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. Dan

    This just in: Obama breathes, and Republicans hold press conferences to protest.

    June 28, 2014 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  2. Adam Smith

    Time to indict Republicans for aiding and abetting terrorists in the time of war.

    June 28, 2014 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  3. Chuck Anaheim, Ca

    Yes republicans that's what we need to do to this guy, send him to Americas Dachau.

    June 28, 2014 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  4. John In Hawaii

    Why do the Republicans have to whine about EVERYTHING?? And why are they SO AFRAID? We are America and we have a strong tradition of justice and bringing criminals to justice. I remember when they were too cowardly to try Gitmo prisoners in NY out of fear of attacks. Bunch of freaking chickens. Step aside and let the adults run America while you cower in a corner with all your gun rights. We can handle this...go to your room...

    June 28, 2014 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  5. teapot dome to teabags

    This what republicans do in republistan.

    Reading rights just gets in the way of their un-American due process

    Go back to republistan, and whine over there. backward idiots with the legal rape. just fools.

    June 28, 2014 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  6. PaPilot

    The right against self-incrimination is a basic human right, as is the presumption of innocence.

    June 28, 2014 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  7. KeithInVa

    Dear Idiots: The 5th Amendment is ALWAYS in effect. It does not go magically into effect when and only if you are "read your rights," and the act of reading a suspect his right is not for the suspect's benefit, it's to protect the interrogator and prosecution from the suspect later using ignorance of his right to remain silent as a defense by rendering any evidence gathered during from the interrogation inadmissible.

    June 28, 2014 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  8. pchelp, Juneau, AK

    " it would be a mistake for the ages to read this guy his Miranda rights," Right. Like the guy doesn't know his rights? What part of 'mastermind' denotes limited intelligence? Or maybe he's a Republican-that's almost the poster boy for limited intelligence.

    June 28, 2014 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  9. sameeker

    The administration just can't win. They capture the person responsible, and intend to put him on trial, and the repugs whine because they want to torture him first. They are more upset because this will deflate their scandalmongering over the whole incident.

    June 28, 2014 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  10. theala

    Whine, whine, whine.

    First they complained Obama wasn't doing anything to catch this guy.

    Now we've got him, and they want to water board him and make it impossible to try him in court. These guys just need to STFU.

    June 28, 2014 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  11. Doctor Cool

    The Obama Administration has NEVER, NEVER, identified Islamic Terrorism as a problem.
    They call it man made disasters or work place violence or it was cause by a video etc...anything to shift the blame away from Islam.

    Islamic Terrorism is the problem but they can't even say it. With leaders in denial like this we are doomed to Islamic Terrorism. God Help Us!

    June 28, 2014 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  12. David

    I would love to beat the crap out of Lindsay Graham, that poosie does not represent me...

    June 28, 2014 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  13. JohnInMableton

    If the lord God himself showed up in court, the rethuglicans would want him tortured before he could speak.

    June 28, 2014 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  14. Pander Bear

    The GOP Mantra: Whatever Obama does, find something wrong with it. Even if you supported it previously. See also: ACA/Romneycare, securing the release of Bowe Bergdahl, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

    June 28, 2014 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  15. airjackie

    Either the Media reporters are not very bright or their paid to play stupid. Of course the lawmakers who are War Hawks and want War with anyone. Well to caught the Benghazi leader inside information and proof. It is interesting the trade for Bowe happen and then the announcement of 9/11 master mine. Now the War Hawks are concerned about giving the attacker rights and want torture done to him. It shows why we are hated as Bush/Cheney left their barbaric policy as to why the US is no longer trusted or like by others.

    June 28, 2014 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  16. Dinaanid

    Oh, look! Republicans criticizing PRESIDENT Obama! And look! They don't even realize they have NO credibility anymore!

    June 28, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  17. Vijay

    I m with Obama administration on this.. He is doing right thing... I don't care what GOP says... GOP has a greed over Obama and his administration.

    June 28, 2014 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  18. lDh2O

    It amazes me that the Republicans have soooo little faith ain the US justice system.

    June 28, 2014 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  19. Leaveit

    How interesting that all these Hawks, who say they want to spread democracy actually just want to have a closed puppet military trial. Wonder why that is, but we have known for a long while that the GOP has no respect for the law and are more than willing if not eager to abuse power and use cruel punishment to get what they want even if it's unreliable because the detainee has been tortured. Very American.

    June 28, 2014 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  20. manhandler1

    When are these right wing nut jobs gonna realize how old and tiresome their schtick is? Please just go away, crawl back under whatever rock you all crawled out from under and sit there and rot. If Obama had possibly just turned this guy over to a military tribunal, they'd be criticizing him for not giving him a fair trail. We need to get rid of this rot in the next several years. The sooner the better.

    June 28, 2014 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  21. Jan

    Is thrre ANYTHING the Repub leadership won't attack and whine about?

    June 28, 2014 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  22. Doctor Cool

    The Flat Earth "liberals" still defend Islam as a religion of peace.

    Why is it that every time an atrocity is committed in the name of Islam we have to debate the meaning of the Koran?

    Not acknowledging the reality that Islam is a religion of insanity is insane. Anyone that defends Islam is culpable for the atrocity's that are committed in the name of Islam.

    June 28, 2014 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  23. tracker

    Does anyone really care what Republicans think anymore? If President Obama had sent him to Guantanamo Bay they would be complaining that he hasn't shut the prison down yet. Republicans are nothing more then bitter old white fools who can't get used to not being in power anymore.

    June 28, 2014 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  24. Loathstheright

    Republicans are a fascist organization who think they are the ones to decide who has equal rights. It's called blind justice, not blind hatred and ignorance.

    June 28, 2014 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  25. Jim

    Quit making so many terrorists. Seems we make 100 more terrorists for every one of them we try to kill.

    June 28, 2014 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
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