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Big crowd, brief hearing for Benghazi suspect

By Michael Doyle
McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON Ahmed Abu Khatalla, the man accused of participating in the lethal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, drew another big crowd Tuesday to U.S. District Court.

But the long line and, for some, long wait led to only a brief session in the sixth floor courtroom. In a status hearing that lasted no more than 15 minutes, prosecutors and defense attorneys said they were continuing to work through what’s likely to be a complicated discovery operation.

“There is a large amount of material in this case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael C. DiLorenzo told U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper, further noting that “many of the witnesses” as well as certain documents remain outside of the United States.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Michelle Peterson, while saying that “we might dispute whether there is a large amount of discovery that has been provided to us,” added that “we will need some time” to review the information. Consequently, certain speed trial guarantees have been waived.

“This is an unusual and complex case,” Cooper said.

Dressed in a green, short-sleeved jail jumpsuit, Khatalla sat quietly throughout the hearing, listening to a translation through a headset while a plainclothes U.S. marshal sat close by. At the prosecutors’ table, about 30 feet away, sat a team of assistant U.S. attorneys as well as two FBI special agents and an FBI analyst.

Cooper explained to Khatalla that the previous two judges before whom he appeared were only handling temporary matters. Cooper also noted that his wife had formerly worked for the Justice Department’s national security division, which is prosecuting Khatalla, but that since she had left that position in 2008, he saw no potential conflict of interest.

“From here on out,” Cooper told Khatalla, “you are stuck with me.”

Khatalla -- whose last name Justice Department officials spell Khatallah -- is accused of being a leading participating in the Sept. 11-12, 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

He is scheduled to return to court Sept. 9.

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