal court.

“If they bring him to the United States, they're going to Mirandize this guy and it would be a mistake for the ages to read this guy his Miranda rights,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

But the White House has defended its decision, saying that they have successfully tried a number of terrorists domestically and that no new captives have gone to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in years.

“We have not added a single person to the GITMO population since President Obama took office, and we have had substantial success delivering swift justice to terrorists through our federal court system,” National Security Council Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement the day the capture was announced.

After arriving in Washington early Saturday, Abu Khatallah appeared later in the day in federal court in Washington and pleaded not guilty to murder charges related to the 2012 Benghazi attack. He is being prosecuted by a U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and, if convicted, could face the death penalty.

Some Republicans lawmakers argue that Abu Khatallah is not being charged in a high enough court. Others say that the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington does not have as much experience handling terrorist cases as does the New York and Northern Virginia prosecution staff. (This case, though, is also being investigated by the FBI's New York office with assistance from other government agencies.)

Earlier this month, Rep. Peter King of New York expressed other concerns to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer – chiefly, that U.S. authorities aren’t doing enough to maximize the amount of information they get from Abu Khatallah.

"Before he's turned over to civilian authorities, the FBI and all of our intelligence agencies, CIA and others, should interrogate him as long as they have to,” said King, a member of the Homeland Security Committee and Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. “I'm not that concerned about a criminal conviction. We're going to get that ultimately. It's important we get as much intelligence out of him as possible. Both what happened, who planned it, how it happened."

The timing of Abu Khatallah’s capture also folds into two ongoing political narratives that could affect the 2014 midterm and 2016 presidential elections.

First, the newly captured Abu Khatallah will now almost certainly be a topic of discussion amongst the recently created House select committee investigating the Benghazi attack. The committee, which is supposed to have special hearings on the controversy, may convene within the next month before Congress goes into recess for the month of August. But they also could hold hearings in September or October, only weeks before the midterm elections.

For Democrats in tight races, Abu Khatallah’s capture only further sheds light on a controversy that has damaged the Obama administration’s reputation for handling national security matters.

Second, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - who is toying with the idea of running for president in 2016 - could once again face tough questions about her role in handling U.S. security in the region when the attacks occurred.

At a CNN town hall meeting the day that Abu Khatallah’s capture was announced, Clinton said she was "very pleased" with the arrest and described Abu Khatallah as "the leader of the attack against Benghazi."

“It took, as you know, 10 years to bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” Clinton said. “It's taken more than two years to bring this perpetrator to justice. But Ahmed Abu Khatallah has been very much on the minds of our law enforcement, our military and intelligence professionals since that night in September of 2012.”

This is the first time a terrorist suspect is being tried in Washington, which some critics argue may bring up some security and logistical concerns given that the court is just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol building.

There is no jail facility connected to the district court, which will force military personal and vehicles to escort Abu Khatallah into court via already heavily trafficked Washington streets. Suspects like these are traditionally tried in New York and Northern Virginia, where jail facilities are connected to the court buildings.

soundoff (144 Responses)
  1. Bill

    "Controversy Grows"? You mean like the fake, contrived controversies over Benghazi, the IRS, Birthers, Death Panels, etc, etc.

    June 29, 2014 02:05 am at 2:05 am |
  2. Plain white t

    It is sad how far the right has fallen....once had respect of a valued opinion..now nothing but McCarthy exhumed...

    June 29, 2014 02:43 am at 2:43 am |
  3. Thomas

    Controversy grows for the prosecution of Ahmed Chalabi and his brother " curvball " for the masterminding of the best con of all time , The Iraq war over WMDs that were never there .

    America was taking for a ride .

    June 29, 2014 02:49 am at 2:49 am |
  4. TJeff1776

    All roads, it seems, leads to Obama, when it comes to criticisms by Republicans. IF Obama sneezes, its grounds for the accusing finger by them. I know "if ya can't stand the heat- then stay OUT of the kitchen". BUT I'm still sick of it. Blaming Obama for living and breathing is endless BS.

    June 29, 2014 02:56 am at 2:56 am |
  5. Anonymous

    Don't try him in Florida. All he has to say is he saw the ambassador in a hoodie and he will walk.

