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.

[twitter-follow screen_name='PoliticalTicker'] [twitter-follow screen_name='sarafischer']
“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. TLORop

    It sounds like the republicans are more concerned with attacking Obama and Clinton than they are with bringing the actual perpetrators to justice. They should be ashamed.

    June 28, 2014 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  2. Robert N. constant

    Once again, the pattern is the same. The Republican Party Bosses will issue the "talking points" and Republican hate radio will politicize the issue to attack the President. Republican Congressmen and Senators will hop on the bandwagon, and CNN will air the issue as if the "talking points" were more than the political grandstanding which they are.
    This will deflect from the capture of this suspect and give the GOP one more pretext to go on the attack.
    The Republican Party really has a low opinion of the intelligence of the American people. Don't they realize how obvious what they are doing is?

    June 28, 2014 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  3. Dave

    Any chance more tea baggers will be taking their own lives anytime soon?

    June 28, 2014 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    The courts will likely set him free. That is the state of corruption in our legal system.

    June 28, 2014 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  5. shebamutz

    Listening to Rubio and Graham criticize the capture and trial of a terrorist is like listening to Torquemada giving a lecture on civility in interrogation. These two Republican spinners could never bring themselves to praise the administration for a job well done. I just wish President Obama would stop being so damn presidential and go after these clowns using the bully pulpit to put them in their places. It is not as if criticizing them for shallowness and unpatriotic sound bites would in any way effect how they would vote in the Senate. These are lost causes to common sense and need to be held to the fire of Democratic broadsides. Stop playing nice, Mr. President. These bullies of the airwaves will only understand getting verbally slapped and mauled.

    June 28, 2014 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  6. mutantsubhuman

    This is a terrorist that should be dealt by the military as a war crime not as a civilian.

    June 28, 2014 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  7. cbp

    Every person arrested in the USA is read his/her rights We are a nation of laws and we follow those laws. Even the worst criminals are read their rights and they are brought to trial before a judge and a jury. Not to do so would be against all we stand for. Our country was founded on certain principles and we should not allow any prisoner to force us to change what we do. Have faith in the American form of justice

    June 28, 2014 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  8. nullcodes

    Terrrorists may not have rights, but we have the responsibility to make sure we have the right guy. That's the purpose of a trial. And trials must always be fair. This tea party nonsense that we shouldn't have trials because terrorists don't have rights has to stop. Yes we know that terrorists don't have rights, BUT WE NEED TO MAKE SURE WE ACTUALLY CAPTURED THE RIGHT PERSON AND THAT THEY ARE GUILTY OF SOMETHING BEFORE WE PUNISH THEM. We have a responsibility as human beings to make sure that we don't violate an innocent person's rights. All innocent people have certain unalienable rights, if they didn't the founding fathers would not have had the right to break away from England.

    June 28, 2014 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    If this guy isn't an American citizen will he have to be Mirandized?

    June 28, 2014 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  10. SaneGOP

    Of course Republicans are criticizing Obama over the way this is handled. I am tempted to offer a cash reward for any story regarding Obama's involvement that the GOP hasn't criticized. Every success, ever failure, every neutral action is criticized by them. As a result, we on the GOP have little, if any credibility left. We all know why they are doing this.

    Thank you Obama for being the best smokescreen that Congress has ever had.

    June 28, 2014 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  11. 1776usa2016

    Hey Repubs, we got no intel from all the hundreds of waterboardings that we didn't already have from other sources that didn't involve torture.

    We should be more interested in preserving our principles than in giving away our liberties for some fake sense of security.

    The terrorists hate us because of all the dictators we propped up over the decades in the Middle East.

    And if you want to stop terrorism then we simply need to leave the Middle East completely.

    And all we need to do that is become energy independent which we are very near to doing. What with huge alternative energy projects underway and coming online plus the gas we drilled up in the past 10 years we can already just leave the Middle East and let them fend for themselves.


    June 28, 2014 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  12. Maggie

    Just because you haven't been READ your rights doesn't mean you don't HAVE them.

    June 28, 2014 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  13. Big_D

    So the GOP is upset they can't torture him? The GOP has become a sign of mental illness.

    June 28, 2014 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  14. jc

    Am I mistaken, or wasn't it George W. Bush who did some "signing papers" in regard to Gitmo detainees denying them the Miranda statement because they were classified as "terrorist combatants" (i.e. not POWs)? And, weren't these signing papers brought up as a reason not to have military tribunals because it would mess with the UCMJ's interpretation of law? Thus, these "detainees" never went to court because of the morass GW and his cronies created.
    So, why bother bringing up Miranda now? Oh, I get it.....it's election time.........

