Benghazi attack suspect: Mastermind or crackpot?
The alleged mastermind of the Benghazi attack, Ahmed Abu Khattala, has been known to US authorities and the public as early as a few days after the operation. He was very generous of his time with western reporters. He didn't go into hiding. He made no secret of his hatred for America.
It's unclear just what role he played in the attack. Eyewitnesses place him at the scene "directing the swarming attackers who ultimately killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans," says the New York Times. The Times also says that Khattala claims he was motivated by a video that mocked the prophet - that is, when he isn't claiming that he had nothing to do with the attack.
"Even by the standards of Benghazi jihadists — and even among many of his friends — Mr. Abu Khattala stands out as both erratic and extremist," says the Times story.
And, as the Times points out, the attack was well underway before Khattala even became involved:
On the day of the attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy’s walls — images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world.
As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him.
In an interview a few days later, he pointedly declined to say whether an offensive online video might indeed warrant the destruction of the diplomatic mission or the killing of the ambassador. “From a religious point of view, it is hard to say whether it is good or bad,” he said.
Several witnesses to the attack later said that Mr. Abu Khattala’s presence and leadership were conspicuous from the start. He initially hung back, standing near the crowd at Venezia Road, several witnesses said. But a procession of fighters hurried to him out of the smoke and gunfire, addressed him as “sheikh,” and then gave him reports or took his orders before plunging back into the compound.
Spotting him as the central figure in the attack, a local official, Anwar el-Dos, approached Mr. Abu Khattala for help in entering the compound. The two men drove into the mission together in Mr. Abu Khattala’s pickup truck, witnesses said. As the men moved forward, the fighters parted to let them pass.
When the truck doors opened inside the walls, witnesses said, Mr. Dos dived to the ground to avoid gunfire ringing all around. But Mr. Abu Khattala strolled coolly through the chaos.
“He was just calm as could be,” a young Islamist who had joined the pillaging said, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Mr. Abu Khattala showed up on internal security cameras at about 11:30 p.m., according to American officials who have viewed the footage.
A short time later, Mr. Abu Khattala drove to the headquarters of Ansar al-Shariah, a local Benghazi militia whose members, witnesses said, also played a prominent role in the attack.
There were several dozen jihadists attacking our diplomatic compound. Khattala is said to have had about a dozen followers. Clearly, he was not a mastermind of anything and therefore, his reasons for attacking us that night in Benghazi are irrelevant. Besides, if the Times story is to be believed, in talking to reporters he sometimes denied he took part in the attack.
Khattala was minor player in the attack that night. It isn't even clear if he took part in the separate attack on our annex about a mile away from the original assault. Has there been an effort in the media to build this crackpot up as someone he is not? This appears to be the case.
Some are questioning the timing of the capture. Evidence for that is lacking at the moment, although it would be unwise to dismiss the notion entirely without examining the procedures followed to carry out the capture operation. We are not likely to find a memo ordering the capture so that political pressure from other scandals is relieved on the White House. But it is perfectly legitimate to ask of those who carried out the operation, "why now"? Khattala has been living in the open for years. What changed that allowed us to go after him at this time? Did the Libyan government change its mind about our carrying out an operation on their soil? Did an opportunity suddenly present itself that wasn't there previously?
And then there's the question of trying him in open court. At this writing, Khattala is on a ship headed for the US being questioned. Does he have a lawyer? You would think if they plan on putting him on trial that he would need an attorney present when he was being grilled. Any defense attorney will try to get any information gleaned from the shipboard interrogation thrown out for any number of reasons, including coercion. And that;'s the problem with trying him in a civilian court. The rules of evidence preclude introducing valuable intelligence that would reveal methods and operations that are highly classified.
John McCain wants to send him to Gitmo but that's not happening - not when the president has his heart set on closing the place down.
Ambasasador Stephens was murdered along with three other Americans, but Michael Tomasky gloats over what he calls spoiling "the GOP Benghazi party":
Poor folks. The House Republicans are gearing up for the unveiling of their big select committee to keep Benghazi in the news, and lo and behold, it turns out that Benghazi is going to be in the news anyway, with the (or an) alleged ringleader facing the bar of American justice. Not exactly the backdrop they had in mind. “Why hasn’t anyone been brought to justice?” has been, admittedly, the second-order question Republicans have been asking, the first-order questions relating of course to whether there was some kind of cover-up. But even so, the question was sure to feature strongly in the GOP hearings. It’s not hard to imagine that a full week might have been slated to be devoted to that question, a week of great merriment and ribaldry over at The Daily Caller and the Free Beacon that will not, alas, come to pass.
Very sad. I had no idea the Daily Beast allowed contributions from drug-addled adolescents.
The left gloats, the right questions the timing, and lost in the usual partisan food fight is the question regarding what role Mr. Khattala played in the attack. Let's hope we can get to the bottom of that and compel Khattala to give us intelligence that leads to the capture of more of the attackers.