Attack on U.S. mission in Libya presents legal, policy dilemma for Obama administration

The Washington Post reports: The Obama administration is confronting a legal and policy dilemma that could reshape how it pursues terrorism suspects around the world as investigators try to determine who was responsible for the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

Should it rely on the FBI, treating the assaults on the two U.S. compounds like a regular crime for prosecution in U.S. courts? Can it depend on the dysfunctional Libyan government to take action? Or should it embrace a military option by ordering a drone strike — or sending more prisoners to Guantanamo Bay?

President Obama has vowed to “bring to justice” the killers of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. But nearly one month later, the White House has not spelled out how it plans to do so, even if it is able to identify and capture any suspects.

Each of the options is fraught with practical obstacles and political baggage. An unproductive, slow-moving investigation is complicating matters, with the FBI taking three weeks to reach the unsecured crime scene. Meanwhile, the administration has given contradictory assessments, initially suggesting the attack was committed in the heat of the moment by a mob and more recently saying it was planned by terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda.

On Tuesday, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, is scheduled to visit Tripoli to meet with senior Libyan officials and give a high-level kick to the investigation.

The White House is not ruling out any option, an administration official said. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the evolving policy, said the involvement of the FBI at this stage should not be taken as evidence that the administration plans to prosecute any suspects in U.S. courts.

More broadly, it remains uncertain whether the White House will respond to the fatal assault on the Americans in Benghazi as a criminal act or an act of war, a critical legal distinction that has gone unresolved in Washington since the other Sept. 11 attacks, in 2001. [Continue reading…]

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