Republican Senator Lindsey Graham didn’t even wait for Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be captured before calling for him to be treated as an enemy combatant, a designation that was for years a one-way ticket to the notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Sen. Graham tweeted on Friday afternoon, “If captured, I hope Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.” He and several fellow Republicans criticized the civilian justice system in a statement released Saturday, insisting that the freedom to interrogate Tsarnaev for information about possible future attacks “should be our focus, not a future domestic criminal trial that may take years to complete.”
None of the Republicans calling for Tsarnaev to be questioned as an enemy combatant have yet suggested the 19-year-old U.S. citizen be moved to the Navy base, but they have opposed moving the prisoners who were sent to Guantanamo years ago as enemy combatants to American Supermax prisons. It is unclear what Graham and Sen. John McCain, who led opposition to President Obama’s plans to close Guantanamo since he announced them in 2009, want to do with Tsarnaev if he were given enemy combatant status, a designation the current administration stopped using in 2009.
No one has been sent to Guantanamo in more than 5 years, although 166 men still remain at the prison, 77 of whom are classified as being on hunger strike in protest of their indefinite detention without charge. The majority of the prisoners held there have never been charged with any crime and were cleared for release by a multi-agency task force. Many of the 86 detainees who have been approved for release have been waiting for years to return to their home countries.
If Tsarnaev were treated as an enemy combatant, the government might actually be less likely to secure a conviction. Since September 11, 2001, the government has successfully prosecuted more than 500 terrorism-related cases in Federal court, a conviction rate of 88 percent. Military commissions have been far less effective, with only a handful of convictions in nearly 12 years.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, reiterated the importance of upholding due process for Tsarnaev. “This is not a foreign national caught on an enemy battlefield, but an American citizen arrested on American soil,” he said in a statement Saturday. “The Justice Department has demonstrated a far greater ability to successfully prosecute suspected terrorists in federal courts than the military commissions have thus far been able to show. Nothing must be done to compromise the public safety, the ability of prosecutors to seek justice for the victims or our constitutional principles.”