WASHINGTON -- The debate over whether to send one of the prime suspects in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi to Guantanamo Bay following his capture this weekend seems to have ended as soon as it started.
Obama administration officials quickly ruled out the idea that Ahmed Abu Khattala would be brought to the detention site in Cuba for an undefined period of interrogation.
“Some have suggested that he should go to GTMO,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. “Let me rule that out from the start.”
“Not a chance,” a U.S. official told The Huffington Post.
But even if the administration has ruled out the possibility of Guantanamo Bay, those who support the idea are pushing it and keen to make a political issue of it. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called a stint at Guantanamo the most logical option available for Abu Khattala. So too did Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
"Khatallah is a foreign terrorist, captured by our special forces overseas for his violent attack on a U.S. facility," Cruz said in a statement. "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."
The argument has baffled some in the legal world, who note that federal courts have had far greater success rates in trying terrorist suspects than military tribunals have had. Among those confused are the chief prosecutor at the military commissions in Guantanamo between September 2005 and October 2007.
Col. Morris Davis, a U.S. Air Force officer and lawyer, told The Huffington Post that “other than to score a superficial political point,” he did not see any advantage to taking Abu Khattala to Guantanamo.
In an email, he highlighted three problem areas for those who argue otherwise.
“Our enemies and allies alike have condemned Guantanamo, so for Obama to add to the population for the first time now after he's been working to close it is going to draw more ire where it's not needed,” said Davis. “As a matter of domestic and foreign policy, sending Khattalah to Guantanamo would undermine what Obama's been working to do the past 5 years to close the place down. Unless there's some compelling reason that would make it worth the cost, it doesn't make sense.”
“There is nothing unique about Guantanamo that makes it a more advantageous place to interrogate suspects than other places,” said Davis. “It was selected initially because it was thought to be the perfect place to exploit people for intelligence because it was outside the reach of any laws, but the courts have since proven that assumption to be wrong. So what can be done at Guantanamo that could not be done elsewhere? Nothing that I am aware of.”
“I know some argue that since he's already under indictment he must be immediately advised of his rights and provided an attorney,” Davis added, “but I don't have a problem with delaying that for a reasonable period of time provided no information he provides in that phase is used in his criminal trial. “
“I know you are well aware of the success we've had with similar cases in federal courts and the lackluster record the military commissions have had at Guantanamo,” said Davis. “There is just no good argument for prosecuting the case at Guantanamo.
“So, if you assess the pluses and minuses, there are few (if any) pluses and a bunch of minuses for the Guantanamo option.”
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