“They do have people ID’d,” Kerry said of the FBI-led investigation. “They have made some progress. They have a number of suspects who are persons of interest that they are pursuing in this and building cases on.”
But options for dealing with the men are few and difficult, U.S. officials said, describing high level strategy debates among White House, FBI and other counterterror officials. Those confidential discussions were described on condition of anonymity by four senior U.S. officials briefed on the investigation into the attack.
The U.S. could ask Libya to arrest the suspects, hoping that Americans would be given access to question them and that the Libyans gather enough evidence to hold the men under their own justice system. Another option is to ask the Libyans to extradite the men to the U.S., but that would require the U.S. to gather enough solid evidence linking the suspects to the crime to ask for such an action.
Asking other countries to detain suspects hasn’t produced much thus far. In this case, the Egyptian government detained Egyptian Islamic Jihad member Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad for possible links to the attack, but it remains unclear if U.S. intelligence officers were ever allowed to question him.
Tunisia allowed the U.S. to question Tunisian suspect Ali Harzi, 28, who was arrested in Turkey last October because of suspected links to the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack, but a judge released him in January for lack of evidence.
Finally, the U.S. could send a military team to grab the men, and take them to an offsite location such as a U.S. naval ship — the same way al-Qaida suspect Ahmed Warsame was seized by special operations personnel in 2011 in Somalia. He was then held and questioned for two months on a U.S. ship before being read his Miranda rights, transferred to the custody of the FBI and taken for trial in a New York court. Warsame pleaded guilty earlier this year and agreed to tell the FBI what he knew about terror threats and, if necessary, testify for the government.
The U.S. has made preparations for raids to grab the Benghazi suspects for interrogation in case the administration decides that’s the best option, officials said. Such raids could be legally justified under the U.S. law passed just after the 9/11 terror attacks that authorizes the use of military force against al-Qaida, officials said. The reach of the law has been expanded to include groups working with al-Qaida.
The option most likely off the table would be taking suspects seized by the military to Guantanamo Bay, the facility in Cuba that Obama has said he wants to close.
“Just as the administration is trying to find the exit ramp for Guantanamo is not the time to be adding to it,” said Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor for Guantánamo.
Beyond being politically uncomfortable, it’s less effective, he said. “There’ve been a total of seven cases completed since 2001,” with six of them landing in appeals court over issues with the legitimacy of the charges.