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Obama keeps hands off Benghazi terrorists while lawyers build criminal case

We’ve always viewed the Benghazi scandal in terms of (1) the Obama administration’s failure to provide requested security before the attack, (2) its conduct, or lack thereof, during the attack, and (3) its cover-up after the attack (along with, as we recently learned, its retaliation against those who didn’t feel comfortable about the cover-up). But there’s always been a fourth element — the administration’s failure to bring the attackers to justice, as Obama promised to do during his reelection campaign.

Now, there’s news on that front. AP reports that the FBI has identified five men involved in the Benghazi attack, but has not yet done anything to bring them to justice.

According to AP, “the men remain at-large.” Why? Because, although the Obama administration believes it “has enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists. . .there isn’t enough proof to try them in a U.S. civilian court as the Obama administration prefers.”

The evidence includes pictures of three of the five men taken by security cameras at the U.S. facility in Benghazi during the attack. There are also intercepts of at least one of them bragging about taking part. And some of them have been in contact with al Qaeda.

This evidence may or may not be sufficient to convict the men of a crime in a U.S. court, but it provides a sufficient basis to kill them for being part of a force of terrorists that engaged in an act of war against America in which Americans were killed.

In war, if we come across the remnants of a hostile army, we don’t arrest the combatants and haul them off for a trial. We either demand their surrender or attack them without warning.

It doesn’t matter whether we can show that the hostiles personally killed anyone or even that they personally committed hostile acts. Their participation in the hostile force is enough.

Accordingly, there are two appropriate ways of dealing with those we have positively identified as being part of the group that attacked our facilities in Benghazi — kill them (my preference) or capture and hold them. We should not defer action while we try to build a criminal case.

One hopes, but doesn’t confidently believe, that the administration’s decision to take no action yet against those who participated in the Benghazi attack rests on diplomatic considerations, not a fetish about trying terrorists in U.S. courts. Perhaps, to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, he and John Kerry fear that a U.S. strike or abduction in Libya would jeopardize the Libyan government and increase the likelihood of its replacement by a more radical cohort.

Kerry’s role in briefing the press about the situation suggests that Obama is, indeed, being driven by diplomatic, rather than jurisprudential, considerations. And we know that, to his credit, Obama has been willing to take out terrorists with drones.

But Obama’s approach in Benghazi doesn’t make much sense even from a diplomatic perspective. Assume that we come up with evidence against certain terrorists that satisfies Justice Department lawyers that these individuals can be convicted in a U.S. court. What then?

We still need to apprehend the terrorists. And opponents of the Libyan government won’t be any more forgiving if it cooperates with the U.S. in seizing and removing them to the U.S. for trial. Similarly, if the U.S. acts without the government’s cooperation, the regime will lose credibility to about the same extent as it would if we went ahead and acted now.

When Obama promised that we would bring the Benghazi terrorists to justice, he didn’t condition this on the cooperation or the feelings of the Libyan government. And for good reason.

Our national security depends on responding forcefully, and I would say lethally, against those who are involved in attacks that kill Americans. That interest cannot be subordinated to the goal of appeasing leaders of failing states.

Obama was willing to pull the trigger in Pakistan, notwithstanding the adverse consequences to the Pakistani government, or U.S. relations with it, of our incursion. Pakistan is far more important in scheme of things than Libya.

Thus, if Obama continues to fiddle and diddle in Libya, the fourth prong of the Benghazi scandal may become the most shameful.

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