U.S. special forces have captured a key suspect in the 2012 Benghazi attacks, and he is now being held (or is about to be held) on a U.S. Navy warship in the Gulf region for interrogation and then, no doubt, to a U.S. federal court for prosecution.
This is obviously good news, as Ahmed Abu Khattala and any others involved in the vicious attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others must be brought to justice after a thorough lawful interrogation.
His capture and federal trial is reminiscent of the way the Obama administration has dealt with two other high-value terrorist detainees in recent years.
Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame
In April 2011, Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame was captured in the Gulf region, held aboard the USS Boxer (LHD-4) for two months and interrogated, and eventually indicted in federal district court.
House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon was none too pleased with the administration’s bringing Warsame to federal court, as he said the move “contradicts congressional intent and the will of the American people.” Several members of Congress wrote Obama expressing concern about the lack of a “comprehensive detention system” and asked him to explain why sending Warsame to Guantanamo Bay was “off the table.”
The New York Times, on the other hand, said holding Warsame on board a U.S. Navy ship for intelligence exploitation was “extralegal” and they didn’t like it.
Ultimately, Warsame pleaded guilty, faces a maximum life sentence, and agreed to cooperate in other al Shabaab-related cases.
Sulaiman Abu Ghaith
In 2013, the United States captured the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, in Jordan. Ghaith had conspired to kill Americans and was an al-Qaeda spokesman to boot. Unlike Warsame, Ghaith was not detained for months aboard a U.S. Navy ship for intelligence exploitation, but instead was brought immediately to federal district court in New York City. Republican senators called for Ghaith to be taken to Guantanamo Bay.
As one law of war expert opined, Ghaith probably couldn’t have been taken to a military commission at Guantanamo as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and others called for because conspiracy and material support for terrorism charges are not even available in a military commission.
Ahmed Abu Khattala
Khattala’s capture and trial in federal court will, once again, renew the debate about the best way to handle terror suspects going forward.
Some will claim that this is an ineffective, law enforcement-only approach, which is incorrect on both fronts. Others will claim this is the only way going forward, which is also incorrect as law of war detention, without trial, is an option for those terrorists who fall squarely under the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
In the war against terrorists, the United States must use all lawful tools in our legal arsenal to incapacitate and ultimately defeat the enemy.