WASHINGTON (CN) – Attorneys delivered closing arguments Thursday in the trial of the suspected ringleader of the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, capping off one of the most high-profile terrorism cases tried in a U.S. courtroom.
The day-long arguments in the case against Ahmed Abu Khatallah closed nearly seven weeks of sometimes dramatic testimony from survivors who provided intimate and harrowing accounts of overnight attacks on Sept. 11, 2012, that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and Sean Smith with the U.S. Foreign Service.
The two perished in a fire during an attack at the U.S. diplomatic compound while two other Americans, CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, were killed in a separate mortar attack at a nearby CIA annex early the next morning.
Although Benghazi became a partisan flash point on Capitol Hill, the polarized politics around the attacks largely stayed out of the courtroom. But during closing arguments, public defender Michelle Peterson accused the government of playing to biases by portraying her client as anti-American.
"They want you to hate him enough to disregard holes in the evidence," Peterson said. "There's no evidence that he hates America."
The prosecution stressed Khatallah's alleged anti-American sentiment repeatedly Thursday, as it drove home for jurors the case it had built against the suspect: that he commanded an anti-Western Islamist extremist militia that planned a terror attack on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi to remove the U.S. presence from eastern Libya.
"Ladies and gentlemen, he hates America and that's why he committed this attack," Michael DiLorenzo with the U.S. Attorney's Office said to jurors.
Ambassador Stevens had wanted to rebuild Libya after the United States helped overthrow Moammar Gadhafi, DiLorenzo said, calling the late Libyan leader a "horrible dictator."
"He wanted a free Libya," DiLorenzo said of Stevens, adding that he had established the diplomatic mission in Benghazi to ensure Libyans in the eastern part of the country were not forgotten.
The U.S. presence there threatened the agenda of Khatallah, who didn't trust Western ideals and who sees the West as the "cause of all the world's problems," DiLorenzo said.
Determined not to allow the United States to stand in the way of fulfilling his "fanatical agenda," DiLorenzo said Khatallah took action on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, resulting in the deaths of the four Americans.
None of the witnesses called by the government personally saw Khatallah at the compound, but several identified him and some of his close associates on grainy surveillance footage taken the night of the attacks.
Peterson questioned the motives of some of the witnesses, including a commander for the February 17th Martyrs Brigade tasked with security for the compound who testified Khatallah asked him for weapons and to stand down on the night of the attack.
Why didn't he report that, Peterson asked the jurors.
Peterson also questioned whether the government's star witness, who testified under the pseudonym Ali Majrisi and identified Khatallah on the video footage, was influenced by the $7 million reward he received from the State and Defense departments for his role in Khatallah's capture.