Benghazi terror suspect faces US justice. Good news for Obama?

Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khatallah was in federal court Saturday, charged with providing support and resources to terrorists in the deadly 2012 attack. His capture is unlikely to benefit President Obama politically.

Bill Hennessy/REUTERS
A courtroom sketch depicts Ahmed Abu Khatallah entering U.S. federal court in Washington Saturday. Khatallah, a Libyan militia leader, pleaded not guilty to a federal terrorism charge in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi.

When US Special Forces went after Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, three years ago, killing the mastermind behind the 911 terrorist attacks, it was good political news for President Obama.

He was the commander in chief, which means the ultimate decision to launch a tricky and dangerous mission to capture or kill bin Laden was his, as was some measure of credit. If it had gone wrong, the blame would have been his too – as it was in 1980 for then-president Jimmy Carter when an attempt to rescue 52 American diplomats held hostage in Iran failed in a collision of two military aircraft, killing eight servicemen.

On Saturday, the alleged leader behind the 2012 attack on the US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, was in US court in Washington. But it’s unlikely that Mr. Obama will be able to take much credit for this important event in the diplomatic and political episode known simply as “Benghazi.”

If anything, it’s a reminder of what many see as the failure to prevent an attack that killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel, then the bungled attempt to explain it. Hillary Clinton, secretary of state at the time and now the leading Democrat in 2016 presidential polling, faces continued criticism as well.

Ahmed Abu Khatallah was captured in Libya by US Special Forces and FBI agents and brought to this country aboard a US naval vessel, where he was interrogated at length by agents of the FBI, CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

As described in a US Justice Department announcement, “Khatallah was indicted by a federal grand jury on the charge of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, knowing and intending that these would be used in preparation for and in carrying out a killing in the course of an attack on a federal facility, and the offense resulted in death.”

“Now that Ahmed Abu Khatallah has arrived in the United States, he will face the full weight of our justice system,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “We will prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant’s alleged role in the attack that killed four brave Americans in Benghazi.”

The case is being investigated by the FBI New York Office's Joint Terrorism Task Force along with other government agencies. Meanwhile, US intelligence agencies are pursuing other potential suspects in the Benghazi attack, which took place on the anniversary of 911.

“This case remains one of our top priorities and we will continue to pursue all others who participated in this brazen attack on our citizens and our country,” said FBI Director James Comey.

Describing Abu Khatallah as "one of the masterminds of the attack,” Obama said the capture is “a message to the world, that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice.”

“Regardless how long it takes, we will find you," he said.

According to a CNN/ORC International poll earlier this month, 61 percent of Americans surveyed think the administration has generally been dishonest in providing information about Benghazi in the aftermath of the attack.

“That may be one reason why overall dissatisfaction with the White House has gone from 50 percent in 2012 to 60 percent now,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

Congressional Republicans have been all over what they see as a major scandal, indicative of general failure in Obama administration diplomatic and national security policy. But the GOP too must tread carefully through the politically potent Benghazi minefield.

Last month, a Fox News Poll asked respondents, “Do you think Republicans in Congress who are investigating the Benghazi terrorist attacks are mostly doing it to get to the truth about what happened or are they mostly doing it for political gain?”

Only 30 percent said congressional Republicans’ aim was to “get to the truth.” More than twice as many (63 percent) said their main goal was “political gain.”

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