Heavy security presence outside the DC federal courthouse in Washington on Wednesday, July 2, 2014, as a suspect charged in the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya appeared for a detention hearing. (Photo: Zoe Tillman/NLJ)
A lawyer for the suspect charged in connection with a 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, agreed Wednesday that her client should remain in government custody, but raised concerns about the lack of discovery provided so far by prosecutors.
Michelle Peterson of the federal public defender’s office in Washington said she had only just received discovery from the government on Wednesday morning, and that it appeared to be “limited.” She said that absent any evidence from the government, her office was left to rely on press reports as they began to build a defense.
Ahmed Abu Khatallah pleaded not guilty on June 28 to a single charge of conspiracy to provide support and resources to terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Khatallah, wearing a green jumpsuit with the word “PRISONER” printed on the back, appeared Wednesday in the federal courthouse in Washington for a detention hearing.
Peterson provided some early hints of a defense strategy during the hearing. She told U.S. District Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson that despite prosecutors’ “conclusory statements,” the government had yet to present any evidence that Khatallah was directly involved in the attack.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DiLorenzo, arguing in favor of keeping Khatallah behind bars, referenced statements Khatallah may have made concerning the attack; DiLorenzo didn’t elaborate on what he may have said. Peterson said she had reason to believe that whatever Khatallah said supported the contention that he wasn’t directly involved.
Peterson conceded that detention was appropriate for now, given Khatallah’s status as a foreign national, his lack of ties to the United States and the nature of the charges against him.
DiLorenzo said the government would be turning over more discovery soon to defense lawyers. He said the discovery prosecutors provided on Wednesday included “critical video clips.” He didn’t describe the contents of the videos.
Khatallah did not speak during Wednesday’s hearing, except to acknowledge that he could understand the interpreter. The hearing was briefly delayed because of technical difficulties with the interpreter’s equipment.
Khatallah is scheduled to be back in court on July 8 for his first appearance before U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, who is assigned to his case. Cooper, confirmed by the U.S. Senate in March, is one of the newest judges on the D.C. federal trial bench.