The Benghazi Arrest Shows Obama’s Non-Gitmo, Non-Drone Method of Dealing With Senior Terrorists

The World
How It Works
June 17 2014 3:57 PM

Alleged Benghazi Mastermind Enters Obama’s Hybrid Terrorism Justice System

450774306-president-barack-obama-speaks-to-a-crowd-at-techshop
Obama discusses Abu Khattala's capture at a visit to TechShop in Pittsburgh on June 17, 2014.

Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

A White House badly in need of some good news on the international front got some today with the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, a senior leader of the militant group Ansar al-Sharia and one of the primary suspects in the 2012 Benghazi attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Abu Khattala’s capture may also show that the administration, which has been criticized for its reliance on lethal drone strikes and its failure to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, has settled on a preferred method for dealing with senior terrorist leaders.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Abu Khattala was captured near Benghazi over the weekend by the military, working with the FBI, and he is currently en route to the U.S., where it seems as if he will be charged in the civilian court system. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Advertisement

The operation is reminiscent of the raid last fall that resulted in the capture of al-Qaida operative Abu Anas al-Libi in Tripoli and the 2011 capture of the Somali terror suspect Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame. Both men were held for questioning on Navy ships before being turned over to the civilian justice system in the United States to face trial. Abu Khattala is likely be interrogated under similar circumstances right now.

The legality of snatching suspects on foreign soil and questioning them without Miranda rights is pretty dubious. But the administration seems to have settled on this as a method that combines a military approach justified by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against al-Qaida and the desire to avoid adding to Guantánamo’s ranks at a time when the White House is attempting to shut it down.

The White House’s Republican congressional critics aren’t satisfied with the approach, arguing that Abu Khattala should be sent to Gitmo as an enemy combatant, but the courts seem satisfied with the hybrid civilian/military model. Just a few weeks ago, a judge in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan ruled that al-Libi could be tried, despite the defendant’s arguments that his detention and interrogation onboard a U.S. Navy ship in the Mediterranean for seven days were illegal. Warsame pleaded guilty in New York in 2011.

This method of dealing with terrorist leaders—covert snatch-and-grab followed by secret extraterritorial interrogation followed by civilian trial—may be politically expedient for the White House, but it only really works with countries like Libya and Somalia that aren’t really in a position to object to unannounced incursions by the U.S. military on their soil.

There doesn’t appear to have been much effort to work with Libya’s fragile government in the lead-up to the raid, though it was reportedly delayed after violent uprisings in the country out of fear that it would further destabilize the situation. A member of the Libyan Congress admitted to the Washington Post that “the government’s inability to go after people like this has put us in a situation where we have to accept such raids.”

With the notable exception of the Bin Laden raid, the U.S. seems to have avoided unannounced operations like this in (relatively) more stable countries like Pakistan, relying instead on unmanned drones. Judging by last week’s events, that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Tom Hanks Has a Short Story in the New Yorker. It’s Not Good.

Brow Beat

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.