WASHINGTON — The U.S. military got its man and has handed him over to the Justice Department. What's next for Ahmed Abu Khattala, the Libyan militant accused of being a mastermind of the 2012 Benghazi attacks?
Where is Abu Khattala and what's happening to him?
He's aboard the USS New York, a Navy amphibious transport dock ship that is moving westward from the Mediterranean Sea in the direction of the United States, according to a U.S. official. He's expected to arrive in the United States "in the coming days," according to the National Security Council. Obama administration officials have refused to publicly discuss whether Abu Khattala is being questioned en route. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that Abu Khattala already was being interrogated.
What are the ground rules for questioning him?
In three similar past cases, the Obama administration used a team made up of FBI, CIA and Defense Department personnel known as the High Value Interrogation Group. The group is bound by the rules of the Army Field Manual, which requires that prisoners be treated humanely.
What kind of information are investigators looking to get from Abu Khattala?
They'll no doubt press for information about the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. They'll also want to know about any of his militant associates in Libya.
Has Abu Khattala been told about his Miranda rights to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination?
The Justice Department isn't saying. But there is a provision that allows for questioning suspects before they are advised of their rights when public safety may be threatened. Federal agents routinely try to glean as much immediate information as possible from a suspect in custody.
What are the ground rules for using information obtained from a suspect who hasn't been read his rights?
Information collected from the High Value Interrogation Group's actions can't typically be used against a suspect in court. If the past is any guide, Abu Khatalla will be grilled by intelligence interrogators until they think they have gotten what they can, or until they conclude he won't cooperate. Then he'll be read his rights and a separate FBI "clean team" will question him. Anything those FBI questioners learn could be used in court.
What are the charges against Abu Khattala?
So far, he faces three criminal counts: Killing a person in an attack on a federal facility and conspiring to do so; providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists that resulted in death; and discharging, brandishing, using, carrying and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence.
Who's going to handle the prosecution of Abu Khattala?
A. The office of U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. in Washington is overseeing the matter and would prosecute any criminal case. Machen's office began working on the case "almost immediately after the attack, at the earliest stages," said William Miller, a spokesman for Machen.
Where will Khattala be locked up and where would he be tried?
No plans have been announced, but there are many secure prison facilities — military and civilian — where he could be housed. The courthouse where Khattala would be tried in downtown Washington at the foot of Capitol Hill has a high-security courtroom. Meanwhile, the Libyan government denied it had prior knowledge of the U.S. capture of Abu Khattala and demanded his return.
Are there other Benghazi suspects still at large?
Yes. Holder says investigators continue to work on identifying and arresting co-conspirators.
What's the likely political fallout from this arrest?
Republicans have spent the past two years pounding the Obama administration for failing to adequately protect the four Americans who were killed in Libya, and for mishandling the aftermath of the attack. That's unlikely to stop because of one arrest in the case, especially since the attacks occurred on the watch of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who's now a potential 2016 presidential candidate.