After a suspected militant was captured last year to face charges for the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, he was brought to the U.S. aboard a Navy transport ship on a 13-day trip that his lawyers say could have taken 13 hours by plane.
Ahmed Abu Khattala faced days of questioning aboard the USS New York from separate teams of American interrogators, part of a two-step process designed to obtain both national security intelligence and evidence usable in a criminal prosecution.
The case, still in its early stages, is focusing attention on an interrogation strategy that the Obama administration has used in just a few recent terrorism investigations and prosecutions. Abu Khattala’s lawyers already have signaled a challenge to the process, setting the stage for a rare court clash over a tactic that has riled civil liberties groups but is seen by the government as a vital and appropriate tool in prosecuting suspected terrorists captured overseas.
“I think they view it as important to show that terrorists can be prosecuted in U.S. courts, and this is an attempt to find a compromise between using people they capture as intelligence assets and prosecuting them in U.S. courts,” said David Deitch, a former Justice Department terrorism prosecutor. “It’s a very hard balance to strike — and may not be possible.”