Point, Obama

06.18.14

Ahmed Abu Khattala Arrest Spoils GOP’s Benghazi Party

What a disappointment! The Republicans are all set to unveil their new select committee to keep the attack in the news, and Obama has to go and bring the alleged ringleader to justice.

Oh, I do so enjoy reading the conservative websites and watching Republicans on cable on the days the Obama administration does something they can’t find fault with. The arrest of Ahmed Abu Khattala for leading the attack on the Benghazi consulate in 2011 has them turning the expected rhetorical cartwheels, their displeasure evident across their surly visages at the huge hole blown in their argument that President Obama is objectively pro-terrorist.

California Rep. Darrell Issa, the GOP’s leading rhetorical gymnast on all things Benghazi, called the arrest “long overdue,” implicitly imputing to the administration a dilatoriness that is just about the Republicans’ only line of offense. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who holds the Joe Lieberman chair in John McCain Studies in the U.S. Senate, expressed her pleasure that Khattala is “finally” in custody and huffed: “Rather than rushing to read him his Miranda rights and telling him he has the right to remain silent, I hope the administration will focus on collecting the intelligence necessary to prevent future attacks and to find other terrorists responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”

Poor folks. The House Republicans are gearing up for the unveiling of their big select committee to keep Benghazi in the news, and lo and behold, it turns out that Benghazi is going to be in the news anyway, with the (or an) alleged ringleader facing the bar of American justice. Not exactly the backdrop they had in mind. “Why hasn’t anyone been brought to justice?” has been, admittedly, the second-order question Republicans have been asking, the first-order questions relating of course to whether there was some kind of cover-up. But even so, the question was sure to feature strongly in the GOP hearings. It’s not hard to imagine that a full week might have been slated to be devoted to that question, a week of great merriment and ribaldry over at The Daily Caller and the Free Beacon that will not, alas, come to pass.

The best they can do now is echo the Ayotte line about Miranda rights. The very phrase is guaranteed to spike the blood pressure of right-wingers. But the facts are plain and worth repeating quickly, even though they’re well known: Our track record of convicting terrorists in civilian courts is far superior to the track record of military tribunals.

Up through 2011, according to the NYU Law School Center for Law and Security, the Bush and Obama administrations had commenced the prosecution of more than 300 cases in civilian courts; 204 cases were resolved, with 177 convictions, for an 87 percent conviction rate (PDF). By contrast, we convicted via military tribunal up through 2011 a grand total of seven defendants.

Did the Benghazi attack, in the larger scheme of things, happen because of a video or because there wasn’t enough consular security? Neither.

No one that I can find on deadline has been keeping those numbers quite so assiduously since then, but all we have to do is engage the old memory banks for a few moments to know that the more recent years have held to pattern. Why, it was only a month ago that federal prosecutors in Manhattan won the conviction, on all counts, of Mostafa Kemal Mostafa, the British imam who orchestrated the violent kidnappings of American, British, and Australian tourists in Yemen. It took six weeks, and Mostafa himself spent several days on the stand. But he’s headed to the hoosegow, and the jury foreman, a guy from Westchester County who works for Xerox, said there was “no doubt in my mind” that Mostafa got a fair trial.

I don’t know about you, but I rather like the idea of a guy who works for Xerox, otherwise known as a citizen of the United States, passing judgment on someone like Mostafa. That is what we do. Well, that is what we do at our best, when we’re lucky, when a bunch of war-mad demagogues don’t succeed in scaring Americans into thinking that we have to abandon our best principles to keep the country safe.

It does take some gall. Here we sit with Iraq unraveling in precisely the way some of the war’s opponents predicted. Joe Biden’s old suggestion about making three countries out of Iraq may or may not be the best solution here, but it sure doesn’t look crazy now, even though he was sneeringly pooh-poohed by the people who swore that the war would lead to a garden of multiplying democracies. And who’s the guy who said it was a “dumb war”? Oh, right, Obama. And yet he is left to try to fix the world-historic tragedy they created.

We have been led by these lizards into some of the darkest moral dead-ends in our entire history as a people. Did the Benghazi attack, in the larger scheme of things, happen because of a video or because there wasn’t enough consular security? Neither. It happened because the United States went into the Arab world and spent a decade making gratuitous violence. There was justified violence—going after al Qaeda—and then there was gratuitous violence. As we’ve seen, we can decapitate al Qaeda with drones and special-ops raids. No big war needed. But by God, we had to have that war. And when you make war, other people make it back.

If Khattala was one of those people, a civilian jury is perfectly capable of making that determination. I trust one a lot more than I trust the select committee to keep deflecting responsibility for our current low moral standing in the world from where it really belongs.