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Apart from the tactical challenges, Mr. Dailey pointed to legal murkiness surrounding any case in which military forces are called upon to take action on civilian court indictments — particularly in a nation like Libya, with no congressional authorization for the use of U.S. military force.

“Unless we’re in a country like Afghanistan or Iraq, which has a state of war, I don’t think the military would exercise a sealed indictment apprehension,” he said. “Now, special forces might escort the FBI into a battlefield environment and blow down the door to building, but it’s going to be the FBI that arrests the guy and takes control of the person.”

Mr. Dailey speculated the rules for such an extraction might change if “this guy is on one of those mysterious and unacknowledged ‘kill lists’” — a reference to the clandestine directory that the administration is reported to maintain with names and biographies of terrorists designated as eligible for targeting by drone strike.

“If that’s the case,” he said, “it’s likely a whole different story and the U.S. military force fits into place.”

‘Eliminate this person’

Some on Capitol Hill have echoed such conjecture in recent days.

When asked about the Khatallah charges during a recent “Newsmaker” interview on C-SPAN, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, said that if the Obama administration has a sense of certainty that someone is a terrorist, there is simply no reason to be bogged down by legal questions surrounding the matter.

“Maybe you could send some kind of a team into a place like Libya, or you could cut a deal with the Libyan government or pay off the Libyan government to eliminate this person,” said Mr. Rohrabacher, a senior member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

“I’m sure sending a drone is legal, but sending a guy with a high-powered rifle is illegal?” he queried sarcastically. “That type of nonsense, we’ve got to get over if we’re going to confront the radical Islamist terrorist threat that will murder thousands of people, even hundreds of thousands of our people if they get a chance.”

Mr. Obama spoke of the effectiveness of drones during a major speech on terrorism in May, but he stressed that “America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists” and that “our preference is always to detain, interrogate and prosecute.”

But if the goal is to prosecute in the U.S. federal court system, the business of interrogation can create serious legal hurdles because each suspect must be charged with a crime within 24 hours of arrest and cannot be questioned indefinitely by federal agents seeking intelligence on terrorist plots.

Facing such hurdles, the Obama administration, on at least one occasion, has quietly embraced the tactic known as “rendition,” which drew harsh public criticism after 9/11 when it was used during the George W. Bush administration.

The tactic involves kidnapping suspects and holding them in foreign prisons where they can be interrogated indefinitely by U.S. agents without the traditional protections provided by U.S. and international law, including those against torture.

A January report by The Washington Post said the administration used the tactic in the small African nation of Djibouti to interrogate three men suspected of supporting the al-Shabab terrorist organization in Somalia.

The report was released after an FBI statement said the suspects were arrested by “local authorities” and held for about three months before being charged under a sealed federal indictment in New York.

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