The Cable

No Death Penalty For Alleged Benghazi Ringleader

The alleged Benghazi ringleader will not face capital punishment.


The United States will not pursue the death penalty against Ahmed Abu Khattala, the man charged in connection with the September 2012 attacks on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi.

Khattala was captured by U.S. Special Forces in Libya two years ago. Prosecutors allege he was a ringleader of the attacks on the American diplomatic compound that left Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

The decision to forgo the death penalty is likely to prove divisive politically. Republicans have tried to tie Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton to the attack. Investigations have shown Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time, was not at fault for the attacks.

That hasn’t stopped Republicans from trying to connect the two. On Tuesday, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump dropped an advertisement that shows the former New York senator laughing over footage from the attack.

In October of last year, President Barack Obama said that while he supported capital punishment in theory, he found it “deeply disturbing” in practice. The decision to abandon it in  Khattala’s case comes one year after federal prosecutors secured a death sentence on terrorism charges for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the 2013 Boston marathon bombers. In November of last year, the Justice Department decided to pursue capital punishment against Noe Aranda-Soto, an illegal immigrant accused of human trafficking and murder in Texas.

“The department is committed to ensuring that the defendant is held accountable for his alleged role in the terrorist attack on the U.S. Special Mission and annex in Benghazi that killed four Americans and seriously injured two others, and if convicted, he faces a sentence of up to life in prison,” Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce said in a statement Tuesday.

Khattala is a U.S.-designated terrorist. In October 2014, Khattala pleaded not guilty after being indicted on 18 counts, including death-eligible charges of murder of an officer or employee of the United States, murder of an internationally protected person, providing material support to terrorists resulting in death, and killing a person in an attack on a U.S. facility. A court date has not yet been set.

Photo credit: WIN MCNAMEE/Getty Images

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