A few minutes after 11am, Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khatallah entered a federal court in Washington, D.C. unshackled and wearing a green jumpsuit with one word - prisoner - in white block letters on the back.

Filling the seats watching him were members of the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Justice Department, journalists and eager law students. I was in the second row, about 25 feet away from the suspect.

The court session was brief, under 30 minutes, but not without a few technical hitches. 

The first ten minutes were spent resolving problems with Khatallah's headset, which allowed him to listen to an Arabic translation of the proceedings. 

The 43-year old Libyan tried the headset on several times as the volume was adjusted. At one point, what appeared to a federal agent from the front row tried to assist with the system’s console, which resembles a DJ’s spinning table from a distance.

It was an ironic turn of events -- 21 months to capture Khatallah and the proceedings then grinding to a brief halt over a plastic headset as the suspect would gently shake his head to indicate it was not working,

Khatallah was represented by a female public defender.

As the government laid out its case for his continued detention pending trial, saying he was a flight risk and accused of a violent crime, the Benghazi suspect leaned toward the judge's bench.

His shoulders were hunched forward and he appeared focused and still as a statue.

When he was described by the prosecution as the leader of a Libyan militia, Ansar al-Sharia, his expression was hard to read. There was neither a flash of agreement nor a grimace suggesting his disapproval.

Khatallah's public defender did not contest her client's continued detention, but reserved the right to revisit the issue, complaining that the government had only provided access to limited evidence and drew broad conclusions about his alleged involvement without providing hard facts.

Given that Libya is unstable and awash with weapons, Khatallah's court-appointed attorney appeared to dismiss the government's claim that the Libyan was dangerous simply because he was carrying a gun when he was captured.

The government court filings seemed to have something for both sides in the detention debate.

They stated that Khatallah's post-capture statements are part of the case against him, but also revealed that after the 2012 Benghazi attack, the 43- year-old suspect continued to "make efforts to target American personnel and property." 

Critics have complained the Obama administration made the criminal case against him the priority and that Khatallah was free for 21 months as the evidence was gathered.

However, the details of court findings suggest Khatallah was under government surveillance.

After half an hour, Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson ruled Khatallah would remain in a U.S. detention center until his trial – an outcome never in doubt.

Khatallah had one personal request - a Koran, and Halal foods, which Muslims are allowed to eat under Islamic Shariah law. The judge said those issues were not for the court, but for the U.S. Marshals to handle.

 

 

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.