House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers is glad a Libyan militant charged in the 2012 Benghazi attacks has been captured, but says bringing him back to the United States to face trial creates a "whole new host of questions for us."
"It sends the first clear message that we will not walk away from a terrorist act on the United States," the Michigan Republican told CNN host Candy Crowley on Sunday's "State of the Union." However, he said he wonders if people such as Ahmed Abu Khattala, who pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges Saturday,
should be considered as criminal suspects or as enemy combatants.
"Think about the sheer expense, the manpower, the planning to remove him from the battlefield, put him on a U.S. ship, and steam him across the ocean to the United States to be presented to a U.S. federal judge," Rogers said. "We have to ask ourselves, are we looking at what's happening in Iraq and Syria, is this a legal matter?"
If all terror suspects are going to be considered as criminal offenders, said Rogers, "We better start building prisons by the dozens."
President Barack Obama has said he wants to refurbish a prison in the United States to keep such inmates in while keeping others out, said Rogers, noting the United States already has such a prison: Guantanamo Bay.
But now, Khattala will have the opportunity to have a "U.S. taxpayer-paid attorney for his defense," said Rogers. Khattala has also been given his Miranda rights and the opportunity to make his plea.
Rogers denied reports, quoted by Crowley, that have said Khattala gave information after he received his Miranda rights during the two weeks in the U.S. ship.
"He's been compliant but not cooperative, so I doubt that changed once he was read his rights and he understood that he has the right not to talk at all," said Rogers. "This is the struggle that we have been facing in this war on terrorism. Is it a criminal matter? Are these folks just ordinary criminals to be brought back to the United States at huge expense in this."
But while the FBI is one of the best ways to get suspects to cooperate, it takes longer to get answers than just 10 days or so, said Rogers.
"Remember he's affiliated with al-Sharia in Libya, certainly affiliated with al-Qaida," said Rogers. "These are dangerous folks. If he doesn't give us anything ... I argue we've spent a lot of money and not gained anything valuable for pushing back on terrorists around the world."
Meanwhile, Rogers said he believes in the military tribunal process, and that terrorists are military combatants.
"If we start saying they're criminals, I don't know how you fight back in a place like the Islamic state in Iraq," said Rogers.
There is also the issue of individuals who have trained in Syria and other Middle East nations to conduct actions in other countries, said Rogers.
"Remember, these are U.S. persons," said Rogers. "That's what the challenge is, or they're British citizens or German citizens or Spanish citizens. That raises a level of difficulty for U.S. intelligence services in a way we haven't seen."
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