Alleged Benghazi mastermind pleads not guilty in D.C. court
WASHINGTON — The Libyan militant accused of masterminding the deadly Benghazi attacks that have become a flashpoint in U.S. politics appeared briefly for the first time in an American courtroom, pleading not guilty Saturday to a terrorism-related charge nearly two weeks after he was captured by special forces. In a 10-minute hearing held amid tight security, Ahmed Abu Khattala spoke just two words, both in Arabic. He replied “yes” when asked to swear to tell the truth and “no” when asked if he was having trouble understanding the proceeding. Abu Khattala became the most recent foreign terror suspect to be prosecuted in American courts, a forum the Obama administration contends is both fairer and more efficient than the military tribunal process used at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The case was being tried in Washington despite concerns from Republicans in Congress who say he should not be entitled to the protections of the U.S. legal system. A grand jury indictment handed up under seal Thursday and made public Saturday said Abu Khattala participated in a conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2012, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. That crime is punishable by up to life in prison. The government said it soon would file more charges against Abu Khattala. During his initial court appearance, the defendant listened via headphones to a translation of the proceedings. He wore a two-piece black track suit, had a beard and long curly hair, both mostly gray, and kept his hands, which were not handcuffed, behind his back. He looked impassively at U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola for most of the hearing. Abu Khattala’s court-appointed lawyer, Michele Peterson, entered the not guilty plea. Facciola ordered the defendant’s continued detention, but the judge did not say where Abu Khattala would be held. U.S. special forces captured Abu Khattala in Libya two weeks ago, marking the first breakthrough in the investigation.
This artist’s rendering shows Judge John Facciola on Saturday swearing in the defendant, Ahmed Abu Khattala, as his attorney Michelle Peterson looks on.