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Judge refuses to send Benghazi suspect back to Libya

A federal judge has denied a request by an accused ringleader of the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, to return to his home country and avoid a possible death penalty sentence in the U.S.

In a 20-page opinion issued late on Tuesday evening, Judge Christopher Cooper said that his questionable treatment after being apprehended by U.S. officials in 2014 did not disqualify him from being tried in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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“[T]he power of a court to try a person for a crime is not dependent on whether he was initially brought within the court’s jurisdiction by lawful means,” Cooper wrote.

Ahmed Abu Khattala has been accused of helping to lead the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The violence has turned into a political firestorm, and was depicted in the Hollywood blockbuster “13 Hours” earlier this year.

He pleaded not guilty to more than a dozen charges of murder, conspiracy and support for terrorism in October of 2014. 

Last summer, Abu Khattala’s lawyers asked the court to return him to Libya, claiming that the Obama administration violated the Constitution by holding him for 13 days onboard a U.S. Navy ship before he came to the U.S. Abu Khattala has claimed that he was interrogated for six days without being read his Miranda rights, and that the government ignored his request for a lawyer.

“None of these claims, however, is properly before the court at this stage of the proceedings,” Cooper wrote.

The time for Abu Khattala’s lawyers to raise their concerns, the judge claimed, was when government lawyers present evidence.

The Libyan militant faces the death penalty, and had also requested that the court take that penalty off the table, since the Libyan government would likely not have subjected him to that punishment.

Cooper called that request “unprecedented,” and claimed that he would have “absolutely no way of determining” what might have happened had Abu Khattala not been brought to the U.S.

Furthermore, Cooper wrote, the decision about what penalty to seek lies with federal prosecutors — not the court.

“The court may not intrude on this exercise of prosecutorial discretion any more than it could order the government to seek a prison sentence of no more than five, ten, or twenty years when the charged statute allows for a life sentence,” Cooper wrote.