Via the Right Sphere. Am I reading this correctly? President Dronestrike, who’s been known to liquidate people from the air in places like Pakistan with no more evidence than that their movements show the “signature” of a terrorist, now won’t go in and grab five jihadis whom the feds have reason to believe murdered a U.S. ambassador?
U.S. officials say they have identified five men they believe might be behind the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year. The officials say they have enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists — but not enough proof to try them in a U.S. civilian court as the Obama administration prefers.
So the officials say the men remain at large while the FBI gathers more evidence. The decision not to seize the men militarily underscores the White House’s aim to move away from hunting terrorists as enemy combatants and toward trying them as criminals in a civilian justice system.
First things first: How much do you suppose the AP enjoyed kneeing Obama in the groin by publishing this after finding out that the DOJ was peeking at their phone records? Imagine the subpoenas being prepared at this very moment to find out who leaked them this scoop on Benghazi.
Not for a minute do I believe that O really wants these guys tried in federal court. His whole counterterror M.O. has been to kill suspected jihadis on sight precisely so that he doesn’t have to deal with the headache of housing and trying them. If he sends in the SEALs to grab the five and they succeed, suddenly Gitmo and military tribunals are back front and center and the headache starts anew. More than that, he risks a second Benghazi-related humiliation if any of them go to federal court and are acquitted. There’s no reason to take that risk when he can check the “rule of law”/civilian trial box for his base by prosecuting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Massachusetts. Also, giving the Benghazi five a soapbox by trying them in federal court hands their lawyers an opportunity to conduct discovery and try to turn the trial into a referendum on the feds’ handling of security in Benghazi, which would only feed the embarrassment Obama and the State Department have already suffered for last September’s lapse. According to polling, the American public is just fine with drone strikes on suspected terrorists abroad, and no doubt would be especially understanding of strikes aimed at people suspected of killing a U.S. ambassador. The fact that O’s allegedly willing to ignore all that and demand criminal procedures suggests something else is up.
Theory: The Libyan government is resisting U.S. officials’ requests to either authorize a drone strike or let special forces hit the ground to round these people up. Acquiescing in a heavy-handed American military action against the locals could be dangerous for a weak regime that’s surrounded (sometimes literally) by jihadists and various militias. If O ignores their warnings and attacks the Benghazi five anyway, and the government there is consequently destabilized, he’ll take all kinds of heat for that. If he holds off at their request and blames them for obstructing him via leaks to the media, he’ll take all kinds of heat for not insisting upon justice for the murderers of an American diplomat. So, possibly, he’s chosen the middle course — hold off on attacking but claim it’s because he’s building a criminal case, which at least promises future action. Or maybe I’m overthinking this and The One really has gone cuckoo for federal trials. We’ll know the next time he drops a bomb on someone in Yemen, won’t we?
Exit question: The timing of his big Gitmo/drone speech on Thursday just got a lot more interesting, didn’t it?
So DOJ is building criminal cases against both James Rosen and the Benghazi terrorists. Great.
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) May 21, 2013
Update: The AP has now expanded its original article to add detail. A key bit:
The U.S. has decided that the evidence it has now would be enough for a military operation to seize the men for questioning, but not enough for a civilian arrest or a drone strike against them, the officials said. The U.S. has kept them under surveillance, mostly by electronic means. There was a worry that the men could get spooked and hide, but so far, not even the FBI’s release of surveillance video stills has done that.
Enough to put troops in harm’s way but not enough for a drone strike?