Benghazi terror suspect will be brought to the U.S. by Navy ship 

Posted at 6:36 AM, Jun 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-18 06:57:02-04

(CNN) – The capture of Ahmed Abu Khatallah could be compared to a large group of trappers quietly snaring rare and dangerous prey.

For days, Army Delta Force commandos, the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies lay in wait for one of the alleged masterminds behind the deadly September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Ahmed Abu Khatallah

Ahmed Abu Khatallah

Then on Tuesday, they lured Abu Khatallah to a point south of the eastern city and nabbed him. U.S. officials said he did not put up a fight. Not a shot was fired.

But Abu Khatallah had a reputation for hiding out in the open, relaxed and self-assured.

In an interview to CNN’s Arwa Damon last year, he said he was ready to talk to U.S. investigators but “not as an interrogation.”

He will now have that conversation; just not on his own terms.

Where he is now

Abu Khatallah is now on a slow boat to the United States — a U.S. Navy ship in the Mediterranean, where he is facing interrogators.

They’re taking him by sea, rather than by air, in order to give investigators “maximum time to question him,” U.S. officials said.

Such interviews typically are done by the FBI-led High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG, that includes agents from multiple law and intelligence agencies.

Where he is headed

When he arrives, Abu Khatallah is very likely headed to a federal trial.

That’s what the Obama administration wants, a position at odds with some of the President’s Republican critics.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina wants to postpone criminal prosecution to give interrogation more time.

“We should have some quality time with this guy. Weeks and months,” he said. “Don’t torture him, but have some quality time with him.”

Arizona Sen. John McCain wants to see Abu Khatallah in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“Where else can you take him to?” McCain said

Gitmo may be out of the question. It’s a prison the Obama administration has been trying to shutter. And no detainees have been added there since the President took office, said national security spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

Where he will be tried

The administration boasts that past prosecution of terrorism suspects in civilian courts have had a nearly 100% conviction rate.

Aspiring Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad; the so-called underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri; and al Qaeda propagandist Sulaiman Abu Ghaith were all convicted and sentenced in U.S. courts.

Hundreds more were as well, according to Washington lawmakers on armed services committees.

Many of them are locked away at the “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado.

By contrast, there have been a mere handful of Guantanamo convictions.

The prosecution of confessed mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has hit one snag after the next and is still in the pre-trial phase.

What his defense is

Abu Khatallah says he was directing traffic in Benghazi when fighters attacked the U.S. consulate mortars and rockets that night.

The building burned. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and IT expert Sean Smith died of smoke inhalation. More than 30 Americans were evacuated.

Early the next morning, attackers assaulted a second U.S. facility, killing two former U.S. Navy SEALs working there as security contractors — Tyronne Woods and Glen Doherty.

Abu Khatallah was at the U.S. consulate during the first attack. But he chalks that up to happenstance.

“I didn’t know where the place was,” he said. “When I heard, we went to examine the situation. When we withdrew and there was shooting with medium guns, and there were RPG’s in the air and people panicked, we tried to control traffic.”

But a New York Times investigation describes his role as less than nonchalant, reporting that Abu Khatallah helped lead the onslaught.

U.S. investigators have collected evidence, and the accused will be tried on three charges in federal court that include killing while attacking a federal facility, and conspiracy and material support of terrorism.

“We retain the option of adding additional charges in the coming days,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.

What the political ramifications are

The word Benghazi has had the ring of Washington partisan politics from day one — literally.

With the 2012 presidential election just two months away, Republican candidate issued a statement criticizing Obama just hours after the attack.

With the prospect of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton running for the White House in 2016, Benghazi remains a sore spot that opponents have continuously prodded.

Last year, House Republican leaders released a 46-page report on Benghazi, in which they accused Clinton of slashing security at the U.S. compound there.

They also accused the Obama administration of a politically inspired cover-up when former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, now Obama’s national security adviser blamed the unrest on spontaneous protests against an anti-Muslim video made in America.

On Tuesday, Clinton told CNN in a televised interview that she’s “very pleased” that special forces captured Abu Khatallah.

But she was met with a new potential critic, the mother of one of the men who died in the attack.

Pat Smith delivered a message to Clinton through CNN demanding answers about security concerns at the Benghazi consulate that preceded the attack.

Clinton said that she is still looking for those answers herself.