During the attacks, militants wielding machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades breached the walls and set fire to the consulate, then used mortars in an attack on the C.I.A. base about a mile away. Later, Mr. Khatalla gave interviews to Western journalists, acknowledging that he was at the consulate but denying involvement in the violence.
Even though he was widely known to be a primary suspect, he made no attempt to flee Benghazi. He was later captured, interrogated for days aboard the warship New York as it steamed across the ocean, then charged with multiple counts, including murder, destruction of federal buildings and providing support to terrorism. His trial is expected to take about five weeks, and include surveillance video clips and eyewitness testimony reconstructing the attacks, the role he is accused of playing and his eventual capture.
Mr. Khatalla, who faces a potential sentence of life in prison if convicted, has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers will most likely try to cast suspicion on others who were at the consulate that night to deflect blame from their client. The Justice Department has charged at least a dozen people under seal in the attacks, officials say.
The attacks crystallized Libya’s descent into chaos after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, which, with help from NATO air power, had toppled the country’s longtime dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
Conservatives focused on such issues as why early Obama administration talking points inaccurately portrayed the attacks as a spontaneous protest rather than a premeditated assault. In time, the Benghazi attacks came to serve as shorthand for failures by Hillary Clinton, then the nation’s top diplomat, and President Barack Obama. Congress conducted multiple oversight investigations into Benghazi, including an inquiry by a House select committee that questioned Mrs. Clinton for 11 hours of public testimony about such topics as her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
Mr. Khatalla’s trial will be closely watched, not only because of the notoriety of the attacks — Hollywood dramatized them in the film “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” — but also for its implications for national security legal policy. The case is a particularly high-profile instance of using civilian court to prosecute a foreign terrorism suspect captured abroad.
A recurring debate has emerged over whether such suspects should instead be held and interrogated at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, then prosecuted before the military commissions system there.
“There are dozens upon dozens of terrorism-related cases, but every now and then there is one that has the potential to reframe how people think about the efficacy of civilian prosecution,” said Robert Chesney, a University of Texas law professor who specializes in national security. “This has all the hallmarks of such a case.”
In June 2014, the military launched its operation — code-named Greenbrier River, according to former military officials — to snatch Mr. Khattala. With the help of an informant, he was lured to a small villa on the coastline of Libya, an ideal spot to ambush him because of its isolation. As he stepped into the house, a team of operators from the Army’s elite Delta Force and an agent from the F.B.I.’s hostage rescue team rushed to grab him.
Mr. Khattala, who had a handgun, resisted for several minutes — kicking and punching furiously — but was quickly subdued and handcuffed, according to court records. He was outfitted with earmuffs, blindfolded and gagged. He was then taken to the beach, where Navy SEALs whisked him on a boat to an American warship. Before reaching the vessel, Mr. Khattala repeatedly asked his captors: “Why me? Why me?”
On board, Mr. Khattala received three staples to the top of his head because of an injury he suffered during the capture.
Mr. Khatalla’s detention facility aboard the ship consisted of four roughly 8-foot cubes and a toilet. The lights were kept on 24 hours a day for security reasons. During the 13-day voyage across the ocean, Mr. Khatalla was interrogated for five days without being advised of his so-called Miranda rights to remain silent or consult with a defense lawyer. Then, after a two-day break, new interrogators from the F.B.I. delivered the Miranda warning and questioned him again.
Mr. Khatalla waived his rights and continued to talk to the new team, and prosecutors intend to use what he said to them as evidence against him. His defense lawyers later said that his waiver should not count because he was still under coercive circumstances, but the judge presiding over the case, Christopher Cooper, rejected the defense motion to suppress those statements, ruling that the waiver was voluntary and allowing the evidence to be used.
For prosecutors, the ruling cleared their biggest potential obstacle to a conviction in civilian court.
Republicans criticized the Obama administration for putting Mr. Khattala in the criminal justice system after his capture, rather than taking him to Guantánamo, at least for a more prolonged interrogation without a Miranda warning and defense lawyer.
Still, it is not clear that Mr. Khatalla would have been eligible for a war crimes trial; even though he shares the ideology of Al Qaeda, an organization with which the United States is at war, he is not believed to have meaningful links to that organization.
Adding to the complexity of the case, the F.B.I. was not able to swiftly secure the crime scene and conduct a typical forensic investigation because Benghazi was too dangerous.
The trial also comes as the Trump administration is weighing what to do with an American citizen accused of fighting for the Islamic State before surrendering to a Syrian militia around Sept. 12.
The militia handed the prisoner over to the American military. The Pentagon has not revealed the detainee’s name or location, but the International Committee for the Red Cross and the Defense Department acknowledged last week that the United States had provided a formal notice and was arranging for a visit by the humanitarian group.
The law governing military commissions at the wartime prison at Guantánamo precludes American citizens from being tried in that system, and it is disputed whether Islamic State detainees, as opposed to members of Al Qaeda, may be lawfully held there in indefinite detention without trial.
Although Mr. Khatalla is not an American citizen, the Obama administration chose not to send him to Guantánamo both because it was trying to close the prison and because he lacked strong ties to Al Qaeda.
A jury trial in a terrorism case nonetheless carries risk. In the 2010 trial of Ahmed Ghailani, a former Guantánamo detainee charged with Al Qaeda’s 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa, he was convicted of conspiring to destroy American buildings but acquitted of 284 other charges, including every murder count.
Even though the case qualified as a victory for the prosecution — the single conviction was enough for the judge to impose a life sentence — critics of using civilian trials for terrorism cases portrayed the result as a disaster.
Invoking the Ghailani case, Mr. Chesney said of Mr. Khattala’s trial, “If it were to go wrong in some way for the government, it will certainly be seized upon by critics of the criminal justice process as a tool for counterterrorism — notwithstanding the endless number of successful Justice Department terrorism prosecutions that have already occurred.”
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