US Closing Consulates While Charging Consulate Attackers as Criminals
Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
The charging of Benghazi suspects on August 6, including Ahmed Khattalah in absentia, is a win for the US Department of Justice and the Obama Administration. Or is it?
It appears a brief reward for the Department’s probe whose mission has relied on the vast resources of America’s greater intelligence community. The Administration’s goal is apparently to formalize a target of vengeance, as with Osama bin Laden, and to create an enemy fitting public outrage. The charges are most likely directed to the American people, to show that progress has been made in finding the assailants and group responsible.
Still, the DOJ injection into intelligence suspects of Libyan militia members with ties to al Qaeda is somewhat odd in timing. For one thing, the State Department is closing down embassies in the midst of al Qaeda threats. Additionally, the charges could serve as a diplomatic gesture of US-Libya cooperation, rather than unilateral US covert operations. The Department of Justice’s actions might stir a few contacts in Libya to move on behalf of the US in helping to nab the militants. But US-Libya security cooperation was a major obstacle that jeopardized a necessary American response and the lives of those in the consulate when it was under attack last year.
Does this approach mean that if such people are captured alive that they will be transferred to the US for trial? Or will they in this case be tried locally and receive Sharia punishment of death for murder? The Libyan government might show its resolve to handle this with American assistance but sometimes America does need to go it alone and bypass state sovereignty obstacles. What about the precedent of pursuing national enemies and threats like this without law enforcement procedures or diplomatic red tape or even drone strikes?
It is not out of precedent since the War on Terrorism began to charge international terrorists out of reach for law enforcement’s apprehension. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, notes correctly that “Osama bin Laden had been criminally charged long before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but was not apprehended.” His point is that this is really a meaningless nothing to release the formal charge.
Photos of three of five suspects were released by the FBI. Images were taken by security camera footage before the attack in 2012. The main culprits have been reported to come from the Ansar al-Shariah militia. The investigation is still ongoing and sealed.
“We’re doing what is necessary to protect our people,” remarked Congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman Issa added that the longer the Administration takes the more lives are at risk. Obviously, the Republicans and the Administration have been engaged in an ongoing battle of their own surrounding Benghazi and the general effectiveness of the President’s foreign policy decisions. This internal political strife promotes a greater speed of action in resolving the matter but the infighting in Washington also jeopardizes the appropriate professional response and right course of action.
The Washington debate comes just as al Qaeda threats on State Department assets are still pending amidst 20 US consulate shut downs and some evacuations, closures and travel warnings.
The threat is much worse now, a security official in Yemen stated. The US will have to renew efforts against international jihadists again. Even with all of the conflict now taking place, the jihadists still have time to target the US and this makes the US appear weak.
Closing consulates and simultaneously charging suspects of the 2012 consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya sounds contrary to effective counter-terror strategy and more of a political stage. But US embassies and consulates are high value targets for al Qaeda, as they represent the “infidel” presence in Muslim lands. Expelling non-Muslims from the greater region is a major objective. A temporary shut down and a repositioning might be a good move to reassess American efforts.
That could also mean that the US is losing ground and not sure of the ability to protect its assets from the present extremist momentum. Perhaps a better move might be to establish hundreds of vacant consulates whose sole job is perception of strength and rotate the staff and personnel with even more security. Or maybe even replace the abandoned consulates with bases.
Naturally, the cost and benefit of diplomatic presence within countries of high threat and low returns may not be worth even being there at all. But the alternative may be worse. As CENTCOM knows well, the US will have to do more with less.