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. attyfam

    Apparently, Republicans, then, do not believe that due process is a universal right belonging to all peoples of the world. To them, only Americans are worthy of possessing such a right. I would hate to hear their opinions of other people in an uncensored environment.

    June 28, 2014 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  2. JohnNFlorida

    Whine and wah. Gitmo achieves nothing over the years. The guys that pushed the illegal war in Iraq shouldn't have ANY attention paid to their rants and whines.

    June 28, 2014 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  3. Tem in SD

    “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.

    Right. Because having ethics is only for the easy challenges.

    June 28, 2014 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  4. corpsman

    Why do republicans have so little faith in our justice system, our democracy and our nation?

    June 28, 2014 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  5. Jon Samuel

    I'll bet they haven't even water-boarded him yet.

    June 28, 2014 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  6. T Roe

    I'm so sick and tired of these war mongering GOP losers I say hang all of them in effigy for their crimes vs America and its progress.

    June 28, 2014 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  7. vinny

    As you can guess the idea behind NOT saying his Miranda rights is so they can play Gotcha with the Democratic President handling of the crisis. Lawyer will call a mistrial because he was not Mirandized and send him back in the Wild. Ha Ha Ha Ha

    June 28, 2014 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
  8. Donny

    GOP=fake outrage YAWN

    June 28, 2014 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  9. readerpan

    Lindsey Graham knows all about "mistakes for the ages" since he was one of the cheerleaders for the Iraq invasion.

    June 28, 2014 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  10. Anton

    Lets send all of the Rethuglican's to an Island.

    Where they can view climate change personally then they will believe it.

    Oh and don't read them their rights.

    They shouldn't have any.

    June 28, 2014 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  11. Paul

    “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.

    Our protection of the rights of those charged with crimes, and the way we follow the rule of law is one of the great things about our country. It is sad that these conservatives would undermine that.

    June 28, 2014 11:49 pm at 11:49 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    Seriously – we've nabbed the guy behind the Benghazi attack, and the Republicans are upset. Really?

    June 28, 2014 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  13. guitarken

    Were there ever hearings surrounding the deaths of embassy personnel which occurred during the Bush Administration? No. Has President Obama been prevented from closing Guantanamo by the Republicon House? Yes. Will Republicons criticize any and all actions of this administration, while at the same time, criticizing them for NOT taking those actions? Clearly. Will Republicons EVER support ANYTHING our president does, at any time? Never.

    June 29, 2014 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  14. stevetall

    Seems about right. The Republicans have no understanding or respect for the laws of America. Innocent until proven guilty, pinheads.

    June 29, 2014 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  15. wirius

    Never be on the other side of extremist Republicans. They'll go to war with you, deny your rights, impeach you, anything to utterly destroy you. If they could erase Democracy and impose dictatorships, they would be all for it.

    June 29, 2014 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  16. smeyer418

    just declare everyone enemy unlawful combatants and execute them....work with well president Bush and Cuba..exactly how many have been convicted and executed there.....none and none likely too.

    June 29, 2014 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  17. plain & simple

    Republicans = the party of misery. They want everyone to join them. Who would want to!!

    June 29, 2014 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  18. gstlab3

    So now we once again allow lawyers and other government types make tons of money off the tax payers for this show trial?
    where's the tax payer going to get even more money as gas prices rise?
    I say if this is really a war we are fighting and not a huge depopulation scheme the only "Justice" that should be handed out should be on the battle fields with bullets and mortar rounds delivered by our best Marines.

    June 29, 2014 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  19. gstlab3

    I see a bunch of lawyers getting rich off of tax payers.

    June 29, 2014 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  20. Alexander

    One of the promises of this administration was to shut G-Bay DOWN. Not send more suspected terrorists there to be tried in a secret tribunal. This trial should be open to the public. It should be open to the world. Of course the Republicans disagree. If Obama said the sky was blue they would also disagree. Stop the partisan politics. Transparency is exactly what we need right now.

    June 29, 2014 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  21. Jack Manning

    There is no other word for it. Republicans oppose putting people on trial before sentencing, because they are fascists and their goal is to turn the US into a fascist country.

    June 29, 2014 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  22. Jack Manning

    Republican's want to turn this into a f.ascist country.
    Sorry if that statement is so offensive that it requires censorship.

    June 29, 2014 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  23. Anonymous

    What the hell is the matter with those people ! A person is innocent until proven guilty !! Just hang him is the old south mantra and now it's the Republican idiots !!!!!

    June 29, 2014 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  24. bussja

    I bet if this guy was an american Obama would have just assigned a drone to his hotel room.

    June 29, 2014 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  25. Abe

    What the hell is the matter with those people !? Reading the accused his rights is not only NOT A BAD thing, it's the American thing !! We're not living in the old south you know !!!!

    June 29, 2014 01:49 am at 1:49 am |
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