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. rs1201

    he doesn't have any rights...he's a terrorist!

    June 28, 2014 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  2. EugeneBlair

    What difference would it make? Citizens are found guilty in Federal Court 100% of the time. There are almost no exceptions. As Aaron Swartz learned....once they put you there guilt is absolutely certain. Otherwise, the prosecutors made an error...which of course is not possible. Whole thing stinks. He did not attack an embassy by himself, if at all. He probably does not understand English (i do not know). So what is the point of it all? Seems bogus and timed for politics, not justice.

    June 28, 2014 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  3. Steve

    We put him on a slow boat, to ascertain information through torture, then libs are going to be upset because we don't read him his rights immediately?

    June 28, 2014 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  4. Thomas

    Rights - Those pesky little things.

    If only people didn't have any rights, then the country would be so much easier to govern. Hey! Wait a minute! I've got it! Let's elect the Republicans again and they'll make sure those gosh-darned "rights" are eliminated one by one...except for the right to bear arms of course. Let's not get crazy here.

    June 28, 2014 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  5. TonyInNYC

    If President Obama captured a terrorist and brought him to justice, the Republicans would denounce him for it.

    June 28, 2014 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  6. The Annoyed Elephant

    He shouldn't have his rights read to him. He should be strapped to the side of a Delta rocket and sent as high into orbit as we can send him.

    June 28, 2014 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  7. Zach

    Our enemies don't need to bring the shining city on the hill to its knees, they simply need to make the city angry enough to kneel down in the muck with it.

    Be better than the people you're fighting, or you're not worth fighting for.

    June 28, 2014 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  8. Marcus (from...?)

    'Suspects like these are traditionally tried in New York and Northern Virginia, where jail facilities are connected to the court buildings.'

    Ever since WWI (a hundred years ago!), maybe more but that's the oldest case I managed to find in a quick search, NYC (and its surrounding área) have dealt with guys like this in their courts, I understand that the fact that USUALLY a place is used for such purposes doesn't means that it has to be used ALL the times there is such a situation.
    Still, do a first, in Washington DC on these days...
    Not a smart move.

    June 28, 2014 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  9. king

    just like the repubs, they will see 99 percent positive, but they will search like hell to find that one percent negative and pound on it like a lion. their whole crew will be preaching on it like religion, ignoring the 99 percent that is positive. the repubs have been doing this for the past 5 years, using their main propaganda wing, fox news to push bogus stories and ignoring the real story. the problem is the people fall for their bull crap like clock work. the rest of the world are looking at us and wondering how a backward country like us which people falls for the stupidest thing, ever lead the world in almost every thing. when will the american people open their eyes and start acting logical. this time may never come, and this means this country is in a whole lot of trouble.

    June 28, 2014 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  10. Jim Jimson

    If he is being tried in an American Court her deserves American justice including right to remain silent. You people who oppose basic human rights for our enemies are dragging us down to their level. Do you realize how hypocritical you are being?

    June 28, 2014 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  11. 2kmaro

    Being tried in DC: not by an experienced prosecution team; in a location beset with security issues; and given due process under U.S. law – why do I feel another WH led goat roping is just getting started?
    How much will taxpayers pay just in transporting him via military convoy back and forth to court, not to mention an increased risk to the general public should his fellow terrorists decide to try to rescue him?
    By the way, Hillary, if the Benghazi attack was started by a utube video, how could you know this is the leader of the attackers? Assuming he was even a part of it, how do you he was THE leader? Bin Laden was seldom at the forefront of attacks he concieved – he sent in the suicide squads to do the dirty work at the Trade Center, didn't he?

    June 28, 2014 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  12. Al

    They had plenty time to get what they needed.

    It seems the right wing doesn't trust our courts. Since 2011, our courts have convicted about 575, whereas, Gitmo has only convicted 7. One of the reasons so few Gitmo prisoners have been convicted was torture. A judge is reluctant to accept evidence obtained by illegal means.

