With nearly 150 detainees left in Guantanamo, President Obama made clear Tuesday that he won't do anything to jeopardize the closure of a facility his liberal supporters view as a stain on his presidency -- no matter how much it angers his GOP rivals.
“The administration’s policy is clear on this issue: We are seeking to close Guantanamo, not add to its population,” said one National Security Council official.
"He is going to be brought back here to the United States to stand trial,” added Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.
Republicans, who in recent months have slammed the White House for not bringing the Benghazi perpetrators to justice, shifted their attacks to the administration's handling of Khattala — a showdown over Gitmo that will likely play out through the remainder of Obama's second term.
"Obviously he should be put on trial. I'd bring him to Guantanamo. Where else can you take him to?" asked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
"It would be the biggest mistake for the ages to read this guy his Miranda rights," added Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "We should have some quality time with this guy, weeks and months. Don't torture him -- but have some quality time."
Khattala is believed to be on a U.S. naval ship, which eventually will sail back to the U.S.
The question now becomes how fast the ship will move.
The Obama administration has repeatedly placed terror suspects aboard ships to question them before they face charges on U.S. soil.
After Obama infuriated Republicans by trading five Taliban members for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, White House allies said it would make little sense for the president to send Khattala to the detention facility in Cuba.
“Guantanamo is closed for business — at least new business,” quipped one veteran Democratic strategist with close ties to the White House. “There's not a single person left on planet Earth who the president would send there.”
And Democratic lawmakers argue that conviction rates are higher for terror suspects in federal criminal court than military commissions.
"With all of these terrorists, we've had four or five convictions in military courts, we've had several hundred convictions in federal courts," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "Do the math."