Does the capture of Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a key suspect in the deadly 2012 Benghazi attacks, alter the political polarity of the episode?
If so, the change wasn’t immediately apparent.
While Republicans said Tuesday they welcomed the news, they also made clear that their suspicions toward President Obama on all things Benghazi were far from assuaged.
Indeed, what appeared to happen was that Khatallah’s apprehension added to — rather than subtracted from — the GOP points of contention with the Obama administration.
Khatallah’s capture rekindled a dispute over the handling of terrorist suspects that goes back to the start of the administration, when Obama wanted to put Guantanamo detainees through the criminal justice system and close Gitmo. The issue: Should such suspects be kept in U.S. military custody as Republicans (and some Democrats) preferred or tried in the U.S. criminal justice system, Obama’s preference?
In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner put Obama on notice that Republicans want Khatallah to be squeezed for all the intelligence value he can provide the U.S military before the administration moves the suspect to law enforcement.
“It is obviously good news that this terrorist is now in American custody, and I am grateful for the work of our military — assisted by the FBI — in capturing him,” Boehner said in a statement. “I look forward to hearing more details regarding the raid, and I expect the administration to give our military professionals time to properly gather any useful intelligence he has.” The implication was that the administration might be in a headlong rush to get Khatallah into the criminal justice system.
Boehner was tame, however, compared with some other Republicans. For instance, Allan West, the former Republican congressman from Florida, accused Obama of using the capture as a distraction:
“Hat tip to our U.S. Special Operators but this smells of typical politics and especially the politics of expediency and Orwellian message control. We know the liberal progressive media depends upon an easily distracted populace. By the end of the week, this Abu Khatallah will be forgotten, but what will not be forgotten is the neatness of this and the timing of the announcement. So I guess Obama and Clinton can now tout that the perpetrators have been brought to justice — what took so long? — if indeed this pans out.”
As did other Republicans, West questioned why Khatallah was captured only this weekend when he was out and about and doing interviews with Western media for some time after the attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Democrats had no such issues with the timing. “The success of this operation is a tribute to the incredible dedication of our military, law enforcement and intelligence personnel,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the top House Democrat. “I commend President Obama for his resolute leadership in tracking down the perpetrators of the Benghazi attacks.
So, in the end, Khatallah’s capture seemed little more than than one more talking point as the House slogs its way to the still-unscheduled Benghazi hearings.