June 28th, 2014
05:18 PM ET
7 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. Tony D

    I have absolutely no confidence in this incompetent and corrupt administration to handle this properly and get the job done.

    June 28, 2014 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  2. Jez

    Republicans make it so bad for our guys (and gals) that are captured. Obviously a bunch of candy a$$es that never served, and that are willing to toss the safety of our military into the ditch so they get votes. Shameful.

    June 28, 2014 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  3. Porcupine

    He should be given a military trial not domestic but people want their dog and pony show.

    June 28, 2014 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  4. Michael

    Republicans do not understand the ideals and values of America. It is important that we live up to our ideals as a showpiece to the rest of the World.

    June 28, 2014 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  5. independant jim

    it were up to the Yea Party noboby would have their rights read .. they would just lynch you

    June 28, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  6. Dr. Hemlock

    Ahmed Abu Khatallah has already been written off by his people and replaced by 50 more just like him. While we will waste tax payer dollars and time their side is already planning their next attack. We have already lost this war on terror.

    June 28, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  7. BUD

    The GOP will complain no matter what we do with him.Then demand investigations.

    June 28, 2014 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  8. independant jim

    If it were up to the Tea Party nobody they didn't like would have their rights read to them they would just lynch them

    June 28, 2014 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  9. don in albuquerque

    GOTP afraid the truth may come out.....the REAL truth and not blather. Want to ship him to Gitmo first for enhanced interrogation. What did little Lindsey call it....."Quality Time".

    June 28, 2014 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  10. gery

    More and more I have less and less respect for the Republican party. Their views seem so over the top and down right combustible. King Richard would be proud.

    June 28, 2014 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  11. rtkmd

    King: “I'm not that concerned about a criminal conviction." Well, you should be, and that's why he needs to be Mirandized. Sheesh!

    June 28, 2014 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  12. monkeebizns

    Kind of odd how fast this is moving don't you think- most other trials seem to take alot longer before things get to the courts- kind of makes you wonder just what is really going on.

    June 28, 2014 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  13. Obama's Friend

    We, the friends of Obama, support this man and what he did!

    June 28, 2014 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  14. Dave

    I'm sure he's already been water boarded, so at this point it really doesn't matter.

    June 28, 2014 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  15. Steve

    The rules that apply in the US to us, should apply to the world, our we are not the example. To take these rights away from others, will just lead to us losing them as well.

    June 28, 2014 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  16. scarshapedstar1

    They do realize that rights exist whether or not they're read, right?

    June 28, 2014 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  17. storm chaser 101

    Give the terrorist a fair trial then take him straight to the firing squad.deal done.wrap the whole thing up in one week or less.

    June 28, 2014 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  18. EvinAR

    That's right, because all men are created equal means 'just us Americans and those who agree with us'.

    June 28, 2014 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  19. Oscar Napoli

    Article obviously provoked by the Obummer crew. CNN does not have the capacity for unbiased journalism as they're paid off by Obummer and most likely the editor takes it in the pooper from Obummer!

    June 28, 2014 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  20. Doug

    It seems that all the GOP is capable of these days is standing on sidelines, complaining about every decision made by those who are actually doing something. Read Theodore Roosevelt's speech about the arena some time, it really illustrates why Obama, for all of his flaws, deserves to be praised and admired, and why his Republican detractors don't.

    June 28, 2014 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  21. Justin Cider

    Chickenhawks love to squawk!

    June 28, 2014 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  22. Keith

    So, how many of our soldiers have been arrested for being soldiers?

    June 28, 2014 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  23. texasnotea

    Republicans are hiding something,what could it possibly be?

    June 28, 2014 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  24. BlackObamaJesus

    This creature belongs in Gitmo, NOT here.

    June 28, 2014 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  25. Ben

    If extremist Republicans and Democrats are allowed to get away with anything for the sake of "saving" this nation, there won't be much left to save when they're finished.

    June 28, 2014 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
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