Government won’t seek death penalty in Benghazi case

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Ahmed Abu Khatallah (Photo courtesy of CNN)

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WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said Tuesday it won’t seek the death penalty for Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the Libyan militia leader accused of helping to carry out the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic and CIA facilities in Benghazi in 2012.

Federal prosecutors made the notification in a filing with federal court in Washington, where Khatallah faces trial related to the attacks that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

He was captured in a raid by U.S. commandos in Libya in 2014 and brought to United States on a U.S. Navy ship that allowed for an FBI-led team of interrogators to question him. He has pleaded not guilty.

Khatallah’s case has been at the center of controversy, in part because some critics of the Obama administration objected to the use of the civilian justice system to handle his detention. The Benghazi attacks, and the U.S. response led by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, led to congressional hearings and since then spawned a separate political controversy over Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time in office.

In interviews with journalists following the Benghazi attacks, Khatallah denied carrying out attacks that killed Americans.

The case has taken an unusual turn in the U.S. courts because unlike the majority of terrorism defendants who agree to plea deals to avoid trial, Khatallah has insisted on pursuing a court trial. Federal prosecutors face some hurdles in the case because of the difficulty in bringing witnesses from Libya to the United States for a potential trial.

The filing Tuesday did not indicate a reason for the decision to not seek the death penalty.

“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.

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