Some Republican lawmakers want President Barack Obama to send Ahmed Abu Khattala, the first suspect arrested in connection with the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
At least four high-profile Republican senators indicated they thought Obama should ship Abu Khattala to Guantanamo Bay, arguing it would provide the U.S. more opportunity to gather intelligence from him than if the Obama administration were to put him through normal trial procedures. But Attorney General Eric Holder already said Abu Khattala would be tried in civilian court.
“Now that he is in custody, the proper authorities should be given ample time to assess what intelligence he may have about ongoing terrorist operations against Americans,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “Khatallah is a foreign terrorist, captured by our special forces overseas for his violent attack on a U.S. facility. He belongs in Guantanamo and in the military justice system, not in the U.S. civilian court system with the constitutional protections afforded U.S. citizens.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) — who, along with Cruz, is frequently mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate — agreed.
“The Obama administration should immediately transfer him to the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay for detention and interrogation,” Rubio said in a statement. “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.”
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Arizona), two of the Obama administration’s biggest foreign policy critics, also expressed their belief Abu Khattala should have been brought to Guantanamo after his capture. Graham specifically criticised the decision to hold Abu Khattala on a U.S. ship on Twitter:
Despite Republican gripes, Attorney General Eric Holder already said Tuesday the U.S. would try Abu Khattala in American courts.
The U.S. has already filed a criminal complaint charging him on three counts — killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility involving the use of a firearm; providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists resulting in death; and discharging, brandishing, using, carrying and possessing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. Holder said the Justice Department retains the option of adding more charges in the coming days.
High-profile Democrats scoffed at the idea of sending Abu Khattala to Guantanamo Bay. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, took a shot at Republicans, saying he was “not afraid for Khattala to face justice in an American court.”
“We ALL should be proud of America’s courts — best in the world and the envy of the world — where scores of terrorists have been convicted,” Leahy said in a statement.
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