The White House on Monday resisted the calls of Republicans who want Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev treated as a “enemy combatant.”
“He will not be treated as an enemy combatant,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We will prosecutors this terrorist through our civilian system of justice. Under U.S. law, United States citizens cannot be tried in military commissions,” he added.
Republican Rep. Peter King of New York and GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain of Arizona, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire urged Obama to treat Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant so he could be held and questioned instead of immediately being tried in a criminal court.
“By declaring him an enemy combatant, there would be by virtue at least 30 days of unlimited interrogation,” King told msnbc earlier in the day, insisting once the interrogation is over, Tsarnaev would be tried in a civilian court. “This is solely for the purpose of interrogation to find intelligence.”
Several Democrats, meanwhile, including California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, have said the move was unconstitutional.
During a press conference on Monday, Graham skewered the White House’s decision, saying it was “premature” and limits the country’s ability to gather intelligence.
“Every nation at war should have the ability to defend themselves by gathering intelligence. These are not mutually exclusive concepts,” he said. “I believe our nation is at war. The enemy is radical Islam,” he added. Later, Graham called for a congressional hearing to examine why the U.S. didn’t keep better tabs on Tsarnaev’s older brother, Tamerlan, after the Russian government flagged federal officials that he was becoming radicalized. Tamerlan, who allegedly planted the bombs with his sibling, died last week during a shootout with police.
Kendall Coffey, former U.S. attorney and msnbc legal analyst, agreed with the White House’ decision, telling Hardball host Chris Matthews that you have to be part of an enemy force to be considered an enemy combatant. “"I don't think being part of a general hatred of the United States is nearly enough…If we start throwing the Constitution out, we're going to lose the real war for our values."
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, called Graham’s rhetoric “alarming.” When Matthews asked if he would be swayed by evidence in the future that might show Tsarnaev has links to terrorist groups, Turley said “"No. He's a U.S. citizen. He has presumption of innocence."
The younger Tsarnaev, meanwhile, was charged by the Department of Justice on Monday afternoon with using a “weapon of mass destruction” which caused three deaths and more than 170 injuries.
NBC’s Pete Williams told Matthews that the charges brought against Tsarnaev “could bring the death penalty.”