    June 28, 2014 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  15. Skeptacular

    Rising above the "justice" the terrorists mete out shows the world the scale upon which our respective agendas weigh. Our values illustrate judgement where even those who disagree with us can be found innocent of crimes, and even those who believe as we do can be found guilty. The evidence and human rights alone provide that demarkation. The judgements of the terrorists and their promoters can't stand up to this comparison of rights and fairness. Just now, the barbarians may appear to have the upper hand, but no scrutiny will reflect that or allow it to stand. I fear the revengists in the States….they will teach the enemy nothing but death and revenge….a tactic certain to promote the same in reaction.

    June 28, 2014 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  16. grace

    You remember what Biden said – they gonna put us all back in chains. There is a racist white rethuglican behind every bush and we gotta make sure we vote Democrat otherwise the racist whites is comin to get us.

    June 28, 2014 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  17. SouthernCelt

    To my knowledge, Ahmed Abu Khatallah is not a U.S. Citizen, therefore is not subject to U.S. Civil Law. HIs actions make him an enemy combatant so he should be in Guantanamo and subject to military justice. Anything else is politics and should stay out of it.

    June 28, 2014 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  18. Jessica McGwin

    This is a mistake. First extradition on to US Soil opens us up to a whole hosts of issues. Once tried and convicted he will them be sentenced. Even if they award the death penalty he will not ever be able to be held in general population. Next upon sentencing he will be allowed visitation where orders and communications can transpire. He was willing to meet with the press correct? This was not out of self preservation or "add campaign" . It was a strategist move. My guess is he had very little intelligence to offer. Meaning he is not the "master mind" of the operation. Normally master minds do not carry out missions they only plan prepare and assign. This man was actively engaged in the assault? That tells me more than anything that could possible come out during interrogation. Even the most genteel Q & A session. So their is those issues.
    Then their is the release of the dream team. Importing terrorist to US Soil is all around not a good Idea. I think that the heart of this is in the Democratic party we know now that detaining terrorist is a weapon to be used against the people of this country. They can cut them loose on US when ever they so choose. The fact that they are now being imported, cuts out allot of transportation issue.
    The next concern that I have is Terrorist have been know for jail breaks. Or that his new mission is to become a martyr for the cause.
    Lastly once again protocol was broken. 21 days is the incubation cycle. He was moved in less than 15 days. He will not show symptoms for 24 days. Meaning if he was infected prior to capture and now in a heavily populated area of "enemy" territory we could face loss of control of an unknown pathogen. His capture was a little to convent for my comfort. This Y the rules exist. This is Y detention on any other ground but home is required. I am disappointed at the lack of professionalization in who ever was charge of this capture and extradition. I know the class was taught. So I am a little confused as to Y protocol now 2 was not fallowed. After all is not your Job and First priority to defend the United States and it's people?

    June 28, 2014 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  19. Geezzz

    Must they slam Obama for everything?

    June 28, 2014 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  20. Seon

    Republicans are like the grammar nazis in the comment sections whose sole interest are to
    nick pick and being as much of a nuisance as possible.

    June 28, 2014 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  21. And here come the doubters...1...2...3

    Why does the party who captured terrorists and never prosecuted them feel as if their advice is golden? Catch one and prosecute them and then....come back and someone might listen.

    June 28, 2014 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  22. fhc1983reunion

    Yes, Obama has released several terrorists from Gitmo. He appears to be fine with putting them back out in the public.

    June 28, 2014 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  23. Gary

    If they could only get him to talk as much as those Republican loud mouths. Graham, Ayotte, King, Rubio. Once again after catching one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, the right still complains. Maybe the loud mouth leader, Dick can get his buckets and waterboard him. What a discusting bunch.

    June 28, 2014 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  24. hdjones

    Of course the GOP doesn't want him to be Mirandized. The GOP doesn't even want *Americans* to have those rights.

    June 28, 2014 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  25. conoclast

    Once again, if there's an agenda item that Obama wants to get past knee-jerk republican intransigence all he needs do is to vigorously OPPOSE it; the 'baggers will fall all over themselves trying to be first to support it simply because it's against The Prez's wishes! It's all one big dog & pony show there at the Capitol!

    June 28, 2014 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6