Libyan Convicted in Benghazi Pushes US for Retrial

This artist’s rendering shows U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola swearing in Ahmed Abu Khatallah, wearing a headphone, as his attorney Michelle Peterson watches, during a June 28, 2014, hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)

WASHINGTON (CN) — With days to go before such maneuvers become time barred, a Libyan man convicted of facilitating the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi says there is new evidence that justifies retrying him.

Precisely what evidence has come to light is not revealed in the 2-page motion filed Monday in Washington, but public defenders for Ahmed Abu Khattalah say “the government has recently disclosed new information regarding one of the government’s key witnesses, the witness who testified under the pseudonym Ali Majrisi.”

Pointing to another trial last year on the Benghazi attacks that resulted in the conviction of Mustafa Al-Imam, Khatallah’s attorneys also say they believe that there is even more evidence that the government is withholding.

“Moreover, the newly disclosed evidence relates to classified evidence that counsel does not presently have access to due to the Covid pandemic,” the filing continues.

Khatallah was convicted on Nov. 28, 2017, so the three-year clock for him to file such motions has nearly run out.

Neither the public defenders nor representatives for the Justice Department returned a request for comment on the motion Tuesday.

Though charged with the murder of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans who died in the 2012 attacks, Khattalah was convicted of lesser material-support and destruction-of-property charges and given a 22-year sentence.

At his seven-week trial, the U.S. government relied on a star witness identified by the pseudonym Ali Majrisi to identify Khattala in grainy video surveillance footage from the Benghazi compound on the night of the attacks.

Khatallah doesn’t deny being at the compound, but says he went out of curiosity and helped direct traffic. 

Majrisi received a $7 million award from the U.S. for testifying but denied that this influenced his testimony, explaining the danger he put himself in by spying on Khattalah for the U.S. government from 2012 to 2014, eventually leading the Libyan national to his capture in a city just outside Benghazi in 2014.

On the witness stand for eight hours, Majrisi recounted his frustration, exhaustion and the constant threat of danger posed to himself and his family as he informed on Khattalah.

He told jurors that he nearly killed Khattalah himself just to see the mission end and so that both he and “his city” could be at rest because Khattalah was a “murderer.”

The Benghazi attacks began with a nighttime firebombing of the U.S. diplomatic compound on Sept. 11, 2012, followed by a mortar attack the morning after at a nearby CIA annex. 

The siege resulted in the deaths of four Americans: Chris Stevens, who was a U.S. ambassador, U.S. Foreign Service officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Doherty and Woods died in the mortar attack, while Smith and Stevens succumbed to smoke inhalation triggered by the insurgent bombing.

Last year’s trial of the accused Benghazi co-conspirator Mustafa Al-Imam also failed to secure a verdict on murder charges. Imam was sentenced this January to 19 and a half years in prison.

%d bloggers like this: