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Defense in Benghazi Attack Seeks to Have Case Dismissed

The only person to be charged with the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi asked a federal judge on Monday to throw the case out, claiming that the way he was snatched from Libya was illegal and unconstitutional.

Ahmed Abu Khatallah faces charges of murder and providing support to terrorists. Prosecutors say he played in a role in the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

Khatallah was snatched from a seaside villa near Benghazi a year ago in a daring raid by U.S. special forces and FBI agents. Speeding away in a boat, they took him to a waiting U.S. Navy ship in the Mediterranean.

He appeared before a federal judge in Washington in June 2014 and pleaded not guilty.

In court documents filed Monday, his lawyers said the operation to bring him to the US violated international law and the sovereignty of Libya. They also challenged his 13 days of detention on the Navy ship, during which they say he repeatedly asked for and was denied a lawyer, even after an interrogation began by the FBI.

Khatallah was first interrogated aboard the USS New York by an intelligence-gathering team. He was then turned over to an FBI team on the ship, given a Miranda warning, informing of his right to remain silent and such, then questioned again.

"To allow the government to proceed with this prosecution with impunity would legitimize the well-planned lawlessness with which it pursued the arrest, abduction, and interrogation of Mr. Abu Khatallah," argued his public defender, A.J. Kramer.

Defense lawyers also claim that the military was wrongly used to enforce civilian criminal law, in violation of a federal law called the Posse Comitatus Act. "The military did not merely provide equipment to assist," Kramer said, "but rather conducted the operation, invading Libya to arrest him."

The government's conduct should be punished, Kramer said, adding that the way to deter such action in the future is to drop the case and send Khatallah back to Libya.

Prosecutors have not yet responded. No trial date has yet been set.

Image:
Ahmed Abu Khatallah arraigned before US Dist. judge Christopher R Cooper. Defense attny. Michelle Peterson at lectern. Art Lien / Art Lien