The latest Fox poll made headlines yesterday with its cornucopia of bad news for Barack Obama and his administration. His approval fell to 41/54, and the IRS did a lot worse than that, which Noah broke down in detail on Wednesday. The Hill noticed another data point that portends trouble for one of Obama’s pet projects — the effort to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Not only do a majority want it to stay open, but almost two-thirds of all respondents think the latest captured terrorist belongs in the military-commission system and not federal court:
More than 6 in 10 people believe the captured Benghazi attack suspect is an enemy combatant who should be tried by military commission.
According to a Fox News poll released Wednesday night, 63 percent want Ahmed Abu Khattala tried by military tribunal, and 29 percent believe he is a criminal who should be tried through the U.S. court system. Another 9 percent do not know.
Earlier this month, the U.S. military and FBI captured Abu Khattala, a “key figure” involved in the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. He is the first suspect captured by the United States since the attack nearly two years ago.
Khattala is expected to face trial in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia and is faced with three criminal charges. He is currently being transferred to the states on the USS New York.
Interestingly, the majority that wants to keep Gitmo open for these kind of military commissions is smaller, at 52%, with 36% wanting it closed. That’s down from May, when the answer to the question looked almost identical to this month’s Khattala question, 63/28 in favor of keeping it open. Other than a brief flip when Obama took office in January 2009 of 45/47, the series has maintained around a 3:2 – 2:1 ratio in favor of continued operation, with solid majorities.
Usually, that disconnect between Obama and the electorate hasn’t influenced their perception of his focus on fighting terrorism, although Fox hasn’t asked that question in years. In 2010, the last time Fox polled on that question, Obama had solid majorities that credited him with as much seriousness in fighting terrorism as George W. Bush. That’s flipped in this poll to 42/52 in this poll despite the capture of Abu Khattala. That may reflect the very long period of time it took to capture Khattala, who lived openly in Libya and granted numerous media interviews, or perhaps a reaction to the ISIS sweep in Iraq and the appearance of US impotence in the face of it.
Khattala is heading for a federal court in Washington DC instead of a military commission despite the unpopularity of that move, and he’s on his way to the US in Navy custody aboard the USS New York. The New York Times reports that questions are already being raised about the wisdom of this decision:
But the decision to bring him to the nation’s capital has raised questions about the logistics of holding a trial here and the experience of prosecutors to bring such a case.
Nearly all the high-profile terrorists tried in federal court since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have been tried in New York or Alexandria, Va., across the Potomac River from Washington. The New York courthouse is connected directly to jails where the defendants are typically held, making it far easier to transport them for court appearances.
The Washington courthouse is not connected to a jail, so every time Mr. Abu Khattala has to appear in court the government will have to move him with armed guards in armored vehicles.
The streets of Washington are often filled with the motorcades of American politicians and foreign leaders. But the daily transportation of such a suspect could create the risk of an attack or sabotage, security experts said.
“On a road there is the potential for an ambush or some sort of scheme where someone could be freed,” said Raymond W. Kelly, the former New York police commissioner, who is now president of Cushman & Wakefield’s Risk Management Services division. “Common sense is that you try and cut down that risk if at all possible.”
The Times notes that the trial of the 9/11 plotters was originally supposed to take place in New York in part because of those superior security arrangements, but got canceled due to “other reasons.” But among those “other reasons” was the security of New York City during a trial of the 9/11 plotters, as well as outrage that these unlawful combatants would gain all of the same rights and privileges of American citizens in the civil court system.
Another question about the venue has to do with the lack of experience the US Attorney’s office in Washington DC has in prosecuting terrorist charges in federal court. The administration defended that in part by noting just how much experience they have in pursuing leak cases … which is a frequent criticism of this administration by clean-government activists, and in some cases the media when reporters have been targeted in court filings.
Small wonder that Americans would prefer to leave these proceedings to the military, which is the more appropriate authority during a war on terrorist networks. Now, if Washington would quit interfering with those commissions, perhaps we could get somewhere.
Update: Fox News’ Adam Housley reports that intelligence sources are less than impressed with the Khattala capture:
According to multiple sources on the ground, including some with direct knowledge of the operations to identify and hunt the Benghazi suspects, intelligence that could have been acted upon at times has been ignored or put on hold. Further, they say, the recent capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala — now on a ship bound for the U.S., expected to arrive this weekend — was an easy one.
“He was low-hanging fruit,” one source told Fox News. “We could have picked him up months and months ago and there was no change, or urgency to do this now.”
Former Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack. Khattala was long thought to be involved, but is also considered by some to be rather low on the suspect list.
According to sources, the United States has a “target list” that initially contained about 10 suspects identified within days of the attack and eventually grew to more than 20 as American Special Forces conducted surveillance in and around Benghazi.
The four groups on the “target list” include Ansar al-Sharia, with the top target being the “Emir of Ansar al Sharia,” Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda bin Qumu. He was a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay for more than five years and at the time was classified by analysts at the prison as “a probable member of Al Qaeda.” Despite this significant threat to American security and allies, bin Qumu was released as part of an amnesty for militants in 2008. Sources told Fox News that intelligence has shown his involvement in the attacks, and actionable intelligence has for some reason been ignored.
In this same group, but at the bottom of the list, is Khattala.