The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

June 30, 2014

Benghazi case unfolds against political backdrop

WASHINGTON (AP) — The first prosecution arising from the Benghazi attacks is playing out in the federal courthouse blocks from both the White House and Capitol Hill, an appropriate setting for a case that has drawn stark lines between President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress.

The criminal proceedings could provide new insights into the 2012 attacks that killed four Americans and will serve as the latest test of the U.S. legal system's ability to handle terrorism suspects captured overseas. Unfolding during an election year, the case against alleged mastermind Ahmed Abu Khattala could also help shape the legacies of Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, and spill over into the potential 2016 presidential candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Even as the court case slogs forward, it may be challenging for the public to untangle the law from the politics, given how prominent the attacks on the diplomatic compound in the eastern Libyan city have become in U.S. political discourse.

"What's going to matter to the public more than anything else is the result, and I think it's going to only defuse some of the ongoing Benghazi conspiracy theories if the Obama administration is going to be able to successfully obtain a conviction in this case," said American University law professor Stephen Vladeck, a national security law expert.

Still, he said, the case raises the same legal issues as past terrorism prosecutions and should not by itself be viewed as a referendum on the Obama administration.

"The story of this case is not the story of the Obama administration's reaction to Benghazi," he added. "The story of this case is those who were responsible for Benghazi and those who need to be held accountable for the four deaths that resulted."

A 10-minute court appearance amid tight security Saturday was the American public's first concrete sense of Abu Khatalla, the Libyan militant accused by the U.S. government of being a ringleader of the fiery assault on Sept. 11, 2012.

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