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February 7, 2016

White House Pushes Back on Drive to Detain Benghazi Suspect at Gitmo

It’s a tale as old as time: From the moment a high-profile terrorist suspect is snagged, the partisan fight is renewed over whether terrorism suspects belong in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. It happened Tuesday, too, with Republicans — among them potential presidential candidates Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — calling for captured Benghazi attack plot suspect Abu Khatallah to be housed at Gitmo.

The White House released a lengthy statement pushing back against that argument Tuesday.

It’s not going to happen, was the gist.

Via Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokeswoman:

Abu Khatallah is currently in U.S. custody in a secure location outside the United States, and en route to the United States to face the charges against him. Some have suggested that he should go to GTMO. Let me rule that out from the start. The Administration’s policy is clear on this issue: we have not added a single person to the GTMO population since President Obama took office, and we have had substantial success delivering swift justice to terrorists through our federal court system.

Indeed, since 9/11, we have used the federal court system to convict and incarcerate hundreds of terrorists. The effective use of the criminal justice system has resulted in the debriefing, conviction and incarceration of U.S. citizens and non-citizens for acts of terrorism committed inside the United States and around the world. The system has repeatedly proven that it can successfully allow us to gather intelligence, handle the threat that we continue to face, and prosecute terrorists.

Some examples you might recall:

· In 2010, Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber, plead guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.

· In 2012, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber,” was sentenced to life in prison.

· In April 2011, the United States captured Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali national and member of al-Shabaab who had close associations with al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He pled guilty to a range of charges including material support to al-Shabaab and al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula. We acquired very valuable intelligence from Warsame.

· In October 2013, the United States captured Abu Anas al-Libi and is currently prosecuting him in the Southern District of New York in connection with his alleged role in al-Qa’ida’s conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and to conduct attacks against U.S. interests worldwide.

· In March 2014, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a former associate of Usama bin Laden who conspired to kill U.S. nationals, was convicted in the Southern District of New York.

As to whether Abu Khattalah will be debriefed for intelligence purposes, I can’t comment on the specifics, but as a general rule, we will always seek to elicit all the actionable intelligence and information we can from terrorist suspects taken into our custody.

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