    June 28, 2014 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  13. Larry

    GOP, listen up, we do not torture prisoners for information (at least not since you guys lost the president post). This "terrorist" will get a trial like he should and what will happen will happen (he is still likely to sing like a bird to get his sentence reduced). We are not going to lower our behavior as human beings to the level of torturers because YOU think it is ok to go there. Thank you president Obama for working hard to put us back on the correct moral path where prisoners are concerned.

    June 28, 2014 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  14. bthumble

    Why not just inject him with sodium pentothal and ask him anything we want to know?

    June 28, 2014 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  15. bthumble

    Why not just inject him with sodium pentothal and ask him all the relevant questions? In fact why not just do that with all the terrorist suspects in custody and find out which ones can safely be released?

    June 28, 2014 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  16. Hi jacks

    If they try him in civilian court, we must assume he is innocent. Maybe they got the wrong guy. It would not be the first time the wrong person his been put in the defendents chair. A man in considered innocent until proven guilty. It is a basic premise of our juducial system. There is an attorney in my town that had gotten acquittals on seven seperate murder trails. If i was a defence attorney, I would be drooling at thd mouth to get this case.

    June 28, 2014 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  17. emmarcee

    He was captured so that Hillary' s path is clear. – to show that US did something. This guy was always roaming around in broad day light not they "caught" him just like how they caught "Laden". Now this one need to be pampered in our prison and then let go off later.

    June 28, 2014 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  18. carolinagirl

    You make no mention of your own Candy Crowley helping Obama in the Presidential debate (with the lie) that Obama did call Benghazi a terror attack in the Rose Garden, on September 12th, when he was speaking generically about "No acts of terror" and was referring to 9/11/2001. And especially after Susan Rice went on numerous talk shows and attributed Benghazi to a video due to the presidential election. And even Hillary blamed the video when she lied to Sean Smith's Mother (she knew at that time it was indeed a planned terrorist attack) Also, this is the LONE guy who was going around Libya – talking to the press: Fox, CNN, etc., and mouthing off about the video. He makes a great prisoner to parade around in Washington for the democrats, doesn't he? CNN is so obviously biased in Obama's AND Hillary's favor, as is clearly demonstrated by this article. It is truly sickening.

    June 28, 2014 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  19. Larry L

    Interesting Republicans feel free to comment on the handling of POWs. It was a Republican Administration that started the whole Guantanamo fiasco. Republicans coined the term "enemy combatant" and created a new niche for prisoners – so they could be tortured and held without charges or a trial. Now, when American Soldiers are captured by the enemy and tortured, any U.S. outage seems hypocritical or even laughable. I think Republicans need to focus on creating conspiracies and distorting reality. Dealing with terrorists is for adults.

    June 28, 2014 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  20. Marc Florida

    Our laws represent the fibre of this nation. We need to respect them for all in our system of justice. To select who or who will not fall under the umbrella of our regulations have over the long run undermined ouur democracy. We have lost respect with many of our allies due to our own bending of our laws.

    June 28, 2014 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  21. It's obvious

    But to be fair, no one of a rational mindset has ever held the GOP up as the party of law and order.

    June 28, 2014 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  22. Iamnotfooled

    Republicans would do us all a favor if they would just stay out of it and let the process take place. Geez. It is getting ridiculous.

    June 28, 2014 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  23. Jason B

    I'm continually baffled by the Republican hypocrisy. We're this an American citizen that had carried out the attacks, they'd be all kinds of concerned that they'd be treated fairly. We're an American citizen arrested in another country having carried out this type of attack on that country, they'd be fuming and frothing at their mouths. Yet here they go again wanting to ramp up the ol' U.S. torture system. Oh, excuse me, "enhanced interrogation techniques".

    June 28, 2014 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  24. Mike

    It's amazing how Republicans want to add another prisoner at Gitmo and then criticize Obama later on for not closing Gitmo. This party of no is going to say the opposite till the end.

    June 28, 2014 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  25. attyfam

    Apparently, Republicans do not consider due process a universal right belonging to all the peoples of the world. Only Americans, in their warped opinion, are worthy enough to have due process. I hate to see what they would say of other people in an uncensored environment.

    June 28, 2014 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
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