    June 29, 2014 03:03 am at 3:03 am |
  6. teapooper

    Republicans sure do love GITMO. I guess a good torture every now and then makes jesus happy.

    June 29, 2014 03:57 am at 3:57 am |
  7. william house

    The arrogance of the Republican Party has no bounds. No Rule of Law, Guilty if they say so, no proof required.

    That's what started this whole problem, when Afghanistan offered to turn Osama Bin Laden over to a third party to be put on trial, but the arrogance of W. Bush decided to blow up two countries instead of using law enforcement.

    Of course Republicans do not care about ANY ONE'S rights, except for the right of the wealthy few to exploit the rest of us.

    Republicans are the greatest threat to America.

    June 29, 2014 03:59 am at 3:59 am |
  8. william house

    chances are greater that he will be killed in the DC traffic than from any terrorist attack.

    June 29, 2014 04:01 am at 4:01 am |
  9. william house

    and President Obama didn't have to kill a million people to arrest this guy either, unlike republican war pigs.

    June 29, 2014 04:02 am at 4:02 am |
  10. Kris

    Blaming Obama is so, so easy.The Repubs have crossed the line so many times that I can't take them seriously.

    June 29, 2014 04:07 am at 4:07 am |
  11. Frank

    One thing about Republicans: They will use any deviant method to skirt the law. They are sooo untrustworthy. Look at what they do in the House to block approved Senate bills. Shameful group of thugs.

    June 29, 2014 04:12 am at 4:12 am |
  12. BD70

    So if Obama had sent him to GITMO then he would have been criticized for adding to GITMO and not closing it. It has got to the point that as soon as the right wing opens their mouths I tune out. Sad but true.

    June 29, 2014 04:28 am at 4:28 am |
  13. Simple.

    It's been proven that when you feel depressed, you should eat chocolate. I'm still debating what color M'M this guy is.

    June 29, 2014 04:51 am at 4:51 am |
  14. Trade5foraDeserter

    Do it WAS a planned attack all this time.

    Democrats and the Media swore up-and-down it was just a "spontaneous group of protestors" for over a year. Now that the Obama Administration does a complete 180, they are screaming: "We caught the mastermind who plotted the attack!" and no one bats an eye at the hypocracy. No apologies for lying all this time. No apologies to the people who stated the fact it was a planned attack all this time.
    But hey... Obama still got to go to Vegas and campaign rather than act like a Real President and handle it accordingly. We also know what Hillary will do with that 2 AM call.

    June 29, 2014 04:56 am at 4:56 am |
  15. jpmichigan

    The problem of an imperialistic government which the USA has become under this administration, is that one makes up the rules as one sees fit, instead of following the RULE OF LAW. A terrorist act was judge, as what was done in Benghazi by all, so shouldn't any part taker we judged by military laws. DOJ doesn't do the job he took an oath to do!!!

    June 29, 2014 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  16. Fred Beloit

    "“It took, as you know, 10 years to bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” Clinton said. “It's taken more than two years to bring this perpetrator to justice. But Ahmed Abu Khatallah has been very much on the minds of our law enforcement, our military and intelligence professionals since that night in September of 2012.”"

    Do re mi mi mi:

    Maybe I never told you
    Quite as often as I should have
    But you were always on our minds
    You were always on our minds. (H/T Willie Nelson)

    Treating a war criminal like an armed robber is only one of the crazy concepts running through the emotions of the president, his AG, and their adoring fans.

    June 29, 2014 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  17. Name JK. SFL. THE GOP HOWDEE GOWDEE SHOW with special guest ISSA the CLOWN

    The GOP should just LEAVE OUR country and go to SOMIALIA where their agenda is already in force, and we don't need it HERE!!!!!

    June 29, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  18. J Anthony

    Oh yes, thank goodness we have these geniuses to tell us how to go about getting info, without them we'd be lost. We know they care so much that they have to run to the media with their petty criticisms, and tell the intelligence community what they should be doing. They've done their jobs so well that of course we need their advice on how to do ours...

    June 29, 2014 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  19. Tom

    There's no "controversy." just a bunch of whining Republicans. First Obama didn't act quickly enough in catching this guy. Now Obama is moving too quickly. Another day, another episode of phony outrage by Republicans.

    June 29, 2014 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
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