WASHINGTON — The arrest of a key suspect in the Sept. 11, 2012, consulate bombing simply opened new controversy in the Benghazi attack, with Republicans questioning how the administration plans to handle the Ansar al-Sharia commander.
Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the subject of criminal charges filed last July, had been essentially living in the open, making himself available for multiple media interviews since the attack that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“With this operation, the United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans,” President Obama said in a statement stressing that he’d green-lighted the Sunday special forces operation. “We will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks. We will remain vigilant against all acts of terrorism, and we will continue to prioritize the protection of our service-members and civilians overseas.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the next step should be sending Khatallah to proper facilities for processing.
“The Obama administration should immediately transfer him to the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay for detention and interrogation. In order to locate all individuals associated with the attacks that led to the deaths of four Americans, we need intelligence. That intelligence is often obtained through an interrogation process,” Rubio said.
“At times, this administration has been more interested in the politics of the war on terrorism than the execution of it, and we have not had an articulable detention policy in six years,” Rubio added. “America remains at war and a return to the failed law enforcement approach of the 1990s is not an adequate response to the very real threats we face.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he was pleased with the capture, but “I am very disappointed to hear that he will be held on the ship and not sent to Guantanamo Bay.”
“This person should be held under the law of war,” Graham said, noting his 31 years of experience as a military lawyer. “He should be considered an enemy combatant. We can hold him as long as necessary to gather intelligence and eventually try him.”
“The last thing we want is for this terror suspect to hear the statement, ‘You have the right to remain silent.’”
The chairman of the House committee that has been most dogged about investigating Benghazi said intelligence needs to be gleaned from Khatallah and divulged to the special congressional panel established to probe the attack.
“There is evidence that he is one of dozens, if not hundreds of individuals, involved in the murder of four Americans in Benghazi,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said. “The Obama administration has an obligation to share whatever information he offers with Chairman Gowdy and the Select Committee about events before and during the Benghazi attacks.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) also stressed that the arrest does not mean case closed.
“This act of terrorism was not committed by one man alone- all the perpetrators deserve to be brought to justice and we need as much intelligence as possible regarding the terrorist networks now spreading across Libya,” McKeon said. “For that reason, and to better protect the United States from future attacks, it is vital that we learn all we can from him before we read him his rights.”
“The capture of Ahmed Abu Khattalah by U.S. forces, after 644 days of brazenly roaming freely, enjoying cold drinks in public, and conducting interviews with western media, is a great first step toward bringing all the Benghazi terrorists to justice,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.). “Any day a terrorist is taken off the battlefield is a good day. We must remember Khattalah is only one of dozens of known terrorists who participated in the Benghazi attacks, and we cannot let up in our pursuit of them.”
“The most valuable thing we can get from this terrorist is information about who else was involved in it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters on the Hill. “We’ll be watching closely to see how much information they glean from him and how they’re handling it.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), though, lashed out at Republicans outside of a closed-door policy luncheon today, branding the GOP spoilsports who were trying to dump on Obama’s capture.