Republicans cheered the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, who played a key role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, but demanded that he be held at Guantanamo Bay and questioned thoroughly.
But that won't be happening, a White House spokeswoman said late Tuesday.
President Barack Obama has decided not to send Khattala to Guantanamo, said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
"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," Hayden told The Hill
in a statement.
Before that news broke, key Republicans weighed in on how Khattala should be dealt with.
"It is obviously good news that this terrorist is now in American custody," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. "I am grateful for the work of our military, assisted by the FBI, in capturing him.
"I look forward to hearing more details regarding the raid, and I expect the administration to give our military professionals time to properly gather any useful intelligence he has," the Ohio Republican said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Khattala "needs to be interrogated, extensively" in the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
And four senators — John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas — said that Khattala should be viewed as an enemy combatant and held at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo.
"Obviously he should be put on trial," McCain told The Washington Post.
"I'd bring him to Guantanamo. Where else can you take him to?"
Graham told the Post that Khattala should not be read his Miranda rights.
"I hope we gather intelligence through the law of war interrogation," Graham said. "He should be going to Gitmo."
Rubio said in a statement that "the Obama administration should immediately transfer him to the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay for detention and interrogation.
"In order to locate all individuals associated with the attacks that led to the deaths of four Americans, we need intelligence," he said. "That intelligence is often obtained through an interrogation process."
And Cruz said in a statement that Khattala "has been openly defying the United States for more than 20 months.
"Now that he is in custody, the proper authorities should be given ample time to assess what intelligence he may have about ongoing terrorist operations against Americans.
"Khattala is a foreign terrorist, captured by our special forces overseas for his violent attack on a U.S. facility. He belongs in Guantanamo and in the military justice system, not in the U.S. civilian court system with the constitutional protections afforded U.S. citizens.
"Our top priority should be preventing future attacks and bringing to justice the other terrorists who participated in the murder of four Americans in Benghazi," Cruz said.
Khattala, the commander of the Ansar al-Sharia militant group, was captured
Sunday in Libya south of Benghazi in a joint U.S. military and law-enforcement operation. He is to be prosecuted in the United States.
Formed during the Libyan Civil War in 2011, Ansar al-Sharia rose to prominence after the killing of Moammar Gadhafi. It also consists of the February 17th Martyrs Brigade
and other Islamic terrorist groups.
"I can confirm that on Sunday, June 15, the U.S. military — in cooperation with law-enforcement personnel — captured Ahmed Abu Khatalla, a key figure in the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012," said Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby.
No civilians died in the raid, and Khattala was in U.S. custody at a "secure location outside of Libya," Kirby said in a statement.
The U.S. filed charges in federal court in Washington last year against Khattala and at least a dozen others in connection with the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Only Khattala, who is expected to be arraigned in Washington, has been apprehended.
President Barack Obama signed off on the mission Friday night, the Post reported, and he confirmed on Tuesday that Khattala was heading to America to face charges.
"He is now being transported back to the United States," the president said.
"I say that, first of all, because we continue to think about and pray for the families of those who were killed during that terrible attack," Obama said at an event in Pennsylvania.
"But more importantly, for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice," he said.
Khattala was long thought to be one of the leaders of the deadly attack, and he had openly granted media interviews since the assaults, but until now had evaded capture.
Republicans soundly praised Khattala's capture, but said it was also important the Obama administration work with Congress on providing specifics about the circumstances leading to his arrest and detention.
Last month, Boehner established a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks, which is chaired by South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy.
Gowdy, a former prosecutor, has since charged that he has evidence of a "systematic, intentional" effort
by the Obama administration to withhold documents from Congress about the Benghazi attacks.
"The American people and the families of the victims deserve answers on this attack," New York Rep. Peter King, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement to the Post.
"As with all detained al-Qaida-affiliated extremists, I hope Khattala will be treated as an enemy combatant and interrogated to the fullest extent possible.
"Obtaining information and intelligence from this terrorist must be our first priority," King said.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa called Khatalla's arrest "long overdue."
"Our military deserves credit for conducting a successful operation," the California Republican said in a statement. "There is evidence that he is one of dozens, if not hundreds of individuals, involved in the murder of four Americans in Benghazi.
"The Obama administration has an obligation to share whatever information he offers with Chairman Gowdy and the select committee about events before and during the Benghazi attacks."
Many GOP legislators said the president was wrong if he decided against holding Khattala at Guantanamo. None expressed support for torturing him.
"Once again, the president has made the wrong decision on how our nation should be handling terrorists that are a threat to Americans and our national security," Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe said in a statement. "Instead of holding Khattala at Guantanamo Bay, where he can be properly interrogated for intelligence, it appears Khattala will be transferred to civilian custody at which time he will receive the same constitutional due process rights as any American citizen.
"The president is more focused on his legacy of closing Guantanamo Bay than preventing future terrorist attacks like what happened in Benghazi that took the lives of four American heroes."
Graham further charged on Twitter:
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