WASHINGTON – The capture of a suspected ringleader in the fatal 2012 siege of U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya, reopened political debate Tuesday over how best to interrogate terrorism suspects. But the seizure appeared to resolve none of the questions that Republicans are primarily focused on about the attacks.
The Obama administration called the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala a result of a painstaking investigation and evidence of U.S. commitment to bringing those who sacked a U.S. diplomatic mission and CIA station to justice.
Abu Khattala is to be tried in federal court, the administration said.
Republicans have accused the White House of failing to secure the diplomatic compound before the September 2012 assaults that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others – and of possibly engaging in a coverup afterward.
The controversy hangs over the possible 2016 presidential bid of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who as secretary of state accepted overall responsibility for the deaths but has said she was not involved in making any of the decisions that might have prevented the assault.
On Tuesday, hawkish Republicans swiftly called for Abu Khattala to be held and interrogated at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Obviously he should be put on trial. I’d bring him to Guantanamo, said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Where else can you take him to?
U.S. officials said Abu Khattala was captured Sunday and is currently in U.S. custody in a secure location outside Libya. In past cases, such suspects have been initially held aboard U.S. military ships.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a leading critic of the administration’s handling of the Benghazi episode, praised the capture on Twitter but quickly followed up with a broadside.
Holding Khattala on a ship shows the haphazard approach which comes from not having rational detention & interrogation policies, Graham tweeted.
Naval vessels were never meant to be detention and interrogation sites, Graham added.
That prompted Tommy Vietor, a former Obama aide and current adviser to Clinton, to tweet in reply: Nor was Cuba.
The Bush administration opened Guantanamo as a holding site for terrorism detainees in 2002, choosing the Cuban island site largely because it was outside the United States and not subject to the automatic rights accorded to prisoners on U.S. soil.
The Obama administration’s policy is not to add to the prison population at Guantanamo and to try suspects in federal court if possible.
Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also criticized the administration’s plans for a federal trial.
I hope the administration will focus on collecting the intelligence necessary to prevent future attacks and to find other terrorists responsible for the Benghazi attacks, rather than rushing to accord Abu Khattala federal rights, Ayotte said.
Rubio said in a statement that the suspect should immediately be transferred to Guantanamo for detention and interrogation.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the arrest is part of an ongoing effort to find and prosecute those responsible, while Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the capture a successful counterterrorism operation.
The State Department would not discuss details of how or whether the Libyan government was informed of the operation.