A Libyan militia leader convicted in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans was sentenced to 22 years in prison Wednesday, reports the Washington Post. A jury in November acquitted Ahmed Abu Khattala, 47, of murder and attempted murder in the attacks that began Sept. 11, 2012, on a U.S. diplomatic mission and nearby CIA post. He was convicted on charges including conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists, and it was the extent of Abu Khattala’s role as ringleader that U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper considered in sentencing him. Legal analysts said the ability of the government to incapacitate Abu Khattala through a life sentence or its equivalent would influence decisions whether to seek civilian prosecutions in similar cases. Prosecutors had sought a life sentence; the defense sought 15 years.
While some saw Cooper’s decision as a setback for prosecutors, he cast it otherwise. “Even if you did not pour the gasoline or light the match, the evidence showed you were aware of the attack, and once the gates were breached, the likelihood someone would die was extremely high. This was not guilt by association,” Cooper told Abu Khattala. “This case stands as an exemplar for the principle that a defendant accused of international terrorism can get a fair trial in the U.S. criminal justice system.” Abu Khattala’s defense said jurors found him not guilty of the murders, arguing that they concluded that Abu Khattala joined the conspiracy at the mission after it was already on fire and that his “conduct did not lead to death.” The case was seen as a test of detention and interrogation policies developed under the Obama administration to capture terrorism suspects overseas for criminal trial.