For the last four days, Greg Doherty sat in a Washington, D.C. courtroom and looked at the face of Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the man accused of being a key player in the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack that claimed the lives of four Americans, including that of Greg's younger brother, CIA contractor Glen Doherty.
The courtroom was small and the defendant's table was off to the side, Doherty said, so he could see Khatallah clearly, just about 20 feet away from his own seat in the audience. Being in the same room with Khatallah, so close to the only Benghazi suspect the U.S. has managed to bring to trial, was a surreal experience that Doherty said he's still trying to make sense of.
"I don't know if I can describe the feeling, but that's what I've been doing all week, just looking at this guy," he told Code and Dagger in an exclusive interview Thursday. "It was like looking at something that you know is important and you don't know what it means."
Khatallah himself was unremarkable, Doherty said.
"He looks like not much. He looks like just sort of could be anybody," Doherty said, adding that Khatallah appeared to only make eye contact with his own defense team and never looked Doherty's way. "He doesn't convey much."
Perhaps not the physical appearance of an alleged terrorist "mastermind," as Khatallah has been described, but if the stocky man with grey hair and a grey beard, looking a decade older than his 46 years, is found guilty, it would be the closet Doherty has ever come to seeing a measure of justice for his brother and the three other Americans killed five years ago and 5,000 miles away.
It was then, on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, that dozens of armed militants first attacked a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, an eastern Libyan city on the Mediterranean coast. U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and State Department technical specialist Sean Smith died in the assault when the building in which they were hiding was set on fire. The survivors from that compound managed to escape to a nearby CIA facility, but that too came under attack hours later. CIA contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were struck and killed by a mortar blast. Doherty had led a rescue team to Benghazi from the Libyan capital of Tripoli and was killed with minutes of his arrival.
Ever since the deadly incident, the FBI has been hunting for those responsible, but made little progress in arresting anyone until 2014 when Khatallah, one of the men allegedly identified as having participated in the attack, was captured in a U.S. military special operation.
The Department of Justice charged Khatallah with more than a dozen crimes (PDF), including murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to support terrorists. (In 2016 the DOJ said it would not seek the death penalty, a decision about which Greg Doherty said he had "mixed emotions.")
"Abu Khattala didn't do the killings by himself. He didn’t set the fire. He didn’t fire the mortar, but Abu Khatalla planned the attack," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb reportedly said in the trial's opening statements Monday. "He got others to do his dirty work."
Khatallah's defense team countered that he is being used as a scapegoat and that he "didn't have anything to do with" the attack. Khatallah lived openly in Libya in the years after the assault -- evidence, the defense said, that he had no reason to hide. A few months before he was captured, he reportedly told a journalist that he and other militiamen only showed up at the facility to "bring order" after hearing about a disturbance.
"There is no case against me," he said then, according to The New Yorker. "But I am not the one who needs to prove my innocence. The Americans must prove their accusation."
Greg Doherty said he still has questions about Khatallah's precise role in the Benghazi attack that he hopes will be answered as the trial continues, but he's already convinced Khatallah will be convicted of something serious. Video shown during the prosecution's opening statement appeared to show Khatallah at the scene of the assault toting an AK-47.
"Just for that, life in prison is [like], 'Absolutely, great, do it,'" Doherty said. "I'm confident he'll spend the rest of his life in a United States prison."
What the trial has already uncovered is what Doherty called the diligent work of investigators, evidenced by the meticulous presentations by the prosecution. Doherty said he never believed the U.S. government had "dropped the ball" on the Benghazi case, but he wasn't sure how cold the trail had gone.
"One of the big things for me was having all this investigation that's been going on and that's been confidential up til now be revealed," he said. "I had no idea what people knew about him [Khatallah], and now I have a sense of that, which is good."
Doherty watched the developments related to Benghazi closely over the years and said he looked at Khatallah's trial like someone might view a necessary medical procedure -- it might be painful, but it needs to happen and it'll be better when it's over.
There is no hearing today and Doherty said he likely won't attend further proceedings -- perhaps with the exception of closing arguments. The trial is expected to go on for at least another month before a jury decides Khatallah's fate.
Doherty, who said he and Glen grew up together as "best friends," said he's not confident that there will ever be "complete justice" for what happened in Benghazi, considering the difficulty in rounding up potentially dozens of other suspects thousands of miles away. But he said he'd be mostly satisfied if Khatallah is found guilty and spends the rest of his life in prison.
"I've been waiting for some kind of justice to happen," he said, "and for a more complete story to come out."
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