Ibrahim Alaguri / AP

This Sept. 12, 2012 file photo shows glass, debris and overturned furniture are strewn inside a room in the gutted U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The Pentagon says a Libyan militant accused in a deadly attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, is in U.S. custody. The capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala marks the first time the U.S has apprehended one of the accused perpetrators in the 2012 attack. Khattala is a senior leader of the Benghazi branch of the terrorist group Ansar alt-Sharia.

Editorial: Arrest of suspected ringleader in Benghazi attacks shows administration hasn’t dropped this ball

Published: Wednesday, Jun. 18, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jun. 18, 2014 - 8:25 am

The capture of the suspected mastermind behind the deadly attacks against the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi two years ago should put to rest the canard from critics that the Obama administration wasn’t taking the investigation seriously.

To the contrary, before Libyan militia leader Ahmed Abu Khatallah was arrested Sunday, he was under surveillance by American forces for months, officials said. He is being held in a “secure location” before being transported to the U.S. and tried in civilian criminal court, according to the Pentagon. This is extremely good news in a story that has had nothing but bad news.

On Sept. 11, 2012, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. citizens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were killed when Islamist militants stormed the U.S. compound with rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and other heavy weapons.

Republicans used the attack as ammunition in the 2012 presidential race, saying Obama and his administration were pursuing reckless foreign policy in Libya. The administration and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were accused of not taking threats seriously enough and, absurdly, of not using the word “terrorist” quickly. Though the president quickly condemned the “attacks” in remarks the day after, he didn’t exactly label it a “terrorist attack” but obliquely mentioned that “acts of terrorism” can’t be tolerated.

Republicans focused on that statement, rather than this one the same day: “And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people,” Obama said.

We’re not naive enough to think this will quell the conservative zeal for Benghazi postmortems ad infinitum or induce tea party Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to shut down the Benghazi Committee probe he was tapped for last month. But at least there is a new controversy for the critics to chew over: whether Khatallah should be tried in civilian court or a military tribunal.

Read more articles by the Editorial Board



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