WASHINGTON (CN) – Fighting to dismiss charges against accused Benghazi suspect Mustafa al-Imam, attorneys told a federal judge Friday that the government misapplied U.S. law.
Though it initially leveled a single count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists resulting in death in relation to the 2012 Benghazi attacks, the government brought a superseding indictment last year that accused al-Imam of 17 counts, including murder and attempted murder.
Matthew Peed, an attorney for al-Imam with Clinton & Peed, contends that all of the charges should be dismissed, however, because they are based on laws with no extraterritorial applicability or “that only apply to legally operated federal facilities.”
Peed says laws must explicitly state Congress’ intent for extraterritorial applicability.
He further contends that the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya – where the attacks led to the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens – was not a legally operated federal facility because the U.S. government established the compound without permission from the Libyan government.
Peed wants the other charges dropped on the basis that al-Imam’s capture in Libya violated two treaties governing extradition and prosecution of his alleged crimes.
During an hour-long hearing Friday morning, Peed questioned why the government didn’t just charge his client under laws that clearly apply abroad.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper interjected.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Cooper said. “You can’t accuse them of overcharging and undercharging.”
Arguing on behalf of the government Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cummings Jr. said that textual indicators in the laws under which the government charged al-Imam contain “textual indicators” showing that Congress intended them to apply extraterritorially.
Al-Imam is the second suspect tried in federal court in relation to the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi.
A federal jury convicted alleged ringleader Ahmed Abu Khatallah back in November 2017 on terrorism charges related to the attacks but acquitted him of the most serious charges, including murder.
During the trial, several witnesses identified al-Imam in grainy surveillance video footage taken from the compound the night of the attacks, but Peed has questioned the strength of that evidence, arguing that it only shows him carrying items out of a building at the compound on what he has described as a “chaotic” night when hundreds of locals were looting.
The pretrial conference in the case is set for mid-April, with a jury trial set to begin on April 29.
Cooper said he would issue a ruling on the motion to dismiss “sooner rather than later.”