Ahmed Salin Faraj Abu Khatallah faces 18 charges including murder
He was arrested in a military raid in Libya in June
His defense attorney says prosecutors have not provided many documents
A prosecutor cites a large volume of materials
A lawyer for Benghazi suspect Ahmed Salin Faraj Abu Khatallah entered a plea of not guilty Monday to all charges related to the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic complex in Libya. But the federal judge in Washington delayed the setting of a trial date as prosecutors address concerns about classified material that will be involved in the case.
The government’s attorney declined to say whether Khatallah will be the only defendant.
Khatallah was brought to District Court in a motorcade under heavy security that included a police helicopter circling overhead and U.S. marshals with M4 carbines patrolling the court perimeter. Inside the courthouse, a bomb-sniffing dog explored the courtroom before the hearing began.
Khatallah, a slender man with long gray hair and a shaggy gray beard, was led in by a team of four plainclothes security officers, three of whom stood directly behind him during the proceeding. He wore dark green overalls with “Alexandria Inmate” stenciled on the back, but he was not restrained by handcuffs or leg chains. An interpreter provided Khatallah with a narrative.
Khatallah stood for his lawyer to enter his plea of not guilty but did not speak.
During the short hearing, prosecutors said they needed more time to work with a variety of government agencies in obtaining classified materials that defense attorneys can use in the case. A defense attorney told the judge that prosecutors have been slow to produce even a bare minimum of documents that could allow her to make progress.
“We have to start getting the basis on which he’s being charged,” said defense attorney Michelle Peterson, complaining it’s been five months since Khatallah was first named.
A federal grand jury handed up an 18-count indictment October 14 that replaces a single count initially filed June 26. The indictment alleges he was the ringleader of the attack, leading 20 others to attack the diplomatic complex.
Among the charges was murder for the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three American security officers.
Khatallah remained free for more than a year after the attacks, doing interviews with CNN and other media, prompting criticism of the Obama administration over how long it was taking to arrest the alleged attackers.
He was arrested in a military raid in Libya in June and charged in federal court in Washington, D.C., mere yards away from Capitol buildings where he has become the center of political controversy.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper asked prosecutor Michael DiLorenzo to characterize the state of document production required for the defense. He responded by saying there are “thousands of thousands of pages” and hundreds of hours of video, both consisting of a mix between classified and unclassified material.
DiLorenzo said the government will request a closed hearing to discuss how to handle the classified material already in hand and anticipated from other government agencies.
Peterson told the judge it is misleading for prosecutors to list a large quantity that she has received so far, since she believes much of it is less meaningful than it could be. “They’re still redacting names that are publicly available,” she said, asserting that the defense shouldn’t have to spend its time piecing together a puzzle of who said what.
Prosecutors did not directly answer the judge’s question as to when they will be ready to propose a trial date, and the defense counsel said her team needs more time to review the additional charges recently filed.
Cooper then continued the case to Tuesday, December 9 at 10 a.m.