Over the weekend, U.S. special forces captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, who is alleged to be a ringleader of the September 11, 2012 attack on the State Department’s Benghazi complex. Khattala was seized near Benghazi and will be returned to the U.S. to stand trial.
The Washington Post describes Khattala’s apprehension as “a major victory for the Obama administration.” Well, maybe. But is is hard to understand why, after more than a year and a half, a single participant in the attack has finally been caught. It is not as though Khattala was hard to find:
[I]t didn’t take long for Abu Khattala to surface, thus demonstrating that unnamed “officials” quoted in articles may not always have the clearest idea of what’s happening on the ground. And over the past 24 hours, he’s denied any role in the attack during lengthy interviews with reporters out in the open.
“These reports say that no one knows where I am and that I am hiding,” Abu Khattala told Reuters on Thursday. “But here I am in the open, sitting in a hotel with you. I’m even going to pick up my sister’s kids from school soon.”
Reuters spoke Thursday with Abu Khattala in the restaurant of a Benghazi hotel and described the 41-year-old as “sporting a red felt hat and a full salt-and-pepper beard, laughed gently.” Abu Khattala acknowledged being at the scene of the consulate attack, but said he was directing traffic rather than leading an assault.
And on Thursday evening, Abu Khattala spent “two leisurely hours” at a crowded luxury hotel with a Times reporter.
Still, better late than never. The cynical might wonder, why Khattala, and why now? This might provide a partial answer: “In that interview, Abu Khattala claimed the attack stemmed from a peaceful protest over an anti-Islam video on YouTube, echoing the Obama administration’s initial explanation.”
I still don’t understand why a terrorist who led a military attack on an American facility overseas should be brought back to the U.S. and prosecuted under a criminal statute. It would make more sense to process him through a military tribunal and then (assuming his participation in the attack is confirmed) shoot him. The criminal prosecution route suggests that the Obama administration has no intention of punishing any more of the hundreds of terrorists who participated in the Benghazi attack, but rather will let Khattala stand in, symbolically, for the whole. But no doubt we should be grateful for even this small measure of retribution.